Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1
MONDAY 1 MARCH 2004
Q1 Chairman: Thank you, John, Robert
and Richard, for coming to help us in our first session, which
is on scientific publications. You will know that we have visited
the British Library to breathe the city air and see what work
is done and what the plans are, so we come from a little knowledge
of the situation. We are looking forward to kicking off today
with you guys. How you answer the questions is up to you.
Mr Campbell: We have agreed that
I will act as the co-ordinator of the three of us.
Q2 Chairman: We will address all
our questions to you but if others want to come in, please catch
my eye. Do you grant access free of charge to digital content
six months after the initial publication date?
Mr Campbell: We do for one journal
and for several journals we do it for 12 months. We are watching
that and will obviously report to the societies for whom we publish;
and on the basis of whether that has any serious impact on subscribers,
they may well want to widen that policy.
Q3 Chairman: Are you saying you have
a differential policy for
Mr Campbell: Yes.
Q4 Chairman: Why is that?
Mr Campbell: We publish for about
550 societies, and they decide on the policy of individual journals.
My two colleagues should speak on their own behalf because they
are different companies with fewer society journals.
Mr Charkin: By and large we do
not make material available after six months free of charge. Rather
like Bob said, on one of our journals, which is a society-owned
one, we go along with their wishes.
Dr Jarvis: We do not. One of the
issues we haveand we are actively looking into thisis
that we sell quite a lot of back-issue content, so open access
would impact on our business model, so we are actively looking
at how we can best provide access to archival content. We are
not sure whether it will be six months or a year.
Q5 Chairman: What has made you start
looking at that again? You obviously had made a hard and fast
decision; what is creating the climate now to change?
Dr Jarvis: I think the whole open
access movement has made us realise that there is a real requirement,
and a desire, for people to have open access in certain circumstances.
That is something that we have to address as a business.
Chairman: Have you considered implementing
a pay-to-publish rather a pay-for-access policy?
Mr Campbell: Yes, and we have
put that model to several societies for whom we publish; and their
publications committees are considering it. At this stage none
of them have decided to take it any further. We submitted an application
for the JISC programme where they have a three-year programme
funding some open access experiments. We were unsuccessful with
that. We are certainly looking at the model, and we have several
proposals out with societies, trying to cost the impact of
Q6 Chairman: Does this model have
an impact on publishers and institutions, in your view?
Mr Campbell: We could talk about
that for the next hour.
Q7 Chairman: No, you have not got
an hour; you have got one minute.
Mr Campbell: As we said in our
submission, we think it will have an impact. We think there is
a danger that an author-paid model could lead to lower standards.
It is also not popular amongst authors, less well-funded institutes
or from other countries, where even a ten-dollar charge to an
author would seem excessive.
Q8 Chairman: What effects would open
access models have in costing terms, compared to existing publishing
Mr Charkin: There are many answers
because there are many journals for many disciplines, and the
impact will be different depending upon which discipline or which
journal you are talking about. In our letter to you, speaking
on behalf of Nature Publishing Group, in the case of Nature
itself, the British international journal, in order to replace
our revenues you would have to charge the author somewhere between
£10,000 and £30,000 because the costs of editorial design
and support are so high. The reason for the big disparity is how
Q9 Chairman: Are you saying it is
Mr Charkin: Per article; it is
a huge price and would, I believe, be completely unsustainable
because I think people would not pay that. In that particular
model it is a very serious and different answer to the one that
one would get for a more specialised journal.
Q10 Chairman: Do you think that would
make a big dent in higher education funding, if you take all the
top-up fee money away?
Mr Campbell: We think it would
be more expensive for Britain, certainly, because it is a net
exporter of knowledge.
Q11 Chairman: Is there a demand for
open access publishing?
Mr Charkin: We are just running
a survey through all the authors to Nature to find out.
We ran an open access debate about a year ago within Nature
and there really was not overwhelming support. Clearly, there
is some sort of a groundswell, but it certainly was not overwhelming,
and early indications from proceedings of the National Academy
of Sciences in America and such like have not really supported
the contention that it is huge.
Q12 Chairman: Where is the groundswell
coming from, in your opinion?
Mr Charkin: It is a number of
very distinguished scientiststhere is no question of that.
It is typically from the molecular biology end of the science
spectrum rather than anywhere else.
Q13 Chairman: Is this the Harold
Varmus thing in the States?
Mr Charkin: Yes.
Q14 Chairman: We hope to be seeing
Harold later on.
Mr Charkin: It is a specialist
area that is very well funded, and I think that is a distinction
from many of the other parts of the scientific spectrum.
Q15 Chairman: How would it affect
your business, do you think?
Dr Jarvis: To answer your previous
question, we have been considering open access models. One of
our concerns is, supported by those who have done research on
open access, is that there is a great range to what it would cost,
and we are trying to pin down an accurate figure. We are also
concerned by how many people will be able to afford that figure,
because although one can see a model with disciplines which are
extremely well funded, there are certain geographic regions and
subject disciplines where it would be extremely hard for people
to pay these kinds of amounts. We have considered it for certain
niche journals, which are difficult to sustain in a subscription
model. That is a situation where we are trying to see if an open
access model would work, where there is a limited number of people
who want a journal in a particular area which is not sustainable
by subscription revenue.
Q16 Chairman: Can you give me a breakdown
of the 10-30K per article and write to me?
Mr Charkin: Absolutely, we would
be very happy to. Very crudely, £30 million of sales: we
get income of £30 million and we publish 1,000 papers a year.
That is your £30 million. Hence the figure of £30 thousand.
Q17 Mr McWalter: Professor Adrian
Sutton saidjust to illustrate the groundswell of opinion:
"Academics provide their scientific papers for publishers
free of charge. They review other scientific papers for those
publishers free of charge, and they pay exorbitant prices for
hard copy and/or electronic access to their own work in published
volumes. What other business receives the goods that it sells
to its customers from those same customers, the quality-control
mechanisms provided by its customers, and a tremendous fee from
those same customers?" Does that not seem to be a reasonable
complaint, and should we not be doing something about it?
Mr Campbell: In a way, that has
been the forerunner of the open access movement. There was a "take
back copyright" movement in the States among senior academics.
That has been around for a while. The answer is that the journal
publishing system has evolved, and we think it works very well.
It is delivering more effectively than ever before; the downloads
for most of us have doubled from what they were a year ago. It
is very successful and academics like to use it. There is this
argument that you have outline, but
Q18 Mr McWalter: Is there a gripe?
Mr Campbell: Is it, if they find
another system to publish their journalsor perhaps open
access is another system? It has been around for a long time.
You should remember that a lot of people are members of societies,
and societies benefit hugely from the journal publishing system.
They can refuse to referee if they do not want to do it, but on
the whole they like to referee, to be involved in subjects and
see what is happening and have some input. There is no shortage
of people wanting any journals, and there is no shortage of authors.
As Richard said, one of the problems with a high-quality journal
is that you have to process so many articles that eventually have
to be rejected. When you have a journal rejecting nine out of
ten articles, particularly in some subjects like ecology, you
cannot afford the open access type model or the author-pays model
because you would land up with such huge costs to the individual
author that it does not work. So we are left with a system where
subscribers pay and we run the system.
Q19 Geraldine Smith: Your general
policy on access to journals: who do you think should pay and
who should have free or nearly free access? Do you have any form
Mr Campbell: That is a good question
because what has happened is that the publishing industry has
effectively, with the support of the societies it publishes for,
given free access to poorer countries. There are various schemes,
which you will see in the submissionsHINARI, AGORA for
example, which deliver journals without charge to poorer countries;
and that scheme is being enhanced and is lifting up to another
level of slightly better-off countries.
Dr Jarvis: One of the things that
intrigues me is that there is evidence that some of the support
for open access is coming from outside the research community.
There are some reports of members of the public wanting to read
this kind of information. Without being pejorative or elitist,
I think that is an issue that we should think about very, very
carefully, because there are very few members of the public, and
very few people in this room, who would want to read this type
of scientific information, and in fact draw wrong conclusions
from it. As publishers of this very high-level, sometimes esoteric,
information, when we have information that is of use to a broader
audience, we make sure we use all the channels by contacting the
press to make that happen. Having said that, I think the mechanisms
are in place for anybody in this room to go into their public
library, through inter-library loan, get access to any article
they want. They can go to a machine now and press a button and
see it on their screen. I don't believe that a section of our
society is excluded from seeing this information. I will say again;
let us be careful because this rather enticing statement that
everybody should be able to see everything could lead to chaos.
Speak to people in the medical profession, and they will say the
last thing they want are people who may have illnesses reading
this information, marching into surgeries and asking things. We
need to be careful with this very, very high-level information.