Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Asking society members to set society priorities

Stevan Harnad, Mobilising Scholarly Society Membership Support for FRPAA and EC A1, Open Access Archivangelism, March 30, 2007. 

Summary:  Scholarly Society officers are adopting the very same stance as commercial publishers -- opposing the Green Open Access Self-Archiving Mandates that are being adopted and proposed worldwide -- but they are opposing them in the name of protecting the society's publishing revenue streams for the sake of funding the society's "good works" (funding meetings, scholarships and lobbying) -- and they are doing so on behalf of their memberships, without consultation, disclosure, or answerability.
   The memberships have to be informed of this, and that renouncing OA to guarantee their society's publishing revenue streams so they can subsidise meetings, scholarships and lobbying would amount to members agreeing to subsidise these things with their own lost daily research impact and income. Members will be shocked once their societies' publishing revenue books are opened and they see how small a proportion of their society's publishing profits is actually being used for these good works rather than to increase their publishing division's size, staff and perquisites, exactly as with any commercial publisher.
   Scholarly society meetings, scholarships and lobbying should sustain themselves in other ways in the OA era, rather than by reducing members' research impact. Reducing research access is the exact opposite of the purpose of a scholarly society. Raising the registration fee for meetings, and adjusting membership fees to the level agreed upon for the funding of scholarships and lobbying makes the system far more open and answerable to the real needs of the membership.

From the body of the post:

The remedy, of course, is to remind the membership of the actual mandate of scholarly societies, which is to promote...scholarship, not to profit from limiting it.

Comment.  Some societies make surpluses (profits) from their journals and some don't; and among those that do, the percentage of the surplus spent on good works beyond the publishing division itself must vary widely.  But when a society decides to lobby against FRPAA or other national policies to mandate OA for publicly-funded research, they are putting the perceived threat to their revenue ahead of their avowed commitment to research and deciding to advance their general mission (conferences, scholarships, salaries, lobbying) at the expense of their specific mission to advance research in their fields. I don't know a single society that has asked its members how to choose between these competing goods, and I've often argued (esp. here and here) that members should take control of these decisions or elect leaders who will reflect their views.