Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from the Royal Society of Chemistry

  1.0  Executive Summary of Major Points [section number in brackets]

  1.1  Open access models provide industry with a free information ride [4.6].

  1.2  Author-pays models are elitist and discriminatory [4.3; 4.4; 6.3; 6.4].

  1.3  The rejection of previous author-pays models resulted in the growth and success of the current commercial journals and publishers [2.5; 3.1; 4.4; 4.10].

  1.4  New models (eg pay-per-view) are constantly being introduced and tested, without legislative bias [4.1].

  1.5  Infrastructure investment and innovation are crucial and are at risk [2.6; 3.5; 4.1].

  1.6  Competition needs to be on the basis of quality not quantity [2.2; 4.5; 6.2; 6.3; 6.4;].

  1.7  UK Plc is at risk of losing jobs and export earnings [4.12; 4.13].

  1.8  Export earnings from STM publishing either contribute to UK tax or are invested in (primarily) UK-based charitable activities [4.12; 4.13; 7.0].

  1.9  Several major UK charities will be crippled and their charitable activities curtailed if new pricing models would not generate similar incomes to current models [7.0].

  1.10  Proposed new business models require more people not less, with higher attendant costs [4.7; 4.10; 4.11; 4.13; 6.1; 6.2; 6.5].

  1.11  Journal/publisher costs rise with the world's scientific output, not with UK or US inflation or library budgets [2.4; 3.1].

  1.12  Why should the suppliers of the cheapest component of the scientific effort be legislated against, while those that make the most money are not? [3.1; 3.3; 4.15].

  1.13  Library and information services funding does not keep pace with the growth of world scientific output [2.1; 2.4; 3.1; 3.4].

  1.14  Industry standards facilitate information usage—publishers facilitate their development [2.6; 3.5; 4.7; 6.1].

  1.15  "Big deals" improve access to information (particularly specialised, niche information), stabilise prices through collective bargaining, but favour large (primarily commercial) publishers [2.7; 2.8; 2.10; 2.11; 2.12].

  1.16  "Big deals" allow information usage to be monitored more effectively [2.9; 2.10].

  1.17  Most people who want access to specialist scientific information already have it [2.1; 2.10; 2.11; 4.5; 4.10].

  1.18  VAT regulations need improvement [3.1; 3.2].

  1.19  Current models are market driven with none of them unfairly favoured by legislation [3.5; 4.1; 4.2].

  1.20  Copyright protection is threatened by new models [5.2].

  1.21  The legal deposit of electronic material requires serious consideration [5.1; 5.2; 5.3].

  1.22  A UK national licence for scientific information should be considered and funded [2.12].

  1.23  The maintenance of the scientific record is under threat [4.7; 4.8; 6.1].

  1.24  New models pose the threat of additional bureaucracy [4.9, 4.11; 5.2].

2.0  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?

  2.1  Not all current policies on pricing and journal access provision are the same. Under-funded libraries are forced to provide sub-standard services. Information access in teaching and research is greater than ever before.

  2.2  Although in many subject areas scholarly societies are responsible for publishing a high proportion of the best and most highly cited work, in most areas commercial publishers are responsible for the dissemination of the largest proportion of the published record. Journal for journal, like for like, paper for paper, journals published by learned societies are generally much cheaper than commercial ones and, of course, whatever surplus made by the society is returned to its subject area through subsidy of its other activities. However, libraries have to continue to subscribe to expensive commercial journals because some work of high quality does get published in them, and just because some research results are not exciting doesn't mean they are wrong and scientific research is about getting right and complete, not superficially exciting.

  2.3  It would obviously be of benefit to academics generally if their best work were published in cheaper journals, but there is currently no economic drive that encourages the individual researcher to do so. His or her decision about place of publication is not necessarily influenced by consideration of the common good, but rather by factors such as the likelihood of personal recognition and advancement.

  2.4  It is true that increases in journal prices have for many years on average outstripped increases in library budgets, but it is also true that the volume of research output has consistently increased at a much greater rate than library budget increases. Neither have increases in university library funding kept pace with increases in university research funding. There is insufficient funding for academic libraries to purchase the burgeoning research output.

  2.5  The rejection of the first "author-pays" model occurred in the 1970s when many academics began to support the many new commercial niche journals with their article submissions in place of the largely society-dominated publishing environment. There were likely many factors involved in the decision to publish in and thereby inadvertently develop these commercial journals, but one of the reasons cited most often is that the new commercial journals did not charge authors page charges.

  2.6  Development of the scholarly publishing environment has proceeded at a far greater pace since the inception of the web than at any other time since journals were established. This has led to a huge increase in investment in all processes and outputs related to publishing. Publishers, both commercial and not-for-profit, have had to invest extraordinarily heavily in electronic publishing to stay in business, and all at a time when attrition of journal sales is at its highest level. This investment has to be paid for somehow, and it has impacted on the pricing policy of all publishers. Publishers have adopted standards for more effective interoperability (CrossRef) and standards for electronic usage are in development (COUNTER). Further enhancements to interoperability are on the cards with projects such as CrossSearch. Without the profit margins they have currently, publishers would not be able to invest in these developments which enhance greatly the scientific record and its functionality.

  2.7  There is no doubt that the big deal-type arrangements, if taken up, do tend to top-slice money out of the library system though it must be remembered that there is no compulsion to sign up. The top-slicing has had several negative effects, including: leaving insufficient funding available to purchase similar services from other publishers, thus, increasing the reliance of academics and students on journals in the big deal; risking the continuance of smaller publishers, especially not-for-profit society publishers, as the collection development strategy has usually been to sign up to the biggest deals in size order, rather than on the basis of quality of content. It thus disadvantages society-based publishers who habitually provide journal publishing services at the best value to the purchaser.

  2.8  Many of the original big deals signed up are now at the end of their first contractual period and under re-negotiation. This has had some interesting effects. The larger consortia have found that they are well placed in these discussions to influence changes in charging and business models; they have considerably more clout that the individual purchasing organisations would have had. There have been some high-profile cases of institutions or groups in the USA saying they will drop out of Elsevier's big deal. Many purchasers are taking advantage of the re-negotiations to change their model from a basis of existing print holdings and extra for widespread electronic access to the "flip-over" model where the basis is for electronic access and deeply discounted print purchase.

  2.9  The availability of electronic versions and consortium deals coupled with the development of reliable electronic usage statistics has for the first time given those responsible for purchase an accurate idea of how much the products and services they are buying are being used. This information is being used to inform collection-based decisions.

  2.10  Big deals have increased access to journals enormously and usage reports from large consortia such as OhioLink have shown that usage of journals available through big deals that were not accessible in print previously is considerable.

  2.11  In terms of increased or widespread access, many publishers report very low turn-away rates with respect to access denied that are referred from Google or other searches, for example Nature reports a turn-away rate from Google of less than 10%, implying that nearly all those who have an interest in looking up an article can gain access.

  2.12  Some countries (examples include Finland, Canada, Denmark, Taiwan) have developed national site licences and purchase information centrally and make it available freely to all within that country. UK higher education has been rather backward in developing a site licence. The NESLI model was inappropriate as it depended on an opt-in model. The development of a UK national site licence has been mooted again, but will depend on RLSG. This is one area where the Government could and should take action: to encourage the development of a UK national site licence and provide centralised funding for it.

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

  3.1  Government should not legislate against one supplier in the scientific endeavour, and should not artificially support a single previously rejected and failed economic model. It should sort out the VAT discrepancies between print and electronic versions of the same information. Funding of information provision in academic institutions should keep pace with output and consumption. Publishers should continue to innovate with their products and services, should compete to publish the best work, and should charge prices which are regulated by the market not by the Government.

  3.2  A factor that would aid the evolution of business models that are appropriate for all is the settlement of the question of VAT on electronic publications. Publishers in the UK firmly believe that as journals and books are VAT-exempt their electronic versions should be also. Taxing the higher education community on information provision is adding another burden and is preventing movement to online-only options for delivery which, barring VAT, would be cheaper than print plus electronic options from most providers. Government action on this would be appreciated.

  3.3  Peer-reviewed scientific information in journal is a cheap resource compared with the other items in the overall science research budget: staff, materials, equipment, etc., and information provision accounts for only a small proportion of either university or industrial research costs. Presumably the Government is not considering that instrument manufacturers, for example, who also take advantage of academic research advances, should not be expected to make a profit on any goods sold to universities or industry. Why should publishers, who freely compete for the best authors and content and revenues just as suppliers of other services, be singled out?

  3.4  Government and academic institutions should fund their information provision, not as the runt of the litter but rather as the crucial enabling technology which it is. Efficient information provision saves research costs long term, and is the basis of improved learning. Funding has in no way kept pace with the amount of research, teaching, or learning being done.

  3.5  A recent (5th November 2003) statement of the International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers (STM) is of relevance here:

    "Scientific research has never been more accessible than it is today. In recent years, STM publishers have been working closely with scientists, researchers, and librarians to lead the ongoing revolution in the dissemination of scholarly information. We have leveraged emerging technologies and invested hundreds of millions of dollars to make more scientific research information more accessible to more people than ever before. In the process, we have developed—and continue to develop—innovative and accessible business models to broaden information access. Recent developments such as flexible subscription licensing arrangements customised to meet the needs of libraries and consortia; "pay-per-view" article access at prices within reach of non-subscribing individuals; and implementation of standards such as cross-linking protocols (such as CrossRef) and enabling technologies (such as the digital object identifier) have made seamless navigation and discovery possible across a growing web of published resources. The HINARI and AGORA initiatives are examples of how publishers are bringing current research information within the reach of those who need it in low-income nations worldwide."

    "Scientific disciplines differ in their scholarly communication practices. Journals differ from one another in their editorial content, features, sales models, and how they serve the needs of their specific research communities. STM applauds the multiple journal business models that have successfully emerged to serve the needs of authors and customers by ensuring the wide and continuous dissemination of consistently high-quality, independently validated research. We welcome additional publishers to our markets. As publishers of science, we naturally look forward to any new experiments in our field."

    "Abandoning the diversity of proven publishing models in favour of a single, untested model could have disastrous consequences for the scientific research community. It could seriously jeopardize the flow of information today, as well as continuity of the archival record of scientific progress that is so important to our society tomorrow."

    "It is the competitive and well-functioning market, and not governments, that must choose which business models and which publishers are best equipped to stay apace of the ever-increasing demand for information exchange."

4.0  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?

  4.1  Open-access journals will succeed or fail on the basis of the quality of their content which will determine whether someone in the world is willing to financially underwrite the process. The RAE should be based on quality not pricing model, and Government should allow market forces to prevail.

  4.2  Traditional publishing, whether by societies or commercial organisations, is well funded, well organised and has a strong interest in developing and implementing new technology. There is no certainty that open archiving without publishers will be cheaper for the users. Interoperability of journal content could be a much bigger issue than open archiving or pricing by commercial publishers for the next 10 years. However, open archiving presents an opportunity to develop useful dissemination routes alongside traditional quality journals, which do seem still to meet some important needs of the community that are not obviously met by open archive alternatives.

  4.3  A serious concern with the open access/archive proposals is that they have an inherent bias. Many of the arguments from the proponents are academic-centric, first-world-centric and English/American-speaking-centric. Many speak of `nuisance authors' with a rather unsympathetic implication that these are authors from developing nations and that the open archive should not be littered with lower-quality submissions. However, China, for example, is a major developing area in terms of publishing, both in scholarly output and in terms of a developing market for information. The RSC's experience is probably reasonably typical in that receipts of articles from Chinese authors have increased from around 1% to around 20% of total submissions over a period of two years. The acceptance rate for these articles is currently low, but increasing, and is not expected to remain low in the medium to long term as the general quality of submissions will undoubtedly improve in novelty at an impressive rate. However, for those authors the importance of publishing in high-profile journals is of crucial importance, just as much if not more so than for their western colleagues. Since China joined the WTO paid subscriptions from there have increased significantly to the extent that China has become a major market for scientific information.

  4.4  It is possible that someone will wish to subsidise the publication of work from developing nations. It seems very unclear that an author-pays model would work in this respect. Many of the last bastions of page charging (for example the American Physical Society and American Chemical Society) have stopped levying page charges because they have become so unpopular with authors and they have had difficulty collecting them from non-US authors. The incentive to levy a different author related charge does not seem to be sufficiently strong at present to make it a viable alternative to offsetting even the peer review costs. SPARC has proposed a transition model for existing journals to move to open access by asking authors to pay a charge to provide open access to their article and suggests that this model could in time support maybe 10% of authors in any journal from developing countries who could not pay. They suggests that raising the author fee for those who can pay will cover this. The problem here is that there could be many more than 10% of authors who cannot (or will not) pay. In any case the overall scheme is then not very different from that which pertains now, that is that those purchasers that can (or will) pay subsidise access for those that cannot.

  4.5  Currently most authors care where their work is seen and who it is seen by far more than they care about how many people have seen it. Quality wins hands down over quantity where authors are concerned about readership. Society journals often have wider circulations than commercial journals to start with, and with the liberalisation of licensing agreements and the access arrangements for developing countries through schemes such as HINARI and INASP/PERI, the access to these journals is more widespread than ever before.

  4.6  It must also be kept in mind that not all authors, readers or members of scholarly societies are academics, and by no means all of the work published, in chemistry journals at least, is financially supported by funds from the tax-payer via the funding agencies; much of it is funded by industry. Corporate libraries stand to gain much from open access systems as their researchers generally do not publish work but make extensive use of work published by others.

  4.7  Open access puts at risk the value publishers currently add to the scientific record in terms of editing to agreed standards, including nomenclature etc, which make the literature understandable and usable by the largest number of people. Another important aspect is that traditional journals take very seriously their responsibility to ensure that authors disclose sufficient information to enable the results to be reproduced by others. All these things draw on resources of time, expertise and money. Open archive approaches will depend on the individual/corporate willingness to provide these services which will not at all be guaranteed or standardised.

  4.8  Institutional archives would also be subject to access control as there is material that institutions would not wish to make freely available, especially in any competitive environment.

  4.9  One has to question whether it is realistic to expect the conversion of the 12—20 thousand existing paid-access STM journals to open access or the launching of sufficient new open-access journals to make a difference. One also has to question whether there is sufficient incentive for such a change. After all, if authors were really that concerned about the issue now they could very easily boycott the most expensive commercial journals in favour of publication in better value not-for-profit counterparts. It is very unlikely there will be a sea-change until authors' needs are not being met by the current system, and that is clearly not the case at present.

  4.10  The cost of producing an article in a printed journal is widely agreed to be around £2500, whereas the author charges levied at present by open-access journals are in the range £300-800. However, the real cost per article increases significantly with the rejection rate as there is no fee for rejected articles. It is claimed that for a high-rejection-rate, high-quality journal such as Nature, the 95% rejection rate would lead to an author-pays fee of around £6,000. There is a real lack of evidence that the author-pays model can be self-sustaining let alone provide any fund for future development. There is, however, evidence that journals which have started as open access, eg Journal of High Energy Physics, have reached a level of article submission where they have to abandon the open access model and charge readers in order to continue.

  4.11  The collection of payments from individual authors adds a whole new layer of bureaucracy, complication and extra cost compared with collection of subscriptions from institutions. Consortium arrangements have tended to reduce the number of financial transactions related to journal article supply whereas the author-pays model explodes the number of transactions and adds costs for the institutions that pay and those that collect.

  4.12  In terms of general financial considerations, UK plc has much to lose from destabilising its very successful journal publishing industry in terms of employment, exports and revenues to the Exchequer. Another tangential issue is that pension funds invest heavily in the larger commercial publishers, eg Reed Elsevier.

  4.13  There is no evidence that those responsible for funding research in the UK would achieve a net saving if the publishing business model were to change to open access. The STM publishing function is enormous and very valuable in all sorts of ways. Tampering with that function is enormously risky and could result in a major destabilisation of the publishing system from which it might not be possible to recover, especially if many or most of the traditional publishers have ceased as a result of the destabilisation. The skills and experience would simply not be there to rebuild the system.

  4.14  The risk to scholarship-friendly publishing is very likely far greater than that to commercial publishers in the short to medium term. Interference in the system could result in the financial ruin of many societies and the endangerment of the very valuable service that they provide to the scientific community and the boost to educational and other activities that they provide. These services and activities could disappear.

  4.15  The Government should not meddle in an important industry sector that is already in a period of great change as a result of working market forces.

5.0  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?

  5.1  It is in the interests of all to solve the problem of providing a secure legal-deposit system for published material that does not have a printed format. An Act has been passed by Parliament, but that is merely a framework and the British Library needs to work through the detail with the Legal Deposit Libraries. The British Library is working on a major digital object management system, and is also in negotiation with Government about funding for the preservation of electronic data. It is essential that appropriate funding be given to the British Library to enable it to take on this task. Sadly, the incorrectly held view that electronic = free or cheap to deal with, that is often levelled at publishers, is in danger of affecting the consideration of the British Library's funding requests.

  5.2  Self-archiving approaches will of course complicate copyright policing, especially for organisations such as the British Library. By no means all information will be free, or free of copyright, and rather than dealing with a relatively small number of publishers the BL will have to police, deal with, and pay millions of individuals.

  5.3  The pressure from academics for an electronic archiving solution, the lack of which was used by academics as an excuse for not publishing in journals without a print equivalent, has declined. Academics are now much more familiar with and trustful of the electronic publishing environment. However, a central solution for provision of access to electronic data to which academics have enduring rights of access is still a need.

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

  6.1  The issues here are mainly around loss of quality control as a result of potential degradation of the peer-review system in an open access environment. The control of the scientific record moves towards the authors rather than an organisation with industry-wide standards for archiving, with potential loss of version control. Once an article is published it should be out of the control of the author otherwise they can change it or remove it.

  6.2  There will be greater access to work of poorer quality and especially to work of a quality that would not be accepted in reputable journals. As a result caveat emptor will apply to all users, greatly increasing the cost of assessing the validity of information.

  6.3  Turning the publishing model on its head and moving to an author-pays model implies that the ability of the author to pay for their submission could be a more important criterion than the quality of the work ("those who pay get their way"). This moves the quality control from what the reader wants, ie authentication and a badge of quality, to what the author wants, ie dissemination at all costs. An author-pays model is likely to lead to low rejection (from those who can afford to pay) and thus lower quality, whereas if readers pay one has high rejection and filtering as the readers require quality not quantity.

  6.4  Open access journal editors could be more influenced by the ability of an author to pay than by the quality of the work. This could lead to a very biased approach to work from poorer countries. As there is no payment received for rejected papers in the current author-pays model the rejection rate is likely to be depressed, leading to lower quality and greater difficulty in identifying the articles that are truly important.

  6.5  Without publishers, who will maintain the function of detecting scientific fraud and malpractice and dealing with its consequences?


  The Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) is incorporated by Royal Charter. Her Majesty the Queen is the Patron. The RSC is the Professional Body for chemists and the Learned Society for chemistry in the UK.

  The Publishing operation generates ca. five million pounds per year for funding charitable activities. This represents over 80% of the income of the Society. If this financial contribution does not at least grow with inflation then the activities detailed below would be severely affected. This would be true of several major UK scientific charities.

  The RSC is the leading organisation in Europe for advancing the chemical sciences. Supported by a network of 45,000 members worldwide and an internationally acclaimed publishing business, RSC's activities span education and training, conferences and science policy, and the promotion of the chemical sciences to the public.

  The RSC plays a central role in fostering an effective partnership between industry and academia.

  The RSC plays a leading role in the chemical sciences, communicating cutting- edge research and its applications through highly respected journals and its programme of international conferences, seminars and workshops.

  The RSC's educational activities provide information and training opportunities for both students and teachers. The RSC is extremely active in determining the future of chemical education, seeking to influence Government by submitting evidence to Parliament and anticipating developments in education policy. The RSC is the second-largest provider of in-service training for teachers in the UK after the Government.

  The RSC makes submissions on consultative documents on proposed changes in legislation and does contract work for the European Commission on health and safety issues, as well as for UK Government departments.

  The RSC plays a leading role among scientific societies in building bridges between the scientific community and Parliament, takes an active role in Parliamentary life, and organises the largest scientific events held in Parliament.

  The RSC has close contacts with other organisations worldwide to further the cause of the chemical sciences and formulate international policy.

  The RSC also maintains the largest source of chemically related information in the UK through its databanks and Library and Information Centre at Burlington House, which holds 2000 journals and in excess of 20,000 books.

  As the professional body for chemistry in the UK, the RSC is responsible for maintaining advanced standards of qualifications, competence and professional practice amongst chemical scientists. The RSC assesses and accredits degrees and diplomas in the chemical sciences and related courses in British universities.

  The RSC is the qualifying body for Public Analysts through its MChemA examinations and for chemical scientists wishing to be Qualified Persons in the pharmaceutical industry.


  The RSC publishes a wide range of books, journals, magazines, and databases, used for both educational and research and development purposes. The mission of the publishing operation is to promote efficient scholarly communication and produce a surplus in order to invest in other discipline-based charitable activities. Around 80% of the funding of the RSC is generated from the publishing operation.

  The publications are truly international: 85% of our authors are from outside the UK, but perhaps more significant is that 90% of our revenues come from sales outside the UK. The surplus generated from these activities is ploughed back into the RSC's services for members and into the chemical sciences.

  Many overseas scientific societies have subsidised publishing operations, and many societies abroad survive on government subsidies as their revenues from membership subscriptions are insufficient to fund their activities.

February 2004

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