Welcome to the SPARC Open Access Newsletter, issue #83
March 2, 2005
Read this issue online
The final version of the NIH public-access policy
The day after I mailed last month's issue of SOAN, the NIH released the final version of its public-access policy. My comments in the February issue focused on new concessions to publishers that weakened the policy. I was hoping that by the time the final version of the policy was announced, these concessions would be rolled back, but it was not to be. Hence, I stand by the assessment I wrote last month.
However, many aspects of the policy and its public roll-out deserve some public attention.
The policy was published in three parts: Background (Section I), Public Comments and NIH Responses (Section II), and Text of Final Policy Statement (Section III). While the third section is the most important for NIH-funded authors and their publishers, Section II is definitely worth a close read. It's the longest section of the document and carefully answers the major objections raised against the policy during the comment period.
* The policy will take effect on May 2. (Section III.) It will apparently apply to all outstanding NIH grants as of May 2, not just to new grants made on or after May 2. That means that we can expect to see some articles based on NIH-funded research show up in PubMed Central (PMC) fairly soon after May 2, even if the rate of deposit is initially slow. If the policy only applied to new grants, then we'd have to wait for newly funded research to be completed, written up, published, and deposited.
* The policy has three official purposes. "The policy is intended to: 1) create a stable archive of peer-reviewed research publications resulting from NIH-funded research to ensure the permanent preservation of these vital published research findings; 2) secure a searchable compendium of these peer-reviewed research publications that NIH and its awardees can use to manage more efficiently and to understand better their research portfolios, monitor scientific productivity, and ultimately, help set research priorities; and 3) make published results of NIH-funded research more readily accessible to the public, health care providers, educators, and scientists." (Section I.)
Later in the document, NIH elaborates on the third purpose. "We believe that improved access through PMC to peer-reviewed, final manuscripts of NIH-supported investigators will facilitate scientific progress because it will enable NIH to manage better its research portfolio and funding choices. The NIH encourages the sharing of ideas, data, and research findings to help accomplish its important public mission to uncover new knowledge that will lead to better health for everyone." (Section II.E.)
From the standpoint of research and researchers, the third purpose is the most important. The overriding benefit of free online access to research literature is the way it accelerates research, shares knowledge, and enhances the productivity of everyone using the literature. By advancing research, it advances all the benefits of research, from economic prosperity to public health.
* NIH is asking authors to deposit "an electronic version of the author's final manuscript upon acceptance for publication, resulting from research supported, in whole or in part, with direct costs from NIH. The author's final manuscript is defined as the final version accepted for journal publication, and includes all modifications from the publishing peer review process." (Section III.) It's not clear whether authors may enhance this edition with changes introduced by a journal's copy editing process. But at least PMC will accept "corrections and other necessary revisions of the author's final manuscripts" (Section II.D.)
* The recent good news and bad news are closely yoked together. The bad: the permissible delay after publication has been extended beyond six months. The good: NIH will exhort authors to choose the shortest possible delay. Here's how the policy phrases this key provision: "At the time of submission, the author will specify the timing of the posting of his or her final manuscript for public accessibility through PMC. Posting for public accessibility through PMC is requested and strongly encouraged as soon as possible (and within twelve months of the publisher's official date of final publication)." (Section III.)
In the new FAQ on the policy, the NIH goes beyond exhorting grantees to authorize early release by suggesting language for authors to include in their copyright transfer agreements with publishers (Question 26): "Journal acknowledges that Author retains the right to provide a copy of the final manuscript to NIH upon acceptance for Journal publication or thereafter, for public archiving in PubMed Central as soon as possible after publication by Journal."
If taxpayers can't simply mandate deposit as a condition of public funding, then "strong encouragement" and suggested contract language are just about second best. We'll see how well it works in practice, especially if some publishers refuse to sign the new contract language and strongly encourage authors to take the opposite course and either deposit as late as possible or never deposit at all.
* Is publisher permission needed for author deposits in PMC? This simple question is harder than it looks. First note that the suggested contract language (above) asks journals to acknowledge that authors have permission to deposit their work in PMC. But is this strictly necessary or simply a prudent way to guarantee what is already permissible?
The NIH says that it has two independent and separately sufficient legal grounds to disseminate the research articles of its grantees: one is copyright-holder consent and the other is a government-purpose license long since codified in the Code of Federal Regulations (45 C.F.R. 74.36). The NIH has decided to rely on the former and to hold the latter in readiness in case it is ever needed. (Section II.P.2.)
So the answer to the question seems to be: no, publisher permission is not needed but NIH has decided to seek it anyway. One day we may hear the story on why it is taking this position.
* In the teleconference announcing the new policy, Elias Zerhouni made a good point that is often obscured in the press. The policy has not replaced a firm six month embargo with a firm 12 month embargo. It has replaced a firm six month embargo with a flexible period whose duration depends on the author's discretion.
We could say that the new embargo is "zero to 12 months" but that does not reflect the reality that deposit is "voluntary" (Section III) and needn't occur at all. The policy encourages authors to deposit as soon as possible within 12 months. But we have to understand that 12 months is not a deadline but just another part of the NIH encouragement.
If there's a contradiction in suggesting a deadline (with the "12 month" language) and suggesting that there is no deadline (with the "voluntary" language), then the final version of the policy and the accompanying commentary do nothing to dispel it.
* There will be no penalties for non-deposit. (Section II.O.) It's not clear whether this is new. When the "requirement" was reduced to a "request" in the September 3 draft released for public comment, there were vague but ominous suggestions that non-compliance might jeopardize a grantee's future funding. Now it's clear that it won't. But perhaps it never would have; we'll never know.
Publishers who dislike the policy are saying that any "request" from a funding agency, especially one accompanied by "strong encouragement", is intrinsically coercive even without formal penalties. Perhaps. But I wonder whether it's any more coercive than a request from a journal, especially one accompanied by strong encouragement, to delay PMC deposit. The two requests seem roughly equal in power to me, whether we call them both coercive or neither coercive. And that is what worries me: there is dangerous potential in this policy to create painful and career-jeopardizing dilemmas for researchers who will have to choose between snubbing their funder and snubbing their publisher. A simple mandate would not only deliver more OA content to the public, but spare authors this dilemma.
Some publishers are already on record as willing to accommodate any decision made by their NIH-funded authors. That's excellent and I hope that others follow suit.
* The good news is that authors can take steps to avoid the painful funder-publisher dilemma. One simple way to do it is to submit their work to an OA journal. Another is to submit their work to one of the non-OA journals that has publicly stated its willingness to accommodate any author decision on PMC timing. But the simplest way of all may be for authors to self-archive their work, and to do so as soon as possible after publication.
Authors who experience the funder-publisher dilemma once needn't experience it twice by taking any one of these three remedies. Conversely, journals that refuse permission for postprint archiving and play tug of war with the NIH, using authors as rope, will only hurt themselves in the long run by deterring submissions.
* The NIH explains that extending the six month delay up to 12 months or even beyond will provide greater "flexibility" (II.A, II.F, II.J) and therefore should assure greater "participation" (II.J). But if you look closely, NIH is clear that this is flexibility for publishers, not authors. For example: "NIH has made modifications to the proposed policy to provide greater flexibility to accommodate the range of business models represented by large commercial publishing houses through the smaller specialized journals of learned societies." (Section II.F)
It's true that this extension will give publishers greater flexibility and it's true that publishers were asking for greater flexibility. But the central request in the policy is directed to authors, not publishers. Greater flexibility for publishers would only assure different decisions by authors if author decisions are controlled or influenced by publishers. Are they? We don't know yet. But if they are, then publisher influence is more likely to pull against author participation and early release than in favor of them.
In the teleconference announcing the policy, Elias Zerhouni succinctly justified the new concession to publishers on the ground that it provides "maximum flexibility for maximum participation". But if the NIH really wanted maximum participation, then it should require participation.
The kind of flexibility now built into the policy doesn't ensure full participation. It makes participation discretionary and ensures that some authors will participate and some won't. The NIH can't have it both ways. If public access through PMC is voluntary, there won't be maximum participation. If it wants maximum participation, then it should ignore publisher preferences and bind authors with an OA condition on their research grants.
Maximum participation is the right goal --for the NIH, for taxpayers, for health care, and for science. Hence, NIH should adopt the most effective means to that goal (a participation requirement), not endanger the goal in order to fit the most politically expedient means (request plus discretion plus exhortation). If it's true that NIH's government-purpose license is a sufficient legal basis for the public-access policy, and that publisher permission is unnecessary, then compromises designed to give publishers flexibility and solicit their permission are also unnecessary.
* While the request for PMC deposit is directed at authors, consenting publishers may improve upon the author's decision in two ways. "The publisher may choose to furnish PMC with the publisher's final version, which will supersede the author's final version. Also, if the publisher agrees, public access to the publisher's final version in PMC can occur sooner than the timing originally specified by the author for the author's final version." (Section III.)
Publishers who worry about the version control problem (one version on PMC and another version at their own site) should take advantage of the first option. It will not only address their worry. It will make their branding visible in their own chosen way and provide exactly the links they want back to their own site. As long as authors are complying with the NIH request, publishers have everything to gain and nothing to lose by replacing the authors' versions with their own.
* Note that there are now *three* publication-related requests in the overall NIH grants process. (1) Grantees are "expected" to publish the results of their research rather than not to publish them. (2) Grantees are "required" to turn in copies of any publications based on funded research at end of grant period as part of their review. These copies will not necessarily be deposited in PMC for public access. (3) Grantees are "requested" but not required to deposit their publications in PMC as soon as possible within 12 months after publication. Acceding to this third request will also satisfy the second, which is another incentive for authors to deposit their work.
* NIH continues to allow OA journal processing fees, as well as color and page charges at TA journals, to be "allowable charges" to NIH research grants. (Section II.H.)
In fact, NIH spends about $30 million/year on "direct costs for publication expenses, including page and color charges and reprints". (Sections II.F, II.L.) Compare that with the estimated $2 to $4 million/year that the public-access program will cost. (Section II.L.) The public-access budget is a pittance of the journal-subsidy budget for subscription-based journals. Publishers of subscription journals who object the NIH program is diverting money from research on cures should relinquish their taxpayer-funded subsidies if they want to make the argument with clean hands.
* The NIH will create an "NIH Public Access Advisory Working Group of the NLM Board of Regents" to advise it "on implementation and assess progress in meeting the goals" of the policy. (Section II.F.) This sounds like a good idea, but I worry. If the advisory group is not balanced, it will be criticized. If it is balanced, it could be paralyzed.
* The "final" version of the policy is not really final. "Once the system is operational, modifications and enhancements will be made as needed with the Working Group, or a permanent subcommittee of the Board, providing ongoing advice on improvements." (Section II.F.) "This Policy is subject to periodic review based upon lessons learned in the course of its implementation. Issuance of this Policy is the beginning of a process that will include refinement as experience develops, outcomes are evaluated, and public dialogue among all the stakeholders is continued." (Section II.O).
* Dr. Zerhouni told the Chronicle of Higher Education on January 7 that public comments on the six-month version of the policy were "overwhelmingly supportive".
So has the NIH left its moorings by changing a central element of the policy after the public comment period closed? All it says about this in the new document is that the "final Policy reflects consideration of public comments received...." (Section I.)
* One of the only obscure sentences in the new NIH document raises intriguing possibilities: "Finally, authors can indicate what copyright restrictions, if any, apply to their manuscripts when submitting them to PMC and can choose an appropriate PMC submission agreement that recognizes those rights." (Section II.P.2.) Does this simply accommodate the difference between government-funded scientists, whose work is copyrightable, and government-employed scientists, whose work is is not? Or does it accommodate authors who are copyright holders at the time of deposit and wish to waive some of their rights and allow PMC users to exceed fair use in copying and sharing their work? Is NIH offering flexibility similar to the Creative Commons?
* Free online PMC content will be free to everyone with an internet connection, not just to U.S. taxpayers. During the comment period, some critics not only observed that this goes beyond the taxpayer argument for open access, but somehow "disadvantages American scientists". It's hard to decide which would be more commendable in a responsible public agency, ignoring absurd objections like this or answering them. NIH decided to answer this one and did it well: "We believe that American scientists and global health will benefit from greater access to research publications leading to increased collaborative efforts worldwide. In an increasingly interdependent world, the United States and nations around the globe not only share the risk of diseases, but also the challenge to respond. This can best be accomplished in an environment in which rapid communication is possible, wherein scientific knowledge is readily available to all, and where research is conducted based on partnership." (Section II.N.)
If you're curious just how far the taxpayer argument alone can go in answering this objection, then see my discussion of Canada's attempt to offer some publicly funded research free online only to Canadians (from SOAN for 9/03),
(Scroll to Section 4.)
* In January, Dr. Zerhouni told the Washington Fax that "[t]he fundamental breakthrough of this policy is...not the timing, it's the fact that we're creating for the first time the precedent and the right for a federal agency to have a venue or pathway for its scientists to publish and give access to the public."
This is a good point. I don't want to shift attention away from the unjustified weakening of the policy. But I do want to acknowledge that, despite the weakening, the policy does establish a significant new precedent. U.S. federal funding agencies can provide free online access to the results of publicly-funded research, even when the research was not performed by government employees.
The trick will be to get other funding agencies to take the right lesson from this precedent. Which leads to the final question:
* Where do we go from here? Here are the main steps:
(1) Let's strengthen the NIH policy. First, make the request a requirement. Taxpayer access to publicly-funded medical research should be guaranteed. Second, reduce the permissible delay to six months.
The House of Representatives originally recommended both of these provisions and it hasn't forgotten. I've been visiting the offices of members of both parties in both Houses of Congress and detect bipartisan support for strengthening the policy. Revising the policy won't be easy or quick, since there are also members who side with publishers or who don't care. But there are real grounds for hope.
U.S. citizens, and U.S. institutions like universities and libraries, can write to their members of Congress to let them know how they feel.
U.S.-based institutions and organizations can join the Alliance for Taxpayer Access, which is very active and effective in this cause.
Stakeholders can also write directly to the NIH.
(2) Get Congress to monitor compliance. What percentage of NIH grantees deposit their work in PMC within 12 months? Of those that do, what is the average delay after publication authorized by the author? If the compliance rate is low, or if the average delay is long, then the urgency of revising the policy will increase.
(3) Get other funding agencies --inside and outside the U.S.-- to adopt the best parts of the NIH policy and avoid worst. Do provide free online access to publicly-funded research, but don't make it discretionary and don't delay the public release more than six months.
(4) Encourage NIH-funded researchers to deposit all their eligible publications and to authorize public release immediately upon publication.
At the same time, encourage them to self-archive all their research articles, including those based on NIH-funded research. If they do, they'll get --and give-- the benefits of OA for all their work. If they do it for their NIH-funded work, then the compromises in the new policy will not matter at all. The NIH welcomes its grantees to deposit their articles in other, fully OA repositories in addition to PMC.
(5) Encourage all biomedical journals to let their NIH-funded authors follow the NIH's "strong encouragement" to authorize immediate public release. Don't make authors choose between their funder and their publisher. If you belong to a scientific society that publishes journals in biomedicine, then let the society know that this is how you feel. If you edit or referee for a journal in biomedicine, then let the journal know that this is how you feel.
I'd like to hear about any journals that pressure their authors not to comply with the NIH request or that refuse to accept articles by NIH-funded authors. If you write to me in confidence, I will respect your confidence. If you authorize me to do so, I will post your message to the SPARC Open Access Forum.
Policy on Enhancing Public Access to Archived Publications Resulting from NIH-Funded Research (the text of the new policy, February 3, 2005)
NIH press release on the final version of the policy, February 3, 2005
NIH policy implementation plan
NIH public-access policy home page (many related documents)
NIH policy FAQ (enlarged, updated, and improved)
My comments from last month on the weakening of the NIH policy http://www.earlham.edu/~peters/fos/newsletter/02-02-05.htm#nih
* Here are some news stories and press releases on the NIH policy from the last month.
ACRL press release on the NIH public-access policy, February 14, 2005.
Jocelyn Kaiser, NIH Wants Public Access to Papers 'As Soon As Possible', Science Magazine, February 11, 2005.
Anon., Science for Free, The Economist, February 10, 2005.
The OA journal, Neurobiology of Lipids, issued a press release on the NIH public-access policy, February 7, 2005.
Peter Goodyear, Research papers available free on internet, EarthTimes, February 4, 2005.
Lila Guterman, NIH's Final Plan for Free Access to Journal Articles Draws Fire From 2 Directions, Chronicle of Higher Education, February 4, 2005.
Alex Barnum, NIH-funded research to be available free, San Francisco Chronicle, February 4, 2005.
BioMed Central press release on the NIH policy, February 4, 2005.
Ted Agres, NIH announces 'open-access' rules, The Scientist, February 4, 2005.
Erika Check, NIH reveals open-access policy, Nature, February 4, 2005.
Jamie Talan, Public to get online access to studies, New York Newsday, February 4, 2005.
Andrew Hawkins, "NIH Public Access Policy Announced, Effect In May 2005", Washington Fax, February 4, 2005. (The article is not online.)
Mary Mosquera, NIH to make research publicly accessible, Government Computer News, February 4, 2005.
Jocelyn Kaiser, NIH Unveils Public Access Policy, Science Magazine, February 3, 2005.
Peter Gorner, NIH approves free access to publicly funded studies, Chicago Tribune, February 4, 2005.
Rick Weiss, NIH Grant Recipients Are 'Asked' to Post Data, Washington Post, February 4, 2005.
DC Principles Coalition press release on the NIH policy, February 3, 2005.
Amanda Gardner (?), Government-Financed Medical Research to Go Online, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, February 3, 2005.
PLoS press release on the NIH policy, February 3, 2005.
Randolph Schmid, NIH Seeks Speedy Public Release of Data, Associated Press, February 3, 2005.
Public Knowledge press release on the NIH policy, February 3, 2005.
Maggie Fox, NIH Asks for Internet Access to Studies, Reuters, February 3, 2005.
The ATA publicly released its February 3 letter to Michael Leavitt, the new Secretary of the Health and Human Services (the cabinet-level agency overseeing the NIH).
ATA press release on the NIH policy, February 3, 2005.
David Malakoff, Government Program Opens Access to Scientific Studies, a radio broadcast on NPR, February 3, 2005.
Reflections on OA/TA coexistence
Open access (OA) and toll access (TA) have coexisted for as long as there has been OA. So the question is not whether they *can* coexist, but whether they will coexist forever or only for some transition period.
I don't know the answer and won't offer a prediction. One reason why prediction is difficult is that some of the variables suggest long-term coexistence and some don't. Another is that this is nothing like predicting a force of nature. We're talking about the actions of interested human beings, including ourselves. Regardless of what we expect to happen, we're all busy making the future we prefer.
I don't even pretend to know all the variables. But here are some of them along with my current take on which way they cut. I expect to return to this topic in the future as I continue to think about it.
* There's an obvious kind of compatibility between OA and TA. Among journals, we see it in the fact that two journals, even in the same research niche, do not directly compete with one another for readers, even if one is expensive and the other is free. Since they publish different papers, researchers will have reasons to consult both. If they are both TA, then subscribers will have reasons to buy both. This is not a conspiracy; it's just a consequence of the fact that journals are not fungible like tanks of water or lumps of coal. Individual journals do not directly compete with one another for readers, and TA journals as a class do not directly compete with OA journals as a class.
In archiving, we see a similar kind of compatibility in the fact that authors can publish in almost any TA journal and still provide OA to their articles by depositing them in OA repositories.
But these kinds of compatibility do not necessarily create long-term coexistence. Their present compatibility might be a snapshot of two tectonic plates exerting complicated forces on one another. In the rest of this piece I'll be looking for variables that affect long-term OA/TA coexistence, not just their near-term compatibility.
First, however, let me pause to show some of the complexity even in the simple kinds of compatibility I just mentioned. For example, journals in the same niche compete for submissions even if they don't compete for readers. Moreover, there are indirect ways in which they compete for readers even if they publish different papers. For example, some readers look in the most convenient sources first and disregard the rest. Even if this is bad research practice, it gives free resources a competitive edge. (My position has always been that this is bad research practice, but that the solution is to make more good work OA, not to scold researchers for going to the most convenient OA sources first.) In addition, there is clearly a tipping point, even if we haven't reached it yet, after which libraries will cancel high-priced TA journals because their niche is adequately served by high-quality OA journals.
If most journals were OA, that might create difficult pressures on the remaining TA journals, if only by changing author and reader expectations. Or it might make life easier for the remaining TA journals, by freeing up money to pay for them. Likewise, if most authors deposited their articles in OA repositories, that might create difficulties for TA journals by threatening their subscription rolls. Or it might make life easier by increasing their visibility, their retrievability, and their citations. Or it might to both in a way whose net effect is shifting or difficult to discern.
* Coexistence reduces the efficiency of both OA and TA models. Hence, each side has reasons to keep trying to push the other off-stage.
Coexistence reduces the efficiency of OA journals by making universities, libraries, foundations, and governments continue to pay for subscriptions, when that money could be spent on the OA alternative and neglected needs like books. I don't see any sense in which coexistence reduces the efficiency of OA archiving.
Coexistence reduces the efficiency of TA by introducing OA archives and OA journals to compete with TA journals. Either this cuts into their subscriptions, or will do so when the quantity and quality of OA reach a critical threshold.
* As long as OA and TA coexist, the paying institutions (universities, funders, governments) will have to pay for both, and the total cost of both seems to be higher than the total cost of either one alone.
I've called this the double-payment problem (in FOSN for 1/1/02) and argued that it is a burden on the transition to OA that doesn't affect the long-term economic viability of OA. Even if that analysis is correct, what happens if we are doomed to live in the "transition" or "coexistence" period forever?
By itself, this cost doesn't make coexistence more likely or less likely. But it gives the paying institutions a reason to make coexistence temporary or tolerable. One way that libraries might act under this pressure is to lend their assistance to the OA movement, and we see a lot of this already. Libraries don't have to work for the extinction of TA, merely for extending the scope of OA until the savings it brings offset the extra costs of coexistence.
* If OA journal literature is less expensive to produce than TA journal literature, then we should expect its share of the total journal literature to grow steadily over time. Certainly sticker-shocked universities and libraries will continue to explore the possibility of producing their own OA journals. But even TA publishers may be attracted to business models that can produce literature of equal quality at lower cost. If the prospect of lower profit margins is deterring them, then annual cancellation rates of 5-10% will eventually answer that objection.
If the uncertainty of the business models is deterring them, then emerging empirical data from many journals in many fields will be relevant. Insofar as the data show that some OA business models work in some disciplines, the objection will be answered to that extent. Insofar as the data show that some OA business models are unsustainable in some disciplines, then the growth of that kind of OA on that path will have a natural limit and coexistence will become more likely at least until new OA business models evolve for those fields.
The production costs of OA and TA journals vary from journal to journal, and averages may not matter much when we're wondering about the long-term prospects for models that might be very far from the average today. But it seems to be a safe generalization that OA journals have or can have lower expenses than TA journals: they needn't pay for subscription management (to solicit, track, and renew subscribers), DRM (to authenticate users and block access to the unauthorized), or licensing (to draft, negotiate, or enforce licenses). They needn't pay for print, although they have this in common with electronic-only TA journals. And they needn't pay for marketing, even if some choose to do so. They needn't generate profits or surplus or, if they do, they needn't produce the same high margins we see in the commercial publishers today.
Finally, of course, even if OA and TA journals have the same production costs, OA archives have much lower costs than any journal and their use is compatible with any kind of journal production system. That suggests that OA archiving will continue to grow. Whatever the slope of the upward curve for future OA journal market share, the slope of the curve for future OA archiving is likely to be steeper. While this is a signal victory for OA, it is compatible with TA coexistence --though we do not know for how long.
* OA and TA have coexisted in physics since the launch of arXiv in 1991. This isn't just a little OA coexisting with a lot of TA. OA archiving is the default in physics, and yet TA journals in the field are not only surviving but thriving.
For details on the experience in physics, see Alma Swan's 2/3/05 posting to SOAF, which includes responses from publishers to the "competition" from arXiv.
The question is whether the experience of physics will transfer to other disciplines. We don't know yet and we won't know until the rate of archiving in other fields approaches the rate in physics.
* What if OA actually helps TA? For example, the American Society for Cell Biology reports that subscriptions and submissions to _Molecular Biology of the Cell_ both increased after it adopted the policy to provide OA to its articles with just a two-month delay.
OA increases a journal's visibility, retrievability, and citation impact. This can certainly increase a journal's submissions, and if it is TA, then also its subscriptions. This is clearly part of the explanation for the MBC experience, as well as the experience in physics. But what does it leave out?
If OA helps TA, at least in some sectors, then that would tend to promote coexistence. Fears that OA would undermine TA would be exposed as groundless, at least for those sectors. Hindsight would reveal that the real problem was not economic ruin but panic and resistance. (Remember the movie industry's response to the VCR.)
* Two years ago, the French financial analysts at B.N.P. Paribas predicted that in 10 years, OA and TA would continue to coexist --and that today's big TA publishers would be tomorrow's big OA publishers. The current TA publishers may be driven to convert business models on some of their publications, but they won't be driven out of business.
If true, this would answer one fear of some publishers. If they are more concerned about their own economic survival as enterprises than about the survival of the subscription model for funding journals, then the Paribas prediction suggests that the players can survive even if the models change.
* Some anti-OA arguments call not for actual coexistence but freedom to coexist. For example, Principle #7 of the DC Principles says, "we believe that a free society allows for the co-existence of many publishing models...."
Insofar as this is a coded objection to OA, then it simply mistakes the argument that OA is superior for the argument that TA should be banned. The former is a serious argument that critics ought to face; the latter is a red herring. I don't know any serious OA proponent who has argued that TA should be banned. We agree that a free society will permit coexistence and we agree that we ought to live in a free society.
The right policy question is not whether OA and TA should both be permitted by law, but which better serves the interests of science and scholarship.
(Just to forestall objections: The call for mandated OA to publicly-funded research is obviously not equivalent to a call for banning TA.)
* The TA journals most likely to survive in a world of inadequate library budgets and growing OA are the high-prestige TA journals. If the high-prestige journals decide to continue to charge subscriptions, they are much more likely to continue to find buyers than lower-prestige journals. So if the population of TA journals dwindles over time, the high-prestige journals will be the last hold-outs.
However, some OA journals are already prestigious and others are growing in prestige. An OA journal has no intrinsic prestige handicap just because it is OA --or if it does (or did), this is a prejudice that is rapidly vanishing. However, most OA journals are new. And while new journals can be excellent from birth, it takes time for a journal's prestige to catch up with its quality. Now here's the key: it's only a matter of time before the prestige of excellent OA journals does catch up with their quality. At the same time, as OA spreads, it will easier to recruit eminent scholars to serve on OA journal editorial boards. In addition, we'll see more and more already-prestigious TA journals convert to OA, taking their reputations with them. These are three reasons to think that OA journals will continue to rise in prestige as time passes.
For authors, the only reason to submit work to a TA journal is its prestige. In every other way, TA journals are inferior to OA journals because they limit an author's audience and impact. OA journals will start to draw submissions away from top TA journals as soon as they approach them in prestige. And by the time they equal them in prestige, the best TA journals will have lost their one remaining competitive advantage. As authors lose their incentive to submit work, subscribers will lose their incentive to subscribe. This suggests that coexistence will be temporary.
* Any TA journal that adds enough value to the basic text should be able to find buyers willing to pay for the added value. That suggests that coexistence can continue indefinitely. OA archives and journals will tend to stick to the distribution of texts and data, since they will always have reasons to keep their expenses to a minimum. If free or affordable tools can add a layer of utility (like reference linking or XML tags), then OA resources could provide those layers of utility. But for layers that could only be added at greater cost, TA journals may always have a role in providing them.
Note, though, that this is a sketch of diverging products, not just diverging business models for the same product.
* Even if individual TA journals are able to find subscribers indefinitely, the system in which all or most journals are TA cannot survive. The reason is simply that the TA system will not scale with the explosive growth in published knowledge. This would be true even if TA journal prices were low now and guaranteed to remain low forever. It would be true even if there were no monopolies or anti-competitive practices in the journal industry. It would be true even if the growth of published knowledge slowed down greatly.
The current system is already dysfunctional and has been for 10-20 years. Charging for access to each piece of an explosively growing body of knowledge will only make the access gaps for individual researchers larger and larger over time. Pressures on libraries to cancel some priced journals, and to refuse to subscribe to others, will only increase over time. The only way to avert these outcomes is to make library budgets grow at the same pace as published knowledge, and I don't know anyone who thinks that will happen. (Publishers who say "don't fix what isn't broken" have not been listening to librarians. They can start now or they can wait until their journals are cancelled.)
The fact that published knowledge is growing much faster than library budgets --the scaling problem-- is a reason to think that most TA journals around today will either not survive or not remain TA. It's an argument that OA is superior, because it will scale, but not by itself a reason to think that the TA journals that lose subscribers will convert to OA. They might fold up instead. Still, it's a reason to think that coexistence will be temporary, or that the percentage of OA journals will steadily rise.
(Every time I raise the scaling argument, someone counters by saying that the TA system provides a welcome check on information overload. My brief reply: Information overload is a problem, but don't be satisfied with crude solutions when there are much better ones. I'd rather have access to all knowledge and use increasingly sophisticated tools for carving out the subset I need than to have access only to a shrinking subset of knowledge determined by what I can afford rather than what I need.)
* OA archives do not provide peer review and depend on the continued existence of peer-review providers. Publishers of TA journals have argued that widespread archiving would kill TA journal subscriptions and thereby kill the peer-review providers. The fallacy here is to assume that the only peer-review providers are TA journals. That's untrue. Not only are there 1,440+ OA journals today providing peer review, there are likely to be many more over time. Moreover, there's no reason why peer-review couldn't become a service decoupled from publishing and provided by organizations (like free-floating editorial boards) that look very different from anything we call "journals" today.
In short, OA needs peer-review providers but it doesn't need TA peer-review providers or TA journals. By itself this fact doesn't cut for or against long-term coexistence. But it does undercut the policy argument that the survival of peer review depends on the survival of TA journals.
* Open source and closed source software coexist, and seem likely to coexist forever. At first this looks like the difference between journals and books: if authors choose to write royalty-free software rather than royalty-producing software, that's their choice, and over the long term we'll continue to see choices of both kinds. But on closer inspection, open-source tends to win against closed-source when they compete in the same application niche, when quality is roughly equal, and when monopoly power does not distort adopter decisions. If the analogy to OA is strong (is it?), then this argues for continuing growth of OA at the expense of TA.
* Some TA publishers argue that TA journals are better for science. But many concede that OA journals would serve science better if only they had secure funding models. Those in the second camp that have not adopted OA are still looking at the evidence for financial viability or still running their own experiments.
Those in the first camp object to OA journals for anyone, but those in the second camp are objecting only for themselves or only for now. Publishers in the second camp will not convert without a secure source of funding, and don't expect anyone else to do so either, but they tend to acknowledge that a secure source of funding would answer the major objections and make the case for OA compelling.
I won't try to guess the relative proportions of TA publishers in the two camps. But let me focus on those in the second camp. Note the asymmetry between them and OA providers. Most OA providers argue that OA is best for science and scholarship in every discipline, not just for themselves.
What does this asymmetry mean for long-term coexistence? To me it suggests that OA proponents will continue to push for OA, in all disciplines and all languages, but that many of those not yet persuaded will only oppose it in their own cases. If so, OA will spread to the extent that it successfully addresses individual circumstances --this research niche in this country in this decade. If there are circumstances in which OA will never be viable, or in which finding viable funding models is unusually difficult, then at least there won't be circumstances in which OA proponents will stop trying.
Top stories from February 2005
This is a selection of open-access developments since the last issue of the newsletter, taken from the Open Access News blog, which I write with other contributors and update daily. I give both the item URL and blog posting URL so that you can read the original story as well as what I or another blog contributor had to say about it. For other developments, the blog archive is browseable and searchable.
Here are the top stories from February:
* Blackwell announces the Online Open program.
* Two treaties would mandate OA to publicly-funded research.
* Google Scholar and Google Print continue to make news.
* UK government responds to the Gibson committee, again.
* February sees a surge for open-source science.
* Blackwell announces the Online Open program.
Blackwell Publishing has announced that it is adopting the author's choice model of OA (which I've often called the Walker-Prosser model) for many of its journals. Authors willing to pay a processing fee of $2,500 on accepted articles can have immediate OA to their published articles. These OA articles will appear both in print and online, with the print edition pointing to the free online edition. Blackwell will reduce subscription prices roughly in proportion to author uptake. Societies that publish their journals through Blackwell needn't participate in the program, but Blackwell is consulting with them now to gauge their level of interest. The program is a two-year experiment, ending in December 2006.
Springer deserves credit for being the first TA publisher to adopt this model across the board (July 2004). But Blackwell deserves credit for charging a lower processing fee and spreading the model to society journals.
Remarkably, in the week since the announcement, I haven't seen a single news story on the new Blackwell policy. Are OA policies becoming routine?
The advantage of the author-choice model for experimenting with OA publishing is that it is gradual and does not require wholesale conversion. As long as the OA option is on offer, the publisher can learn about the level of author interest and how to set a fee that is high enough to pay the journal's expenses and low enough to encourage uptake. (Blackwell will probably find that its fee is too high.) The disadvantage is that authors can have immediate OA to their articles, without paying a fee, simply by self-archiving.
In its classic form, it's a model of OA that doesn't benefit libraries. Until the author uptake is very high and reliable, libraries will not feel justified in cancelling subscriptions. This is an advantage from the journal's point of view, of course, giving it a safe zone in which to experiment with the economics of OA publishing. However, both Springer and Blackwell modify the classic form by offering to reduce subscription prices in proportion to author participation, one of the most welcome features of their policies.
During 2004 Oxford's _Nucleic Acids Research_ experimented with the author-choice model. The experiment was so successful that Oxford converted the journal to full OA in January 2005.
Blackwell's press release on the Online Open program, February 24, 2005
Blackwell's home page for the Online Open program
Blackwell's position on open access
* Two treaties would mandate OA to publicly-funded research.
One of the Top Stories last month was the first phase of drafting for the Access to Knowledge (or a2k) Treaty, an initiative to become part of the WIPO development agenda. This month the a2k treaty continues to make news. But at the same time, the Medical Research and Development Treaty was publicly released and submitted to the World Health Organization for its deliberation (February 24). Both treaties call on signatory nations to mandate OA to publicly funded research --among many other provisions. (Disclosure: I participated in the drafting of each.)
CPTech page on the Access to Knowledge Treaty
Discussion list for those drafting the a2k treaty
Medical Research and Development Treaty, discussion draft 4
Letter to the WHO accompanying the draft treaty
CPTech page on the Medical R&D Treaty
Eva Tallaksen, World 'needs global R&D health treaty', SciDev.Net, March 1, 2005.
Andrew Jack, WHO members urged to sign Kyoto-style medical treaty, Financial Times, February 25, 2005.
William New, Experts Debate Access to Knowledge, Intellectual Property Watch, February 15, 2005.
Nicoletta Dentico and Nathan Ford, The Courage to Change the Rules: A Proposal for an Essential Health R&D Treaty, PLoS Medicine, February 2005.
Reports on the Geneva meeting on the a2k treaty (February 3-4, 2005), by Martin Khor, SUNS North-South Development Monitor.
Report on Day 2 of the Geneva a2k meeting, by Harald Tveit Alvestrand, the Chair of the Internet Engineering Task Force.
John Barton, Preserving the Global Scientific and Technological Commons, February 3, 2005, a position paper, or preprint, for the Access to Knowledge Treaty.
* Google Scholar and Google Print continue to make news.
Among the new developments: Google Scholar is addressing the version control problem. Publishers and bystanders are questioning whether Google's book-scanning project has the requisite permissions from copyright holders. A Le Monde editorial by Jean-NoŽl Jeanneney argued that the Google Print project, by digitizing more English than non-English works, will aggravate the problem of Anglo-American hegemony.
Barbara Fister, Google's Digitization Project: What Difference Will it Make? Library Issues, March 2005.
Steve Johnson, How Google will scan the world, 1 book at a time, Chicago Tribune, February 25, 2005.
Michael Woods, Access to latest research opened to consumers, Toledo Blade, February 21, 2005.
Roy Tennant, Google Out of Print, Library Journal, February 15, 2005.
Anon., Google Scholar to use CrossRef DOI, UKSG Serials-eNews, February 14, 2005.
Ed Pentz, CrossRef Search Pilot, CrossRef Newsletter, February 14, 2005.
David Kirkpatrick, Google: Going Beyond the Web, Fortune, February 10, 2005.
Rita Vine, Google Scholar is a Full Year Late Indexing PubMed Content, SiteLines, February 8, 2005.
Nilanjana Roy, The library of everything, New Delhi Business Standard, February 8, 2005.
Jeffrey Young, Publishing Groups Say Google's Library-Scanning Effort May Violate Copyright Laws, Chronicle of Higher Education, February 7, 2005.
Declan Butler, Publishers irritated by Google's digital library, Nature, February 3, 2005.
Carol Tenopir, Google in the Academic Library, Library Journal, February 1, 2005.
Jean-NoŽl Jeanneney wrote an editorial on the Google library project for the January 23 issue of Le Monde, which has raised a storm of comment. Jeanneney is an important observer: former French secretary of state for communications and the current President of the BibliothŤque Nationale de France. His editorial is a protest but not a simple one. He does not call for abandoning the Google library project, only for a comparable project for the literature of France and other cultures. He notes correctly that no Francophile organization has the money to match what Google is investing, but he doesn't use that fact to criticize Google. He laments the imbalance of money, which may lead to an imbalance of online scholarship and a corresponding imbalance of understanding in disciplines like history. Moreover, the online literature will likely be mixed with advertising which will not only distract from the content but generate revenue for Anglo-American concerns, "accentuating the imbalance". But he does not at all lament the ambitious project to digitize books. On the contrary, even while he articulates his protest, he admits that the project triggers "jubilation" at the "messianic dream" of digitizing knowledge for free online access worldwide.
Google was clear from the start that it will digitize English and non-English books alike, though at first (because of the limitations on scanning technology) it will give preference to books in languages using the Roman alphabet. Google hasn't announced the percentages of the different cultural streams. But in addition to the abstract commitment to digitize across languages and cultures, it has expressed an interest in hearing from other libraries, presumably in any country, willing to participate in the next wave of digitization. Meantime, as I see it, Jeanneney's criticism will only do good: either by hastening the enlargement of the Google project or by stimulating even more local digitization projects at national libraries and other important collections around the world. On the latter front, watch for the official launch, later this month, of The European Library.
Jean-NoŽl Jeanneney, Quand Google dťfie l'Europe, Le Monde, January 23, 2005.
English translation by Jack Kessler: Google defies Europe
Watch for the March 15 launch of The European Library
Aisha Labi, Google's Library Project Is Culturally Biased, Says Head of French Institution, Chronicle of Higher Education, February 24, 2005.
Nick Farrell, Google book plan angers the French, The Inquirer, Februar6y 22, 2005.
David Worthington, Google Book Effort Draws French Ire, BetaNews, February 21, 2005.
Gary Price, Head of France's National Library Not Happy With Google Library Project, SearchDay, February 18, 2005.
Timothy Heritage, Google's online book plan sparks French war of words, Computerworld, February 18, 2005.
Also see the good discussion thread on the DigLib list about Jeanneney's editorial.
* UK government responds to the Gibson committee, again.
The UK government released a new response (dated January 26, released February 1) to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee's response (November 8, 2004) to the government's rejection of the committee's report (July 20, 2004) on open access and STM publishing. Unfortunately, the new response suffers from the same problems as the first one in November. First, it focuses more on OA journals than OA repositories, when the committee report did the reverse. Second, it dismisses the primary recommendation --for mandated OA for taxpayer-funded research through OA repositories-- without addressing the committee's evidence and arguments.
Stephen Pincock, UK gov't unsure on open access, The Scientist, February 3, 2005.
Richard Wray, Open access moves a step closer, The Guardian, February 2, 2005.
Mark Chillingworth, Government sticks by its OA policy, Information World Review, February 1, 2005.
* February sees a surge for open-source science.
Open-source science is a genus with at least two large species. If open access frees up access to literature in the face of barriers traditionally enforced by copyright law, then one large species of open-source science frees up access to discoveries, techniques, tools, and specimens in the face of barriers traditionally enforced by patent law. Another species frees up access to raw and semi-raw data in the face of informal barriers created by commercial interest and custom. What they have in common is alternative licensing, or assignment to the public domain, in order to stimulate research and useful applications, like medicines, that would otherwise be stymied by restrictive licensing and disincentives to share. The overall movement may be waiting for a succinct definition, but individual projects are sharply defined and clearly distinct from OA to texts. It's first stirrings antedate 2005 by many years, but February 2005 must have been one of its strongest months ever.
Philip H. Albert, Is the GPL OK for DNA? LinuxInsider, March 1, 2005.
Arti Rai, "Open Source" Biology: The Role of Law, a public lecture at Duke Law School, February 17, 2005.
Elizabeth Wilson, Open Source For Virtual Screening, Chemical & Engineering News, February 14, 2005.
Kevin Davies, The 2005 Database Explosion, Bio IT World, February 11, 2005.
The U.S. National Cancer Institute (NCI), a division of the NIH, released open-source software for sharing and analyzing microarray data, February 11, 2005.
Priya Shetty, Free access GM 'toolkit' launched, SciDev.Net, February 11, 2005.
Paul Rincon, Plant biotech goes open-source, BBC News, February 10, 2005.
Andrew Pollack, Open-Source Practices for Biotechnology, New York Times, February 10, 2005.
A thread on open-source biology started at Slashdot on February 10.
John von Radowitz, Scientists begin project to 'barcode' earth's 10m species, Irish Examiner, February 10, 2005.
Wim Broothaerts and eight co-authors, Gene transfer to plants by diverse species of bacteria, Nature, February 10, 2005.
Kristen Philipkoski, Genetically Modified IP Launched, Wired News, February 9, 2005.
The European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) has released Oriel (Online Research Information Environment for the Life Sciences), a tool for gathering, navigating, querying, and analyzing genomic and bioinformatics data from distributed sites. Oriel has been tested on the OA E-BioSci and seems to be optimized for OA data sources.
The European Union has awarded 8.3 million Euros to the EMBRACE Network of Excellence program. "EMBRACE" stands for "European Model for Bioinformatics Research and Community Education".
Bill Schu, Big Plans for Small Molecules, Genomics and Proteomics, January/February 2005.
David Shatto launchced Project in Self-Organized Distributed Collaboration - Promoting Open Source Science. At first this was a site to track effors to promote open access to California-funded stem-cell research, but it soon generalized to a site promoting open-source science.
Coming up later this month
Here are some important OA-related events coming up in March.
* March 13, 2005, Sunshine Week begins, an open-government initiative in the U.S.
* March 15, 2005, The European Library is scheduled to launch.
* March 25, 2005, is the deadline for public comments to US Copyright Office on what to do with orphan works.
For an easy way to submit your comments, see the web form set up by Free Culture, EFF, and Public Knowledge.
* Notable conferences this month
Trading in knowledge? The World Trade Organisation and Libraries (sponsored by EBLIDA and SCONUL)
Cambridge, England, March 2-3, 2005
Rights in Digital Environments (sponsored by JISC) (focusing on digital scholarship)
Leeds, March 3, 2005, and again in Bristol, March 22, 2005
International Workshop on DSpace
Bangalore, March 7-11, 2005
Open Access and the Scholarly Publishing Crisis (a library workshop at Baylor University) (probably not the official title)
Waco, Texas, March 9, 2005
London Book Fair (will include a Cara Kaufman presentation on the ALPSP/AAAS/HighWire research study on Open Access)
London, March 13-15, 2005
American Medical Publishers Association Annual Meeting (OA is among the topics)
Philadelphia, March 13-15, 2005
Censorship and Access to Information: History and the Present
St. Petersburg, March 16-18, 2005
Digitising and delivering textual resources (a one-day course at King's College)
London, March 17, 2005
Social Science Data Archives: creating, depositing and using data (sponsored by ESDS)
Swansea, March 23, 2005
* Other OA-related conferences
* I've added 32 new conferences to the conference page since the last issue. In the next few days I'll delete the second asterisk marking them and the new entries will blend into the rest of the collection.
* Which is it, the blog or the newsletter?
On February 16, Karen Schneider called Open Access News the "paper of record" for the OA movement.
But in the same month, Walt Crawford called the SPARC Open Access Newsletter the "medium of record" for the OA movement.
This is the SPARC Open Access Newsletter (ISSN 1546-7821), written by Peter Suber and published by SPARC. The views I express in this newsletter are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of SPARC.
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