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Monday, March 05, 2007

Two models for subsidizing publication fees at fee-based OA journals

Jim Till, Scenarios about paying for OA, Be openly accessible or be obscure, March 2, 2007.  Excerpt: 

There’s an ongoing debate about ways to pay the costs of OA, especially during the transition phase between traditional business models and newer OA-oriented ones. There are several potential sources of substantial revenues. One focal point for the debate has been on revenues from academic institutions (a major source of support for knowledge dissemination), relative to revenues from funding agencies (a major source of support for knowledge generation).

In a message on the subject “Re: Failing business models“, posted to the American Scientist Open Access Forum on February 24, 2007, Heather Morrison outlined two scenarios. In Scenario A, a funding agency permits the budget of a research grant to include funds that may be used for the dissemination of research results, “let’s say $3,000“....She predicts that Scenario A would result in “competition in the scholarly publishing industry, and ultimately better quality services at lower prices“.

In Scenario B, grantees don’t need to make such choices. Instead, the funding agency permits the $3000 to be used to pay APFs for OA, but these funds cannot be used for other purposes....She predicts that Scenario B may lead to increasing inefficiencies in the scholarly publishing industry, and an upward spiral in APFs.

In a letter entitled “CIHR’s proposal to mandate self-archiving“, published in the January 2007 issue of University Affairs, Stevan Harnad commented that “Unlike the Wellcome Trust’s self-archiving mandate in the United Kingdom, CIHR’s does not offer to fund publishing in an Open Access journal. Apparently CIHR did not feel it had the spare cash for this. This is quite understandable....No need to take it from research funds at this time, when it is not yet either necessary or affordable“.

Note that the draft policy of the CIHR (Canadian Institutes of Health Research) can be regarded as an example of Scenario A, while the OA policy of the Wellcome Trust can be regarded as an example of Scenario B.

What might be the implications for academic institutions if they (and funding agencies) capped APFs to achieve OA at $3000 (US)? The most enlightening discussion of this issue that I’ve seen has been in a series of messages posted to the LIBLICENSE-L Mailing List on the subject “Re: Institutional Journal Costs in an Open Access Environment“. I found one of these messages, posted by Ray English on April 26, 2006, to be of particular interest. His comments were about a study that looked at “journal costs in four scientific fields for a representative group of academic and research libraries of different sizes“. The particular study that he reviewed didn’t take into account the question of grant funds supporting OA publication fees. Nor did it take into account other possible sources of revenue for open access other than publication fees. And (if I understood correctly), it was assumed that all journals would charge an APF to achieve OA, and that the only way to obtain OA to articles was via OA (or hybrid) journals (that is, OA to self-archived articles was tacitly assumed to make a negligible contribution).

His entire message should be read, but the conclusion that I reached on the basis of his comments was this one. In a scenario where the APFs to achieve OA are paid entirely from institutional (not granting agency) funds, and the fees are capped at about $3000 (US) for all journals in the four scientific fields, then “there would be substantial savings for all of the institutions in the study” in comparison with the current situation.

Furthermore, “Savings would be greatest for the comprehensive universities (around 90% or more of current costs), somewhat smaller (but still very large) for the liberal arts colleges, smaller still for the doctoral universities … and smallest for the largest research institutions. But there would still be significant savings even for the latter group“.

If this interpretation is correct, then Scenario A (outlined above) should be attractive from the perspective of institutions that currently pay substantial amounts to support knowledge dissemination. This same scenario should also be attractive from the perspective of funding agencies that have decided to support not only knowledge generation, but also (at least to a limited extent) OA-based knowledge dissemination. Of course, from the perspective of publishers, Scenario A seems likely to yield less revenue over the longer term than will Scenario B. This is because, as predicted by Heather Morrison, Scenario B might lead to less competition, and perhaps even to an upward spiral in APFs....

Update. See Stevan Harnad's comment.