The open access debate is one of the hottest topics in academic publishing, with advocates for access and publishers battling for political and public support. University presses have been feeling somewhat in the middle and sometimes ignored — and they responded Tuesday with a policy paper outlining their perspective.
In many respects, the document from the Association of American University Presses focuses on potential harm that could be done to their operations by the open access model, talking about the potential for it to hurt circulation revenues, and emphasizing that university presses are not exactly wealthy institutions. But the paper also talks about the many experiments university presses are undertaking with open access or alternative pricing models — and goes one further. While the open access debate has focused on scholarly journals, the presses suggest that models that work for journals may well also work for monographs....
So where do university presses come in on this debate? The paper released Tuesday opens with the famous quote with which Daniel Coit Gilman, president of Johns Hopkins University, in 1880 outlined the purpose behind founding the first university press in the United States: “to advance knowledge, and to diffuse it not merely among those who can attend the daily lectures — but far and wide.” It’s the sort of rhetoric that could turn up easily in an open access document....
But while the press report expresses enthusiasm for such models, it then outlines what it sees as severe economic consequences of imposing the “more radical approaches” to open access, which “abandon the market as a viable basis for the recovery of costs in scholarly publishing.”
Among the concerns: ...
Requirements that journal contents be made available online and free will “undermine existing well regarded services,” such as Project Muse, that sell access to packages of journals to academic institutions.
If university presses lose significant portions of the $500 million they generate in sales (90 percent of their operating costs), those funds will need to be replaced or the presses will have to cut back on what they do.
If, as some have threatened to do, some commercial publishers back out of scholarly publishing in the wake of any open access regulations, would university presses be expected to pick up these projects and, if so, who would pay for them? ...
Peter Suber, director of the Public Knowledge Open Access Project, said he understood (but disagreed with) some of the university press concerns and praised the publishers for putting the issue of monographs on the table. While Suber has been quite critical of commercial publishers, he stressed that he recognized the difficult financial situations facing university presses.
“It’s true that the nonprofit publishers have more to fear from subscription losses than corporate giants. They are more vulnerable,” Suber said. But he said that some scholarly publishers have found ways to thrive with open access. And he added that scholarly, nonprofit publishers “are vulnerable even without open access.”
The bottom line, Suber said, is that “the subscription model is essentially unsustainable because the volume of published literature is growing faster than library budgets will ever grow, so we need to look for another model.”
Suber was especially pleased to see the university presses raise the issue of book publishing in the open access model. He said that experiments suggest that open access does not hurt sales because readers of scholarly books use open access to decide what to buy, “not for close reading,” he said. Additionally, authors will welcome the increased attention to their work and need not fear a loss of royalties because the royalties being paid are so minimal, if they exist at all, he said. “The authors can benefit,” he said.
Peter Suber at 2/28/2007 08:12:00 AM.
The open access movement:
Putting peer-reviewed scientific and scholarly literature
on the internet. Making it available free of charge and
free of most copyright and licensing restrictions.
Removing the barriers to serious research.