Open Access News

News from the open access movement


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Update on SCOAP3

Jeffrey Young, Physicists Set Plan in Motion to Change Publishing System, Chronicle of Higher Education, January 30, 2009.  Excerpt:

In what some are calling a peaceful revolution, researchers have mounted a takeover of high-energy-physics publishing. One signature at a time, national research agencies and university libraries have pledged to support a radical new system that would replace expensive subscriptions to leading journals with membership in a nonprofit group. The new organization would then dole out money to journal publishers, while pushing them to distribute all articles free online and to keep their prices in check.

The key: By teaming up, the libraries, which pay the bills, and the researchers, who provide the articles, will exert unprecedented leverage. The strategy might also convince journal editors who have been reluctant to give away all of their content for fear of losing money that libraries will continue to pay them even in an open-access system.

The group is called Scoap3, the Sponsoring Consortium for Open Access Publishing in Particle Physics....

[L]eaders in physics hope that if their experiment works, other disciplines will follow suit....

So far the journal publishers say they are willing to consider such a model, but they are hardly enthusiastic. "We must show some good will," said Christian Caron, an executive editor at the publishing conglomerate Springer Science+Business Media, which oversees a major high-energy-physics journal. "We pledge that we will sit down at the table for negotiations." He described his attitude toward the project as "a very cautious 'Let's see and discuss it.'" ...

[CERN's Salvatore Mele] says journals still play a crucial role in the professional life of scientists, even though readership has declined. "We do not buy journals to read them, we buy journals to support them," he said. "They do something crucial, which is peer review." ...

So far more than 19 countries have pledged to participate, including Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and Turkey....

Colleges in the United States have been a tougher sell...The librarians [at a February 2008 meeting in Berkeley] praised the goals of the project, but some asked whether it was sustainable. After all, if the journals make their contents free online, why should college libraries use their shrinking resources to pay for them?

Some librarians at public institutions say they cannot participate even if they want to. "Most states require that public funds allocated for purchasing have to be used to actually purchase something," said Dennis Dillon, associate director for research services at the University of Texas at Austin....

Some journal editors are also anxious about whether the project will work.

"We are gravely concerned about the difficulty of reassembling our subscription model were Scoap3 to fail," said Gene D. Sprouse, editor in chief at the American Physical Society, in a written statement....

Paul Ginsparg, a physics professor at Cornell who started arXiv, also expressed skepticism about the new project's viability, echoing concerns about the project's financial model.

He said he hoped that open-access options would become so compelling and incorporate new features that are so useful that researchers would only want to publish their papers in journals that choose to be completely open. "Such systems are currently under construction," Mr. Ginsparg said, "but some of my colleagues argue that it's useful to have additional mechanisms to force the materials out there to hasten the transition to 21st-century scholarly-communications infrastructure."

Despite such skepticism, more than 30 colleges and several library consortia in the United States have pledged to participate....

Peter Suber...praised the project for involving publishers in the discussions and for searching for a compromise....