Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Thursday, October 04, 2007

More on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

In my newsletter article Tuesday on Flipping a journal to open access, I cited the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (SEP) as an example of an OA publication adopting a strategy similar to the second stage of a two-flip conversion.  (Sorry.  I know this won't make sense for those who haven't read the article.)

SEP's Principal Editor Ed Zalta and Senior Editor Uri Nodelman believe I may have given a false impression of SEP's fund-raising program, and they may be right.  The full story of SEP's fund-raising strategy is interestingly complicated and I've often blogged the details.  However, in the Tuesday newsletter I only described it as much as necessary to show the connection to the second half of a two-flip conversion.  As a result, I omitted many details and may have created a false impression.  I'm happy to post this clarification from Zalta and Nodelman:

...We are grateful for your mention of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, and we hope you don't mind if we clarify a few of the points you made in the newsletter.  You write:

The second flip in this process is not as novel as it may appear. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is in the middle of something very similar right now.  To build an endowment to cover its expenses,  it's asking institutions to make payments that resemble "flipped subscriptions":  institutions make annual payments, as they  would for subscription or publication fees, but when SEP has raised enough money, the payments stop and the encyclopedia is OA, no-fee, and self-sustaining.

We'd first like to note a few minor points: (a) libraries need not make annual payments to the SEP; they may instead make a one-time payment if they can pay their membership dues in one go (indeed, many universities have done just that).  With a one-time payment, they are done.  But we also allow libraries to spread out the payment over 3 years.  (b) The SEP is OA now, and has always been so, and so the clause that starts "but when ..." might give some librarians the wrong impression that it won't be OA until we have raised enough money.  (c) It is to be remembered that the SEP never underwent the first flip: we never conceived of library membership dues as author fees.

Second, it seems to us that the result of the second flip is a situation where institutions make general payments to the OA publication instead of author-based or "upload" payments.  This resultant situation is analogous to the situation in which the SEP currently finds itself (with the caveats noted above):  namely, an OA work that accepts general payments instead of payments tied to any direct upload/download activity.

Consequently, it seems that the SEP will be doing a third kind of flip -- from one where institutions make general payments to cover expenses, to one where no payments are required at all.   One might imagine other OA publications trying to make this 3rd flip by either (a) setting the price of the expense payments to a level that will allow for some investment into an endowment or (b) finding some partner(s) or grant agencies willing to cover the cost of operating expenses so that the payments can be used wholly for endowment funds.   One reason this might be acceptable to contributing institutions is that in the case of the SEP, the money received from libraries as membership dues is put entirely into the endowment and actually *held in trust* for these institutions; it would be returned (together with any interest and appreciation in excess of the annual payout) if the publication closes down.  This is the most distinctive part of the SEP's funding model.

We think this latter idea is the one worthy of emulation.

PS:  For more background, see the SEP's page on its fund-raising strategy.