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
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
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
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 TrustEconomic Analysis of Scientific Research
"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
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
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
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
What action should Government, academic institutions
and publishers be taking to promote a competitive market in scientific
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 overheadsabout
two thirdswhile 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 workespecially 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
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
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
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
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
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