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Thursday, March 08, 2007

HHMI and Elsevier strike a deal

HHMI and Elsevier Announce Public Access Agreement, a press release from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, March 8, 2007.  Excerpt:

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) and Elsevier have established an agreement to make author manuscripts of articles published in Elsevier and Cell Press journals publicly available six months following final publication. It takes effect for articles published after September 1, 2007.

“This agreement speaks to our shared commitment to making research results freely available to the public and the international scientific community, as well as the significance of Cell Press and Elsevier journals to the communication of research discoveries,” said Thomas R. Cech, president of HHMI....

Elsevier will deposit author manuscripts of original research articles, along with an article's supplemental data, on which any HHMI scientist is an author - including HHMI investigators, group leaders and fellows at the Janelia Farm Research Campus, and other institute employees - to PubMed Central (PMC), the digital archive of biomedical and life sciences literature maintained by the National Institutes of Health. The author manuscript has been through the peer review process and accepted for publication, but has not undergone editing and formatting.

As part of the agreement, HHMI will pay Elsevier for the depositing service. Individual scientists will not be charged and HHMI will make quarterly payments to Elsevier based on the number of articles published.

The agreement with Elsevier and Cell Press comes as the Institute prepares to adopt a new policy that will require HHMI scientists to publish original research articles in journals that allow articles to be made freely accessible through PMC within six months of publication.

Comments.  I'm still digesting this.  But here are some thoughts.

  1. HHMI is the largest private funder of medical research in the US.  It agreed long ago to pay publication fees at fee-based OA journals, and may have been the first funder anywhere to do so.  It's now about to adopt an OA archiving mandate for HHMI-funded research.  In many ways, it's the Wellcome Trust of the US.
  2. This deal addresses the fact that HHMI's forthcoming OA mandate is incompatible with Elsevier's current self-archiving policy.  If nothing is done, then either HHMI-funded authors would have to steer clear of Elsevier journals or Elsevier would have to refuse to publish work by HHMI-funded authors.  In this stand-off, who gives first?  I'm afraid it was HHMI.  It's a shame because I think it had more bargaining power than Elsevier.
  3. Elsevier already gives blanket permission for green OA (or author self-archiving).  But one restriction on that permission is that authors may only provide OA through their personal web site or institutional repository, and HHMI wants HHMI-funded research to be on deposit in PubMed Central.  Something had to give and it should have been Elsevier's self-archiving policy.  For this purpose, the distinction between IRs and PMC is arbitrary.  In openness, interoperability, and visibility to search engines, they are equivalent. If a PMC deposit hurts Elsevier, so does an IR deposit; if an IR deposit is harmless, so is a PMC deposit.  Elsevier could have adapted to HHMI without incurring new costs or risks.  Instead, HHMI paid it to adapt.
  4. BTW, if HHMI required its grantees to deposit HHMI-funded research in their own IRs, rather than PMC, and if all its grantees worked at institutions that had IRs, then this part of the problem would disappear. 
  5. If HHMI wanted to guarantee deposit, and not leave it to the initiative of authors, then I can see that it might pay someone to do the job.  But deposit in an OA repository is not difficult or time-consuming.  Les Carr and Stevan Harnad studied two months of log activity at a busy repository and found that the average deposit takes 10 minutes.  It's not worth thousands of dollars per paper, or hundreds, or even tens.  If the physical job of depositing papers is really what HHMI wants, it should put the job up for bidding.  I'm sure it could get a better deal.
  6. Under this agreement, Cell Press will reduce its permissible embargo on OA archiving from 12 months to zero.  That gave Elsevier a bargaining chip in the negotiation.  But Elsevier journals outside Cell Press already permitted immediate self-archiving; for them, the permissible embargo period has lengthened (for HHMI-funded authors), moving the bargaining chip back to HHMI.
  7. Last September Elsevier struck a similar deal with the Wellcome Trust.  In that case, WT paid Elsevier handsomely to permit immediate OA through PMC ($3,000 per Elsevier article and $5,000 per Cell Press article).  In the current deal, HHMI is paying for embargoed OA.  WT paid for access to the published edition, while HHMI is paying for access to a version that has undergone peer review but not copy editing.  Because WT wanted immediate OA to the published version, Elsevier bargained for, and won, compensation for the costs of peer review, as if it were providing gold OA.  But the HHMI payments don't cover peer review, don't buy access to the published edition, and can't be construed as buying gold OA.  HHMI is paying for green OA.
  8. By my count, Elsevier is making three changes in exchange for this money:  Cell Press is shortening its embargo period; Elsevier is adding PMC to the list of eligible repositories for OA archiving; and Elsevier is undertaking the labor of depositing articles in PMC.  Only the first has any bargaining significance.
  9. What's wrong with this picture?  HHMI is paying a fee for green OA.  Despite its fee, HHMI is not getting immediate OA.  Despite its fee, HHMI is not getting OA to the published version of the article.  With minor exceptions, Elsevier is getting paid for what it formerly allowed for free.  Elsevier (beyond Cell Press) is even lengthening its embargo period.
  10. When I first blogged some comments on the deal this morning, I mistakenly assumed that HHMI was paying for gold OA through Elsevier journals plus green OA through PMC.  But it's only paying for green OA through PMC with a six month embargo.  I deleted the first version of my comments soon after posting them and apologize for any confusion they caused.  But ever since, I've been wondering how I could have made that mistake.  Yes, the cheese falls off my cracker and doesn't need any special explanation.  But in this case I think I have one.  I just didn't expect that anyone would pay for green OA.  I ruled it out as absurd and looked for other interpretations.