Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from the Library, University of East Anglia



  1.1  Research councils and other publicly-funded bodies should stipulate that all research they fund is published in "free-to view forums", such as open-access journals or institutional eprint repositories. They should cover the authors' costs of publishing in open access journals within grant awards (paragraphs 4.2, 4.7). The Government should discuss this issue with the United States and within the European Union with the aim of making this an internationally agreed policy.

  1.2  The Government is encouraged to investigate the possibility of national rather than sector-based licensing deals that cover all publicly-funded bodies, eg NHS, HE, Research Council funded institutes (paragraph 3.10).

  1.3  The Government should re-emphasize to academics that Institutional audits/Research Assessment Exercises will assess the quality of their research articles rather than the journals in which they are published, in order to overcome academics' fears of publishing in "free-to view forums" (paragraphs 4.4, 5.2).

  1.4  Legal Deposit Libraries and the BLDSC should coordinate with publishers to develop a sustainable strategy for the acquisition, dissemination and preservation of non-print material (paragraph 6.1).

  1.5  The Government should consider applying a VAT status to electronic information resources that is equivalent to that for print, ie VAT zero-rated (paragraphs 3.11, 4.11).

  1.6  An effective Code of Practice and Industry Watchdog should be set up to monitor the Academic Publishing market (paragraph 4.5). Particular areas to pursue might include the following:

    —  Academic publishers should be encouraged to offer free access to electronic archives after a one year embargo period (paragraph 3.4)  

    —  Academic publishers should adopt a dual publishing model giving authors a choice between "reader-pays" versus "author pays" models. Pay-per-view services should be offered by all journals employing the traditional "reader-pays" model to widen access to research data (paragraph 4.9)

    —  All academic publishers should be encouraged to adopt a policy of allowing the authors of research articles to retain the copyright thereby making self-archiving an easier option for authors.

3.   What impact do publishers' current policies on pricing and provision of scientific journals, particularly "big deal schemes", have on libraries and the teaching and research communities they serve?

  3.1.  For several years the subscription costs of scientific journals have escalated at a rate higher than inflation and considerably higher than the increase in library acquisition budgets. The exact reasons for these high subscription increases are unclear. One factor is an increase in the size of some journals reflecting the expansion in scientific research. As a result of these price rises, academic libraries such as the University of East Anglia have been forced annually to cut the number of scientific journals they purchase, (despite an increasing range of subjects researched and taught at the university), in order to maintain their costs at a manageable level, or seek additional funds to cover the increased costs. This is not sustainable in the long-term. The advent of electronic publishing has further exacerbated the situation since publishers often charge more for electronic subscriptions on the basis that they offer "more added value" despite the fact that there is little additional cost to the publisher in supplying it.

  3.2  Currently there is no consistency on the pricing of printed versus electronic subscriptions either between different publishers, or even from one year to the next within the same publisher, which makes forward planning of restricted budgets in academic libraries very difficult, (especially as these changes can be announced very late in the subscription renewal process). For example:

  3.2.1.  A few publishers still offer online access for free with the printed subscription, whilst others only provide electronic access for an additional premium. Some will allow print only subscriptions- others do not offer this option but instead insist on either an online only or a combined subscription (eg EMBO Journal). The years provided by an electronic subscription can also vary considerably: some may only include online access for that current year (eg Kluwer), others a "rolling back archive" of the last recent four years (eg American Chemical Society), or even access to the whole archive (eg Oxford University Press).

  3.2.2  Recently a new trend has emerged from scientific publishers: releasing back archives of several years for a separate fee in addition to the annual electronic subscription- effectively asking libraries to pay twice to gain electronic access to material they have already purchased in the past as print subscriptions.

  3.2.3  The whole rationale behind the publishers' pricing of electronic subscriptions should be investigated: why is it that some publishers can offer electronic access for an additional% premium of the printed subscription whilst others insist on pricing according to either the Life Sciences faculty FTE count (American Society for Microbiology) or even total university FTE for a scientific journal (Science). Online access to Publisher A (see Appendix, Section 8) titles are based upon FTE count of Science faculty and Medical Faculty although UEA Medical faculty has informed us that they do not require access to these specific titles. Furthermore, the publishers would appear to be inconsistently applying their FTE criteria to different institutions as revealed by discussions on the price increases by Nature Publishing Group for the EMBO journal in 2004 on the lis-e-journals jiscmail list, (January 2004 archives, (This list is a very useful place to see the kind of problems currently being faced by academic libraries).

  3.3  We hope that this inquiry will conduct a thorough and detailed analysis of the economics of academic publishing to establish the impact of the various cost elements, and to identify cross-subsidies. In particular an examination of the situation of small/specialist academic publishers would be worthwhile.

  3.4  Many publishers are still failing to guarantee perpetual access to online archives covering the active years of a subscription, so that cancelling an online journal subscription brings the risk of losing the archive. As a result libraries are often trying to maintain both printed and electronic subscriptions of their major journals which often means paying for both. So the advent of electronic publishing is thereby significantly increasing the pressure on already limited periodical budgets. Those publishers that do permit free online access to papers after an embargo period of 6-12 months are to be applauded and governments, to the extent that they are able, should persuade all publishers to follow this practice.

  3.5  In many cases the "big deal schemes" do not allow much selectivity in journal coverage. They contain high ranking journals mixed with a significant number of less popular journals that do not necessarily meet the requirements of the research and teaching of all universities, but libraries are forced to accept these deals in order to gain electronic access to the higher impact journals. As a result there is less money remaining to subscribe to equally important individually published journals, with the effect that libraries subscribe to fewer independent/society published journals that are unable to compete with these big deals.

  3.6  The pricing of bundled electronic journal packages is often based on past print subscription expenditure and forbids any print subscription cancellations within the duration of the agreement, (eg Publisher B—see Appendix, Section 8). This model is not financially sustainable in academic libraries and does not allow libraries to adjust their collections to reflect changing research subject emphasis. Sometimes the annual price increase for a bundled deal seems to be good value, but then when the prices of the print (which cannot be cancelled) are studied, you see the costs have greatly increased. These can be more "hidden costs" because they apply to individual titles from that publisher, renewed automatically every year. Publishers should be encouraged to make the pricing of bundled electronic packages independent from an institution's print subscription expenditure.

  3.7  Some bundled deals also have a "sting" when they end, especially if they have been a Consortium deal and have now pulled out. We are concerned that this might happen with Publisher C (see Appendix, Section 8) (not printed) as no new Nesli2 (JISC) consortium deal has been announced yet.

  3.8  The other point about bundled deals is that large publishers initially set prices for bundled deals at affordable levels to match what the institutions can pay. For example, the journal package from Publisher D (see Appendix, Section 8) was originally based on recognition that not all the content would be relevant but that the bundle would have some added value. Most institutions were prepared to pay an additional amount for this service, so both publisher and institutions benefited. Now that loyalty has been built up to the service, the publisher wants to justify a much higher increase in the prices by saying that the "added value" should now be paid for to reflect the usage. The proposed increases for 2003/4 for the nesli2 consortium deal were only lowered after lobbying from university librarians, but the "new model" itself, which seems to be based on getting as much profit as possible, is still intact. The rate of increase per year, if it was to continue in future years, seems to be as high as 20% per annum for access to the Full Collection. This publisher is "muddying the waters" by presenting other options apart from the full collection, but you will notice that the price differences between there are comparatively small. We would urge the committee to discuss this with JISC nesli2 and with Content Complete, the negotiating agent, as this is one of the most difficult deals to resolve.

  3.9  For an objective view on the costs and benefits of bundled deals, we would urge the committee to read this report: Carl T. Bergstrom and Theodore C. Bergstrom (2004) "The costs and benefits of library site licenses to academic journals" Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Vol.101, no. 3, pp. 897-902.

  3.10  Educational institutions have many active research collaborations with neighbouring affiliated institutes/research centers/hospitals and there is a need to enable equal access to research publications for all academic scientists involved in a collaborative project wherever they are based. The advent of online publishing for scientific journals and the "access limits" on the current electronic journal deals of many publishers are prohibitively restrictive: "walk-in access" or provision of articles by interlending may be disallowed; affiliated research council funded institutes/NHS hospitals are often regarded as separate non-academic sites and are only granted online access under different licensing terms at pricing above academia. Not only is the University of East Anglia restricted in giving access to its neighbouring research/professional/educational concerns, but also in our regional role as a major source for detailed scientific information/education to the public. This goes against the government's desire to make science and its workings more open, available and transparent to the public. Hardcopy allowed equal access (provided you could understand it), online presupposes privileged access.

  3.11  A policy that is significantly impacting on the provision of scientific journals is the addition of VAT to all electronic publications and the government is urged to investigate this situation. Many publishers will offer an online subscription at 85-95% of the print subscription, and a combined subscription at 115% to all institutes worldwide. But once the VAT is added on for UK customers the cost of the online only subscription is no saving over the printed subscription, and does not necessarily guarantee an archive unlike a printed subscription. UK academic libraries are effectively being charged more than their US collaborators to access the same information. The VAT problem also exacerbates the impact of any pricing arrangements agreed between publishers and their advisory groups in the US, which are often wholly unsuitable for the UK. For example, the New England Journal of Medicine's bandings for academic library institutional subscriptions from 2004 hits UK academic libraries particularly hard. We had to cancel our electronic subscription as a result.

4.   What action should Government, academic institutions and publishers be taking to promote a competitive market in scientific publications?

  4.1  Much of the content of scientific journals is as the result of publicly funded research. Government policy is that the results of this research should remain in the public domain. Currently publication of publicly funded research is largely through inclusion in scientific journals which are created by publishers in the commercial sector. This approach creates the tensions described in section 3 above.

  4.2  It would be possible to resolve these issues, in part, if a different mechanism existed for ensuring that the results of publicly funded research are in the public domain. Research councils and other publicly-funded bodies could stipulate that all research they fund is published in "free-to-view forums".

  4.3  There is a global HEI-based research community, and a global solution to scientific publication is required. The Government should use its influence to raise this issue, particularly with the United States and within the European Union, with the aim of making this approach an internationally agreed policy.

  4.4  Publishing in prestigious scientific journals is particularly important for the academic community as the refereeing process applied by editorial boards potentially feeds into the assessment of research quality within Institutional Audits/Research Assessment Exercises. The Government should re-emphasize to academics that these audits/RAE will assess the quality of their research articles rather than the journals in which they are published.

  4.5  Even if the approaches noted above were adopted, there will continue to be a close relationship between scientific research and scientific publishing. If the full benefits of scientific research are to be available to UK industry, it would be in the public interest for the Government to set up an effective Code of Practice and Industry Watchdog to monitor and regulate the academic publishing market.

  4.6  Open-access journals, (eg BioMed Central- where the author pays to submit an article and then it is freely posted on the internet), and the increasing popularity of self-archiving, (where authors mount their own articles on their own webpages or in their institute's eprint repository), are producing healthy competition to the established publishers of the traditional science journals. Already several major commercial journals (eg Nature) have decided to alter their policy and allow authors to mount copies of their own articles in pdf form on their own website. With increasing free access to research articles there will be a shift away from the dependency upon access to traditional scientific journals.

  4.7  To foster this emerging competitive market in scientific publishing, and to promote the wider dissemination of scientific research, the Research Councils and other grant-awarding bodies should stipulate that all research they fund is to be published in open-access journals. They should promote this by supporting requests within grant applications for funds to cover the costs of publishing in "author-pays" model journals. Several international bodies have already adopted this policy, eg Wellcome Trust.

  4.8  Similarly all academic publishers should be encouraged to allow authors to retain copyright of their research articles so that self-archiving is permissible.

  4.9  Academic publishers should be encouraged to move to a dual publishing mode: allowing authors either to have their work published free of charge, "reader pays", (in the traditional model), or as an author-funded Open Access paper, (see Company of Biologists Open Access initiative). If publishers do not offer these two options, we recommend that pay-per-view option is always made available for non-subscribers, with rates that are standardized and affordable. Pay-per-view services should be VAT free.

  4.10  Academia should adopt a policy of open-access publishing of their research by recognizing and rewarding researchers that use this route of publication. Easy access to an eprint repository- either institutional- or nationally-based should be established to aid this. Funding support for the establishment and operation of e-repositories should be provided following the experiences of the SHERPA (Securing a Hybrid Environment for Research Preservation and Access) project. If institutional eprint repositories are adopted it must be ensured that these conform to the Open Archives Initiative protocol so that a uniform format is maintained to allow cross-search ability between sites.

  4.11  The government should consider making all electronic information resources VAT zero-rated so that the current differential pricing faced by UK academic institutions is removed. We recommend that electronic publishing is brought in line with print, where all parts of the publishing process are VAT-free, not just the cover price. This would reduce production costs, and might aid small independent publishers in particular. The government should also recognize that the resource costs of electronic dissemination are less than those of paper distribution and it is, therefore, perverse to tax the more environmentally-friendly medium of publication.

5.   What are the consequences of increasing numbers of open-access journals, for example for the operation of the Research Assessment Exercise and other selection processes? Should the Government support such a trend and, if so, how?

  5.1  An increase in the number of open-access journals and e-print repositories is a trend that the Government should welcome and support as it will make public funded research more easily and freely accessible to students, developing countries and the public.

  5.2  A shift to open-access publishing as a form of scholarly communication will not happen overnight. The government therefore needs to encourage scientists to move to open access journals by ensuring that all institutional audits/Research Assessment Exercises clearly state that academics will be judged on the quality of their individual articles rather than the journals in which they appear so that the fear of publishing in open access journals, (that currently have lower impact ratings as they are not yet established in the scientific community), are overcome.

6.   How effectively are the Legal Deposit Libraries making available non-print scientific publications to the research community, and what steps should they be taking in this respect?

  6.1  Legal Deposit Libraries (LDLs) have a vital role in working with publishers and other content providers/creators to develop a sustainable strategy for the acquisition and preservation of non-print materials. At the same time, there is a need to ensure that the BLDSC can provide the UK academic community with easy access to a UK e-resource collection. The LDL collection must be available to the BLDSC for interlending use as/when required. The LDLs and the BLDSC need to work together to provide a rationally organized, easily accessible e-resource of academic information. They should adopt a co-coordinating role, for example in mediating online access for the output of small publishers, plugging gaps in e-dissemination and providing a centrally stored e-repository of last resort. LDLs should be legally empowered to step in and maintain electronic access if a service goes out of business, pending resolution of such a crisis, (such as the Open Access agreement between the National Library of the Netherlands and BioMed Central).

7.   What impact will trends in academic journal publishing have on the risks of scientific fraud and malpractice?

  The risk of scientific fraud and malpractice should not be affected by the advent of open-access journals and institutional eprint repositories as long as peer-review continues to be the regulator of these modes of dissemination.

February 2004

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