Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from Blackwell Publishing


    —  Blackwell Publishing is the leading publisher of journals owned by societies.

    —  Within STM (Science, Technology, Medicine) societies are aware of Open Access as an issue. Some offer free access after a limited period but are not adopting the author-pays model. However they are watching the situation closely.

    —  The "big deal" has been part of a process of developing online access alongside new pricing models, and has enabled publishers greatly to improve access to journals. More progress could be made if the VAT rating were reduced.

    —  Blackwell Publishing believes that the market is already competitive. Blackwell will experiment with the Open Access author-pays model although it is aware of the criticisms of this model, such as access limitations for authors from poorer countries and organizations, and the risk of declining standards.

    —  It is also difficult to see how Open Access might work outside the well funded research areas of molecular biology and medicine. The current system helps bring on young unfunded authors. The success of open access systems such as the Human Genome Project is not relevant because they are not directly analogous with research journals.

    —  Subscription revenue enables publishers to invest in creating journal legacy (digitizing back issues) and updating software as technology evolves, but Institutional Repositories could face more of a funding problem in maintaining accessible archives.

    —  New technology, eg full text searching, could reduce plagiarism but there are doubts over maintaining standards of peer-review with the Open Access model.


  Blackwell Publishing is a privately owned international publisher with sales of £182M in 2003 and 854 staff (580 in the UK). It publishes 692 journals across most disciplines (many on behalf of societies) and around 600 books annually. It can be characterised by quoting from the report commissioned by the Wellcome Trust—Economic Analysis of Scientific Research Publishing:

    "In the UK Blackwell has a major stake in contract publishing and is reported to provide good customer care. It is able to retain most of its journals from one year to another because of the customer care which arises from its specialist interest in contract publishing and is viewed by some as an honorary not-for-profit publisher."


  We have seen submissions from the Publishers Association, ALPSP and the STM Association and are broadly in agreement with them. In this paper, therefore, we shall not repeat the detail in those submissions but concentrate on our views as a major publisher for societies.


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

  The market is in transition. The big deal originated from a pilot national licensing scheme funded by HEFCE. The idea was to halt the decline in circulation of journals and limit the increase in subscription prices. The big deal and its variants are based on the low cost of delivery to more readers with online systems and have enabled libraries greatly to improve access to journals.

  In the UK, for example, SCONUL (Society of College, National and University Libraries) data indicate that the mean number of journal titles received by its member libraries in 1993-94 was 3,976; the nearest equivalent figure for 2001-02 is 6,489. Over these eight years colleges were admitted to SCONUL, which will have brought down the mean number for 2001-02.

  In our view the impact has been spectacular. In 2002 we recorded 19 million downloads of articles from our online delivery system Synergy, in 2003 36.7 million, and we are expecting around 65 million this year. Other publishers report a similar annual doubling of usage.

  In 2004, the cost of subscribing to Blackwell's complete list of 692 journals is £229,170, which equates to £1.82 per article (we plan to publish 126,000 articles). This unit charge is 2.8 per cent higher than the 2003 figure, well in line with inflation. Normally most of the titles accessed by a library are not purchased at full price but under a "top up" scheme. The top up price is £13,215 for our complete list which works out at £0.025 per article including the digitized back issues.

  We appreciate, however, the library community's criticism of bundling (giving them access to some titles they do not require) and are experimenting with new pricing models, as are other publishers. Such experiments are carried out with the active co-operation of libraries. Several publishers, including ourselves, have library advisory boards advising them on pricing and services. New pricing models may be based on the size of the institution, usage and a core collection bought on subscription, with access to the rest of the publishers' list subject to a supplementary licence.

  In the Developing World we work with HINARI, AGORA and INASP to provide access to our journals at little or no cost with the complete support of the 550 societies for whom we publish.

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

  We believe the market is competitive; it is certainly sufficiently dynamic to have enabled Blackwell Publishing to gain market share over recent years. As the Committee is particularly interested in Open Access, it is worth pointing out that a number of open-access journals have emerged without government support. This suggests a healthy market.

  Most of the cost in the information system is directly related to the library and its overheads—about two thirds—while expenditure on publications is at most one third. Library overheads could be greatly reduced by complete migration to online-only journals, but there is currently no financial incentive as libraries have to pay full VAT on online subscriptions.

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?

  Blackwell Publishing's statement on its position on Open Access is given below:

    "The combination of investment in technology and new pricing models is vastly increasing the access to journal content. As the publishing system develops it is likely that a number of different models will be tried and tested; the Open Access model is one of these. The customer, the research community, will decide what serves its needs best. Any publishing model will have to be sustainable, and not reliant on long-term subsidies or special funding."

  The case for Open Access has been widely promoted and featured heavily in conferences of information scientists, libraries and publishers. The case against has not been so widely promoted because publishers are open to new models, as can be seen from the official statements from the various trade associations.

  Some of the societies for whom we publish are offering free access after 12 months, and we are trialling free access after six months with a title we own. Many societies like the idea of Open Access in theory, but are less sure of how it will work in practice. Two out of 550 societies are seriously interested in either converting an established title to Open Access or launching a new open access title. We are having to use a title we own for an application for funding from the JISC three-year programme and another for a trial of Open Access. Naturally we shall be sharing the results with the societies.

  The concerns over the Open Access model are covered in other submissions to the Committee. Those most commonly voiced by society officers are:

    —  The author-charge is a barrier to publication which will favour richer   countries and organisations and make it difficult to publish a journal with authors from, say, Eastern Europe and the Developing World.

    —  A system based on revenues from authors may lead to lower standards.

    —  If the model proves unsustainable in the longer term, the society's main income stream may fall so much that its very mission is endangered.

    —  Why put at risk a proven system that has evolved over several hundred years?

  There could well be a problem for the Research Assessment Exercise if we see a proliferation of new open access journals, especially as most societies along with their communities of referees seem unlikely to support them fully at this stage.

  JISC is already taking an active interest in Open Access. It is funding trials over the next three years, as mentioned above, has subscribed to the major commercial open access publisher on behalf of its members and has run meetings to review the concept. The new model, therefore, is being given every chance to prove itself in the UK.

  Although the focus of most Open Access discussion is on molecular biology and medicine, any new system will only succeed if it caters for all scholarly communication. Only a minority of the research outside these areas receives designated funding. The economics of any new system must cater for the development and communication of ideas from the lone scholar, the unfunded scholar, the young scholar and the non-English speaker. Many journals, particularly in the humanities and social sciences, attach particular importance to developing the work of these groups. The cost per paper published would need to be elevated significantly beyond the figures already being quoted as inadequate in order to support this work—especially at a time when editorial costs are rising sharply because universities are no longer prepared to offer subsidies to editorial offices. The Human Genome Project is given as a successful example of Open Access but this model should not be conflated with the research journal, in which there is much greater editorial input.

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 that respect?

  We are in support of the 2003 Legal Deposit Libraries Act and are working with major libraries in the United States and other parts of the world to ensure the long-term preservation and availability of the electronic versions of our publications.

  We see the development of Institutional Repositories as a related issue. Linked to the Open Archive initiative (aiming to achieve free access to research reports and other scholarly material archived on behalf of faculty), Institutional Repositories have a major role in preserving non-print material. CrossRef (an organisation set up by publishers to link online publications and add value to journals on a mutual basis) is discussing with libraries how PhD theses and other grey literature might be given DOIs (Digital Object Identifiers) and linked to the peer-reviewed literature.

  The subscription model supports the investment by publishers in creating "legacy" (digitized back issues) and should enable publishers to update the software to maintain access as technology evolves. It is not clear, however, what funding the Institutional Repositories will receive to maintain their archives.

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

  The author-pays model could encourage high rates of acceptance in peer-reviewed journals, as only accepted papers will generate revenues for journals and societies/publishers. On the other hand, the subscription-based model favours rejection, which is especially important, for example, in clinical medicine, where the risks associated with publishing substandard material are higher. As the market is increasingly taking into account quality and usage, rejection rates could rise with the subscription-based model.

  New technology may soon assist peer review and help to counter scientific fraud as the electronic editorial office (systems for web-based manuscript submission, refereeing and management) might include the facility to carry out a full text search using strings of, say, eight words, with matches indicating plagiarism. A group of publishers within CrossRef are looking at full text searching across sites.


  1.  Online delivery and new pricing models are achieving almost universal access and are driving rapidly growing usage of scientific journals. The market is dynamic and competitive. The Government should not therefore step in.

  2.  The major cost in the scholarly information system is libraries and their overheads rather than what they spend on journals. Moving to online-only journal holdings, which would greatly reduce library overheads, is hampered by the extra cost of VAT on electronic journals. The Government should bring down the VAT rating.

  3.  Open Access is being widely promoted and trials of the model are being supported by JISC. It should be given every chance to compete in the market along with other models, but there is no case to favour it, especially as there are concerns over fairness (in terms of access by authors) and quality.

  4.  Many scientific journals are published by or on behalf of societies. Their role and views are being undervalued in the current debate on Open Access. The societies should be widely consulted.

  5.  The Institutional Repository could play a major role in the evolution of scholarly communication. Those leading the development of Institutional Repositories wish to work in partnership with publishers. Funding of pilot joint schemes by JISC or some other agency could be productive and should be explored.

February 2004

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