Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Monday, May 25, 2009

On the pressure for society journals to sell out

Peter Murray-Rust, Should the Foology Society sell its journals to commercial publishers, A Scientist and the Web, May 17, 2009.

I received a request from a well-known learned society, which I will anonymise as the Foology Society ... A well-known scientist and long-standing member and officer of the Society (Prof. Foo) rang me and asked if I could give her informal advice about whether the Society should sell its flagship journal to a commercial publisher. The motivation was not primarily to raise revenue, but fear about the commercial prospects of society journals. She sent me the following which epitomizes the concerns of many of the society officers:

Libraries will target most of their cost cutting attentions on the smaller academic/not-for-profit sector subscriptions in order to protect the large commercial contracts such as the “Big Deal” and similar consortia. The days of small independent publishing are over, out-licensing is the only way to protect publishing income.

She regards this as a catastrophe for the society and the journal and asked if I could provide contrary views.

I immediately replied that on no account should the society sell its journal – it was the crown jewels and far too many societies had sold these. ...

As I blogged recently a major asset in C21 will be trust. I still trust learned societies to behave honorably (and when they do not it is deeply upsetting). I do not now trust commercial publishers to act honorably in all circumstances. The lobbying in Congress, Parliament, Europe by commercial publishers is often directly against the interests of scientists, most notably through the draconian imposition of copyright. The PRISM affair highlighted the depths to which some publishers will go to protect their income rather than the integrity of the domain. For Elsevier to finance PRISM to discredit Open Access science as “junk” while publishing “fake journals” means that no society can rely on their integrity. ...

It is possible that consortia such as Highwire can provide a critical mass but I don’t know enough about their purchasing or selling influence (if any). I believe they might provide the sort of bundle that Prof Foo needs.

How is the Foology Soc to continue to remain solvent? ... My own view is that societies must become points of rapid innovation, perhaps by teaming up with Universities and maybe through organs such as JISC. ...