Welcome to the SPARC Open Access Newsletter, issue #72
April 2, 2004
Read this issue online
University actions against high journal prices
For at least three decades universities have struggled with the problem of rising journal prices. Prices have risen faster than inflation since the 1970's, and four times faster since 1986. Because this rate greatly outpaced the growth of library budgets, it was obvious that it could not continue for much longer. But it was not obvious how it would end. Even though libraries had responded by selectively cancelling subscriptions and cutting into their book budgets, these incremental actions merely postponed the inevitable large-scale responses to reclaim control over their budgets and address the deeper problem. In late 2003 major universities started announcing large-scale cancellations. More, they accompanied these decisions with public statements denouncing publisher pricing practices as unsustainable and inconsistent with the mission of science and scholarship, and calling on all academic stakeholders to join in building sustainable and compatible alternatives.
We've all heard about the major actions, at schools like Cornell, Duke, Harvard, and Stanford. But to understand what's been going on, we need to see a more comprehensive account. I've put together this list of actions by U.S. universities since the fall of 2003, with enough links for those who want to read further and enough detail for those who don't.
Now that I've assembled the list, I've put a version on my page of lists where I plan to keep it up to date.
The list is in chronological order, starting in the fall of 2003. There are earlier actions, but they do not seem to be part of the current wave of cancellations and public statements. As I learn about earlier actions, and actions outside the U.S., I will consider adding them to the web version of the list. I'd appreciate any additions or corrections.
It's notable how many of the university actions are accompanied by public statements. This is not library business as usual. This is direct action and self-conscious participation in a wider campaign. It's notable how often Elsevier is mentioned by name. It's not the only large, commercial publisher charging unbearable prices, but most universities on the list single it out as the worst offender. It's notable how many of the public statement go out of their way to say that the problem is rapidly rising prices, not tight library budgets, even while conceding that budgets have been tight. It's notable how many of the public statements protest Elsevier's negotiating tactics, not just its prices, bundling policies, and licensing terms.
It's notable how many of the public statements mention the need to cultivate alternative forms of scholarly communication, and open access in particular, as part of the overall solution. It's notable how many recommend that faculty withhold their labor as authors, referees, and editors from journals that aggravate the problem rather than advance the solution. It's notable how often faculty were persuaded to endorse the cancellations despite the harm it does to their research projects and careers. It's notable how often faculty, librarians, and administrators (and at Berkeley, also graduate students) agreed on their long-term interest (in a better publishing system and better journals forever) and put it ahead of their short-term interest (journals next year).
These actions show anger, not just businesslike responses to hard bargaining. They belie Elsevier's claim that most cancellations merely eliminate duplicates or eliminate print in favor of electronic subscriptions. They belie the claim that the system is not broken and does not need fixing. They belie the bluster that the subscription-based journal system has "evolved over hundreds of years to meet researchers' needs". They show a crisis at elite research universities with large budgets. From this we must infer graver and more widespread problems at less affluent institutions, even if they are less visible, and a large impediment to science itself represented by the access barriers growing at every level of higher education. Finally, each university action, especially if accompanied by a public statement, gives courage to the next university making the difficult decision to balance current access against long-term solutions. The evidence that they give courage lies in the way that the later public statements cite the earlier ones. If your campus is considering radical action, it's not alone.
Here's the list:
* University of California at Berkeley: Journal Prices and Scholarly Communication, memorandum to the Academic Senate Faculty from Thomas Leonard, University Librarian, and Anthony Newcomb and Elaine Tennant, co-chairs of the Academic Senate Library Committee, September 4, 2003. The memorandum contains an introduction by Robert M. Berdahl, Chancellor.
Summary: The University cancelled an undisclosed number of journals. It emphasized that the problem was runaway journal prices, not the library budget: "Berkeley will continue to face this runaway serials pricing even after the present budget crisis is over." Recommendations: "Faculty need to become aware of the pricing policies of journals (including commercial electronic journals) in their fields....Submit papers to quality journals that have reasonable pricing practices. Modify any contract you sign with a commercial publisher to ensure that you retain the rights to use your work as you see fit, including posting it to a public archive. Consider declining offers to review for unreasonably expensive journals and to serve on their editorial boards....Make changes in scholarly communication a recurring topic at departmental meetings. Consider taking over the publication and distribution of research within your scholarly community. This has already begun at Berkeley, particularly with our colleagues in the Sciences and the Social Sciences....Encourage your professional associations to maintain reasonable prices for scholarship and to establish access terms that are friendly to faculty and other users....The appearance of unconscionable pricing for academic journals...is a problem that has come upon the academy suddenly and has now reached crisis proportions. We will have no one to blame but ourselves if we do not begin to address it at once."
Public statement by the Berkeley Graduate Assembly on the pricing crisis and journal cancellations, September 15, 2003.
"The success of alternate models requires awareness on the part of faculty and students of the problems inherent in the current model. The Graduate Assembly calls on faculty, administrators, and graduate students to support a significant culture change in academia; we must create an environment in which faculty and students can choose to publish their cutting-edge research outside the standard academic publishing industry."
Also see the Berkeley library's web site with background information on the problem and more detail on the Berkeley response.
* University of California at Santa Cruz: Resolution on ties with Elsevier Journals, adopted by the Committee on the Library and sent to the Faculty Senate, October 24, 2003.
Summary: Elsevier journals cost 50% of the UC online serials budget but attracted only 25% of the usage. Elsevier profits rose 26% the previous year. Elsevier has been inflexible in negotiations. Taking the University of California system in its entirety, 10-15% of Elsevier content was written by UC faculty, 1,000 UC faculty serve on Elsevier editorial boards, and 150 serve as senior editors. The resolution recommends using the California Digital Library, the related eScholarship Repository, and peer-reviewed OA journals from PLoS and BMC. It urges faculty to retain copyright, the right of postprint archiving, and the right to distribute copies of their work to their classes. "Therefore, the UCSC Academic Senate resolves to call upon its tenured members to give serious and careful consideration to cutting their ties with Elsevier: no longer submitting papers to Elsevier journals, refusing to referee the submissions of others, and relinquishing editorial posts. The Senate also calls upon its Committee on Academic Personnel to recognize that some faculty may choose not to submit papers to Elsevier journals even when those journals are highly ranked. Faculty choosing to follow the advice of this resolution should not be penalized."
* University of California at San Francisco: Challenges to Sustaining Subscriptions for Scholarly Publications, memorandum to all UCSF faculty from Karen Butter, the University Librarian, and Leonard Zegans and David Rempel, co-chairs of the Committee on Library, November 1 2003.
Summary: The memorandum cites many of the same numbers and complaints as the Santa Cruz resolution (above). While singling out Elsevier it also generalizes that many commercial publishers are using unsustainable business models. "The Committee suggests that all UC faculty consider alternatives to publishing in and editing Elsevier journals. New initiatives, such as Public Library of Science and BioMed Central, promise high-quality peer-reviewed content at affordable prices. The Committee also suggests that faculty consider taking action by retaining certain intellectual property rights, such as including the right to post their work with an institutional repository....Therefore, should the negotiations with Elsevier fail, the Committee on Library strongly recommends that members of the UCSF faculty give serious and careful consideration to their association with Elsevier and consider the following actions: cease submission of papers to Elsevier journals, refuse to referee the submissions of others, and relinquish editorial posts. We would encourage any UCSF faculty who elect to alter their relationship with an Elsevier journal to notify the journal of their reason for doing so. Authors may also consider crossing out the provision in a standard publication contract that gives exclusive ownership of a published article to the publisher and thereby retain the right to publish the work in an electronic medium (e.g. UC's eScholarship Repository or others.)"
* Harvard University: Letter to the Harvard faculty from Sidney Verba, Director of the University Library, December 9, 2003.
Summary: The letter announces Elsevier cancellations, which took effect January 1, 2004. The cancellations were "driven not only by current financial realities, but also —and perhaps more importantly— by the need to reassert control over our collections and to encourage new models for research publication at Harvard....Elsevier journals are by far the most expensive....Elsevier's 2004 contract proposal to NERL was not responsive to Harvard's objectives....Of greatest concern to the Digital Acquisitions Committee and to the University Library Council was the lack of any option by which Harvard could prune its holdings and reduce its level of spending. Libraries wishing to cancel subscriptions could do so, but only by incurring steeply increased fees that obliterate any potential savings —while Elsevier's revenues continued to rise....Toward this end, we have foregone the NERL Elsevier license in 2004 in order to regain control over Harvard library collections in a manner that responds to the University's academic programs. Instead, the libraries will purchase online access to Elsevier journals individually and selectively....Declining the bundled agreement and intentionally reducing our outlay for Elsevier titles will ultimately give us the ability to respond to the marketplace unfettered by such artificial constraints....We believe this action can be a springboard for a vigorous and sustained effort to foster new models of research publication at Harvard. This effort could take many forms, all of which will require the active involvement of Harvard's research community. On many levels, Harvard is changing the ways in which it does business."
Jeffrey Aguero, Libraries to Cut Academic Journals, Harvard Crimson, November 24, 2003.
Anon., Libraries take a stand, Harvard University Gazette, Feburary 5, 2004, p.10-11.
* Cornell University: Resolution regarding the University Library's Policies on Serials Acquisitions, with Special Reference to Negotiations with Elsevier, adopted by the Faculty Senate, December 17, 2003.
Summary: "At Cornell, Ithaca campus library budgets for materials increased by 149% during [the period 1986-2001], but the number of serials titles purchased increased by only 5% —at a time when the number of serials published increased by approximately 138%....Over the last decade Elsevier's price increases have often been over 10% and occasionally over 20% on a year to year basis....The [Elsevier] contract has been priced as a 'bundle,' that is, in such a way that, if the library cancels any of the Elsevier journals it currently subscribes to, the pricing of the other individual journals the library chooses to keep increases substantially. (The actual process is somewhat more complicated than this, but this is the end result.) Because the prices of the journals that are retained greatly increase when others are cancelled, the only way to achieve any real savings is to cancel a great many journals....The library, in consultation with affected faculty, has identified several hundred Elsevier journals for cancellation at the end of 2003....[T]he University Faculty Senate endorses the library's decision to withdraw from Elsevier's bundled pricing plan and undertake selective cancellation of Elsevier journals....Recognizing that the cost of Elsevier journals in particular is radically out of proportion with the importance of those journals to the library's serials collection (measured both in terms of the proportion of the total collection they represent and in terms of their use by and value to faculty and students), the University Faculty Senate encourages the library to seek in the near term, in consultation with the faculty, to reduce its expenditures on Elsevier journals to no more than 15% of its total annual serials acquisitions expenditures (from in excess of 20% in 2003)....Recognizing that the increasing control by large commercial publishers over the publication and distribution of the faculty's scholarship and research threatens to undermine core academic values promoting broad and rapid dissemination of new knowledge and unrestricted access to the results of scholarship and research, the University Faculty Senate encourages the library and the faculty vigorously to explore and support alternatives to commercial venues for scholarly communication."
Also see the Cornell web site with background information on the problem and more details on the Cornell response.
Paula Hane, Cornell and Other University Libraries to Cancel Elsevier Titles, Information Today, November 17, 2003.
Jonathan Knight, Cornell axes Elsevier journals as prices rise, Nature, November 20, 2003 (accessible only to subscribers).
Anon., After failed negotiations, CU Library cancels Elsevier journal package, Cornell Chronicle, December 11, 2003.
* University of California system: Letter to all UC faculty from Lawrence Pitts, Chair of the Academic Senate, and the head librarians of the 11 UC campuses, January 7, 2004.
Summary: The letter cites and summarizes the preceding actions taken by several of the UC campuses (above) and announces the cancellation of "approximately 200" journals. "The economics of scholarly journal publishing are incontrovertibly unsustainable. Taming price inflation is not enough. Unless we change the current model, academic libraries and universities will be unable to continue providing faculty, students, and staff with the access they require to the world's scholarship and knowledge. Scholars will be unable to make the results of their research widely available. These are not statements about any single company, about the strengths and weaknesses of for- and not-for-profit publishing, or about the prospects of open-access versus subscription-based journal models. They are merely observations about economic reality....[W]e are have been paying more for access to a smaller proportion of the world's published knowledge. If we are to halt or even reverse that trend, we must aggressively ramp up and institutionalize our efforts to change the scholarly communication process....The UC Libraries are working aggressively to...support alternative means for publishing scholarly materials that make high-quality peer-reviewed work available at an affordable price."
The university created a Special Committee on Scholarly Communication to examine new methods of scholarly communication. It also created a web page to track the university's future actions on this front.
Also see the UC libraries web site on scholarly communications, which recomments that faculty "[s]upport open access journals and self-archiving".
On April 29, 2003, the UC Systemwide Library and Scholarly Information Advisory Committee adopted a resolution on Digital Library Journal Collecting Principles. "To align costs with value, the Committee recommends that UC libraries, in close consultation with the faculty, initiate a Systemwide review and renegotiation of the University's contracts with publishers whose pricing practices are not sustainable."
Jennifer Murphy, Library struggles to fund access, Daily Bruin, November 17, 2003.
Elsevier issued its own press release on the California contract, emphasizing the volume of material the deal makes accessible to California users, January 10, 2004.
http://home.businesswire.com/portal/site/google/index.jsp?ndmViewId=news_view&newsId=20040109005619&newsLang=en (dead link)
Anon., UC System Inks Five Year Deal with Elsevier, Stops Price Inflation, Library Journal, January 14, 2004.
Yvette Essen, Market Report, The Telegraph, January 20, 2004. Whether budget cuts in California will force the University of California to renegotiate its contract with Elsevier.
* Triangle Research Libraries Network: Changes in Elsevier Science Access</a>, memorandum to the Faculties (of Duke University, North Carolina State University, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) from Peter Lange, Provost at Duke, James Oblinger, Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor at NCSU, and Robert Shelton, Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor at UNC at Chapel Hill, January 14, 2004.
Summary: "[T]he member universities of the Triangle Research Libraries Network (TRLN) have decided to discontinue the consortial arrangement by which they provided access to electronic journals published under the Elsevier Science imprint....Throughout months of renewal negotiations with Elsevier, TRLN and its member libraries have articulated two principal objectives:  To regain and maintain control over library collecting decisions in order to meet the constantly evolving information needs of faculty, researchers, and students; and  To manage overall costs in order to keep Elsevier expenditures consistent with materials budgets that have not been increasing at anywhere near Elsevier's annual inflation rate. Elsevier's final offer fails to meet both of these objectives....Because Elsevier Science has not offered TRLN a pricing model responsive to the needs of the consortium, TRLN has elected to terminate its consortial arrangement with Reed Elsevier. Each TRLN library will now make individual arrangements for Elsevier journal access on its own campus....Although libraries and universities are supporting new publishing models in an effort to maintain access to high-quality, peer-reviewed research at a manageable cost, there is still a reliance on the products of for-profit publishers. As a result of this dynamic, libraries can no longer offer the same range of publications to the academic community....The libraries...will begin to explore with you new models of scholarly communication that may, in the long term, help reduce costs and make scholarly information more widely available."
TRLN member North Carolina State University adopted a separate Resolution on Bundled Content and Elsevier on December 2, 2003. "[O]pen access and communication of scholarly research are fundamental to intellectual and academic freedom and critical to economic growth and development."
Eric Ferreri, Colleges ax journals deal, the Durham NC Herald-Sun, January 12, 2004.
http://www.herald-sun.com/orange/10-434527.html (dead link)
Anon., TRLN to Forgo the Big Deal, Library Journal, January 14, 2004.
Kenneth Ball, Libraries cancel Elsevier contract, North Carolina State University's TechnicianOnline, January 16, 2004.
Kenneth Ball, Senate Backs Libraries, Technician Online (the NCSU student newspaper), December 4, 2003.
Anon., NCSU Faculty Takes Hard Line on New Elsevier Deal, Library Journal, December 8, 2004.
Joseph Schwartz, Campus to drop journal contract, U of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Daily Tar Heel, January 16, 2004.
* MIT: Announcement on the MIT Libraries web site. (February 2004?)
Summary: "The MIT Libraries have recently taken steps to reduce the impact of two large commercial publishers on our ability to make responsible decisions in selecting information resources for use at MIT. Specifically, we declined three-year renewal contracts that would have required us to guarantee on-going spending levels with Wiley InterScience and Elsevier Science. These actions ensure that if the Libraries need to reduce spending in the next year or two, we can make those decisions based solely on the specific needs of the MIT user community, without giving unfair advantage to certain publishers....The decision to decline the three-year renewals was difficult because the terms for one-year renewals were considerably less attractive. However, the one-year renewals put us in a position of being able to cancel titles next year if we need to."
Also see the MIT web site on scholarly communication for background information on the problem and news and advice for faculty.
* University of Connecticut, Resolution adopted by the Faculty Senate, February 9, 2004.
Summary: "Access to the scholarly literature is vital to all members of the academic community. Scholars and their professional associations share a common interest in the broadest possible dissemination of peer-reviewed contributions. Unfortunately, the business practices of some journals and journal publishers is inimical to these interests and threatens to limit the promise of increased access inherent in digital technologies. Development of library collections is more and more constrained by the rising costs of journals and databases. Faculty, staff, students, and university administrators must all take greater responsibility for the scholarly communication system. Therefore, the University Senate calls on all faculty, staff, and students of the University of Connecticut to become familiar with the business practices of journals and journal publishers in their specialty. It especially encourages senior tenured faculty to reduce their support of journals or publishers whose practices are inconsistent with the health of scholarly communication by submitting fewer papers to such journals, by refereeing fewer papers submitted to such journals, or by resigning from editorial posts associated with such journals. It encourages them to increase their support of existing journals and publishers whose practices are consistent with the health of scholarly communication. The Senate also calls on University administrators and departmental, school, college and University committees to reward efforts by faculty, staff, and students to start or support more sustainable models for scholarly communication. It calls on them to provide financial and material support to faculty, staff, and students whose work helps to ensure broad access to the scholarly literature. It also calls on professional associations and the University to invest in the infrastructure necessary to support new venues for peer-reviewed publication."
Before it adopted this resolution, the Faculty Senate deleted a recommendation (contained e.g. in the Santa Cruz resolution above) that tenure and promotion committees should respect faculty decisions to follow the advice of the resolution. See the minutes of the faculty meeting (scroll to item 8).
* Stanford University: Faculty senate approves measure targeting for-profit journal publishers, a press release issued February 24, 2004. The press release is based on a February 19 vote of the Faculty Senate.
Summary: With one dissenting vote, the Faculty Senate voted to encourage "libraries to cancel some costly journal subscriptions and faculty to withhold articles and reviews from publishers who engage in questionable pricing practices. The motion singled out publishing giant Elsevier as deserving special attention. 'We're not doing this to position ourselves to negotiate more effectively with Elsevier,' said University Librarian Michael Keller. 'We're doing this to change the whole scene. We're trying to change the fundamental nature of scholarly communication in the journal industry.'...'I think it's going to take a long time for its prestige and cachet to wear out,' [biology professor Robert] Simoni said. 'There are still so many people who think publishing in Cell is going to make their career that they'll still get submissions. But if institutions like Stanford and others stop subscribing to journals like Cell, authors will eventually realize that their work is not being seen. This is an evolutionary change and it will take time."
Michael Miller, Fac Sen discusses journal fees, The Stanford Daily, February 6, 2004. Stanford discusses how to respond to the serials crisis.
Ryan Sands, Fac Sen addresses costly journals, The Stanford Daily, February 20, 2004.
* University of Maryland: Changes in Access to Journals Published by Reed Elsevier, a letter from William W. Destler, Provost, to the faculty, February 20, 2004.
Summary: The university cancelled consortial access to the Baltimore campus subscriptions and converted the College Park campus subscriptions to electronic-only. It describes the failed Elsevier negotiations in language similar to that in the TRLN statement above, and then continues. "By retaining the ability to cancel titles, the Libraries maintain the option of building collections with other publishers' titles where they provide greater value to the campus community....The University of Maryland is working with other research universities to address this crisis. One example of this type of work is the Libraries' participation in the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition [SPARC]....I firmly believe that universities must address this crisis in the system of scholarly communication. Our libraries need our support in their work with the university community to regain control of their budgets, their collections, and the intellectual property that is the ultimate output of the research enterprise. I encourage you to continue to engage in discussions with our library faculty about what we are doing to explore new models of scholarly communication and restore a measure of rationality to the publishing system. It is important to extend the discussion beyond our campus as well, especially for those of you who serve on editorial boards of journals published commercially or by learned societies."
* Indiana University at Bloomington: Resolution on Journals, Databases, and Threats to Scholarly Publication, adopted by the Bloomington Faculty Council, February 27, 2004.
Summary: "The continuing escalation of serial prices, which have more than doubled in the past 10 years, is unsustainable in the long run. The increase is due to a number of factors: the information explosion, the expansion of electronic capabilities by publishing groups, as well as the growth of mega-publishers whose profits greatly exceed the Consumer Price Index....Scholars and their professional associations share a common interest in the broadest possible dissemination of peer-reviewed contributions. Unfortunately, it is the business practices of a few large journals and journal publishers that threaten to limit the promise of increased access inherent in digital technologies. Therefore, the Bloomington Faculty Council [A] calls on all faculty, staff, students, and university administrators of Indiana University Bloomington to work toward a more open publishing system by increasing their support of existing refereed journals and publishers whose practices are consistent with open access to scholarly communication and to support those who make such choices when considering tenure and promotion; [B] encourages faculty and staff to separate themselves from publishers with a narrow focus on profits at the expense of open scholarly publication; [C] calls on the university Libraries to educate faculty, staff, students, and university administrators on the business practices of different journals and journal publishers and their impact on the health of scholarly communication and on our Libraries at Indiana University Bloomington." The preamble adds the specific recommendations that faculty consider "withholding publications from their journals or choosing not to sit on their editorial boards" and that "[i]n tenure and promotion decisions faculty and staff must be confident that there is departmental and university support for their decisions to publish in referred journals with more open access."
Chris Freiberg, Council approves code revisions, Indiana Digital Student News, March 3, 2004.
* Macalester College: Background Information on Science Direct Decision, February 29, 2004.
Summary: Macalaster decided not to sign a three-year renewal of ScienceDirect. "The reality is we just can't commit to the inflexibility of not cancelling any Elsevier titles....[W]e invited faculty members in the sciences divisions to a meeting on Monday, Nov. 10th. At that meeting, we shared the details of the contract and we presented three options including to stay as a participant within the deal, and we explained that by not participating we would not have electronic access to the Elsevier titles we purchased in print. It was a small group, but they were all in agreement, giving up electronic access and access to a significant number of journals that many of them used was a sacrifice that needed to be made and one that they supported."
* Rumblings (institutions contemplating action)
Columbia University: Megan Greenwell, CU Senate Postpones Resolution Yet Again, Columbian Spectator, March 1, 2004.
Also see the web site on the problem and solutions created by the Columbia Health Sciences Library.
San Jose State University: See Claudia Plascencia, Academic journals to be sacrificed in library cuts, San Jose State University Spartan Daily, March 24, 2004.
University of Iowa: See Kristen Schorsch, UI libraries brace for cuts, Iowa City Press-Citizen, December 2, 2003.
University of Oregon: Chuck Slothower, University Libraries to cut several serial subscriptions, Oregon Daily Emerald, February 21, 2004. A plan to cancel more than 300 titles in May, and a call for faculty input on the titles to be cut.
* General news stories on more than one university action
Nigel Hawkes, Boycott 'greedy' journal publishers, say scientists, The Times, November 10, 2003.
Paula Hane, Cornell and Other University Libraries to Cancel Elsevier Titles, Information Today, November 17, 2003.
Dan Carnevale, Libraries With Tight Budgets Renew Complaints About Elsevier's Online Pricing, Chronicle of Higher Education, December 19, 2003.
Susan Mayor, US universities review subscriptions to journal "package deals" as costs rise, BMJ, January 10, 2004.
Andrew Porter, Has Reed's Mr 10% lost his golden touch? Fears over growth at Crispin Davis's empire, London Times, January 12, 2004. On troubles at Elsevier including the library cancellations.
Bobby Pickering, Elsevier hits back at journal cuts, Information World Review, January 12, 2003.
Christopher A. Reed, Just Say No to Exploitative Publishers of Science Journals, Chronicle of Hgher Education, February 20, 2004.
Owen Dyer, US universities threaten to cancel subscriptions to Elsevier journals, BMJ, March 6, 2004.
Charles Burress, The staggering price of world's best research, San Francisco Chronicle, March 28, 2004.
Randy Reichardt, Cancellation of Elsevier Packages at Cornell, MIT, Harvard, etc. - Commentaries, posting to the STLQ (Sci-Tech Library Question) blog.
* Postscript. Because the pricing crisis could be solved by affordable prices, without open access, it is only obliquely connected to open access. However, as the public statements show, a growing number of universities see open access as part of any long-term, sustainable alternative to the current journal system. That's the primary connection between the pricing crisis and OA.
But here are two other connections that are often overlooked. Scholars can launch OA *journals* whenever they have the means and the will. They needn't ask conventional publishers to convert. Scholars can always deposit their preprints, and can usually deposit their postprints, in OA *archives* even while publishing in conventional subscription-based journals, even in the most expensive ones. These two paths to OA show that we needn't solve the pricing crisis first and work on OA second. On the contrary, providing OA to more and more of our research now is the most direct and effective way to advance OA. It also happens to be part of any comprehensive assault on the pricing problem.
The primary reason for researchers to provide OA to their own work is to enlarge their audience and increase their impact. This may have only a remote and indirect connection to journal prices. We should provide OA to our work in order to advance knowledge, advance our careers, and advance OA. Solving the pricing problem is terribly important, but building an effective OA alternative is the best solution, even if it's done without regard for its effect on prices.
Reflections on the DC principles
On March 16 a group of non-profit publishers released the Washington D.C. Principles for Free Access to Science. The signatories are learned societies and non-profit associations that publish subscription-based journals. Although they charge subscriptions, they also offer free online access to some of their content (e.g. sufficiently old issues) and to some of their users (e.g. from sufficiently indigent nations).
Some press accounts and listserv discussions have misunderstood what is happening here. Because the signatories emphasize "free access to science", some observers have mistaken them for open-access advocates. On the other side, because open-access advocates often support non-profit publishers as good citizens in an industry dominated by monopolists, they sometimes understate their differences with them in order to preserve alliances and remain focused on where the problems are much worse. So some observers have mistaken the position of OA advocates as endorsement of the DC principles. Both sides have underemphasized their differences, in the name of comity and cooperation, but with the result that they have been mistaken for one another.
I want to try something tricky. I want to be clear and candid about the differences, but I also want to interpret the DC principles as a constructive step forward and respond constructively to them.
From the standpoint of open access, subscriptions are a problem. They are price barriers that not only exclude indigent readers, but also exclude crawling software that facilitates full-text search, retrieval, indexing, mining, and alerting. For most of the software that mediates serious research, prices are absolute barriers, whether they are high or low, as long as they enforced with password-demanding DRM. But for human readers and their institutions, prices are a matter of degree. Free is better than affordable, and affordable is better than expensive.
In an industry known for exorbitant prices, non-profit publishers tend to keep their prices affordable. In an industry known for publishers who put the needs of shareholders ahead of the needs of science, society publishers tend to use their revenue to advance their scientific and scholarly missions. They deserve praise for this even from scientists who see all subscription fees as unnecessary access barriers.
I don't want to criticize the effort to keep prices within reach and generate revenue to advance the cause of science and scholarship, and I don't want to magnify differences among groups that are both dedicated to widening access to knowledge. But I do believe that fully free access is economically sustainable and in the best interest of science. I also believe that arguing for this conclusion (which I will not do much of here) need not become divisive any more than arguments for other conclusions, including arguments for the opposite conclusion. I'd like to cast this as a disagreement among friends.
The preamble to the principles asserts that the signatories want to promote "the wide dissemination of information in [their] journals". Principle #3 lists five ways in which they support "forms of free access", such as free online access to selected new articles and free online access to whole issues after a certain embargo period.
In principle #6, the signatories say that they "strongly support the principle that publication fees should not be borne solely by researchers and their funding institutions, because the ability to publish in scientific journals should be available equally to all scientists worldwide, no matter what their economic circumstances."
It's not clear what principle #6 is getting at. If it asserts that the funding model for scientific journals should not exclude indigent authors, then the signatories are preaching to the converted or disputing without an antagonist. Everyone agrees with that principle. If it means that the upfront funding model used at many OA journals does exclude indigent authors, despite good intentions, despite fee waivers in cases of hardship, despite the willingness of many foundations to pay these fees on behalf of authors, and despite other mitigations, then it's a factual claim in need of evidence, not a principle to assert without evidence. I've argued elsewhere that this factual claim is false (see SOAN for 11/2/03). But if it's true, then OA proponents will be just as concerned as OA critics to find a remedy.
In principle #7 the signatories say "that a free society allows for the co-existence of many publishing models".
There is more than one publishing model within OA. For example, most OA journals in biomedicine use the upfront funding model obliquely criticized in principle #6, while OA journals in less well-funded fields are finding models that require no fees at all. But the signatories don't seem to mean that there should be many co-existing models *within* OA, although I think that should please them. They seem to mean that there should be many co-existing models *beyond* OA, or that subscription-based models and OA models should co-exist. If the question is what "a free society allows", then of course they are right. Nobody wants to live in a society that prohibits subscription-based journals. (Arguing for another model is very different from arguing for a prohibition.) If the question is what's in the best interest science, then it's an open question not settled by consensus on what is permitted in a free society.
I'd like to read principles ##6 and 7 in light of the preamble on wide dissemination and in light of the list in principle #4 of the ways that the signatories already provide free access. Taking these together, the document seems to assert a principle that could be paraphrased this way: Scientific journal publishers should provide the widest possible access compatible with a responsible business model. A responsible business model --among other things-- pays the journal's expenses, doesn't compromise the integrity of peer review, and doesn't exclude indigent authors.
I hope this is a fair way to read the parts of the document in light of the whole and the whole in light of the parts. If it is, then I want to praise it. It deserves praise as a constructive step in the dialog about access and as a good principle in its own right. It's a constructive step because it appeals to commonly held values and gets us beyond polarization and name-calling. It appeals to commonly held values because OA journals want a responsible business model in exactly the same sense. If we agree about that, then we can turn down the temperature and talk shop about how to widen access as far as possible under a responsible business model and how to develop responsible models compatible with wider access.
I may be wrong. The DC signatories may have meant that they want a certain level of wide access compatible with the survival of subscription revenue, even if it would be perfectly possible to achieve wider, completely open access under a responsible business model. If so, then I would have to quarrel with their goal. But for now, I'll assume we agree about the goal and can work together on the means and methods. Which means and methods work best in which circumstances, and how close can we get to the goal without violating our criteria for a responsible business model? This way of reading the document makes it an invitation to constructive collaboration.
It also makes it an open challenge to both kinds of journals. The open challenge to OA journals is to show that immediate OA to all of their peer-reviewed research articles is compatible with a responsible business model. Their challenge is to show that their model is responsible, or to show that widening access further than the DC signatories are willing to do is compatible with the DC signatories' own high standards for a responsible journal. Part of their challenge is to alter their models if they discover that they are not responsible.
The open challenge to subscription-based journals is to show that all responsible publishing models require subscriptions. If there is even one that doesn't require subscriptions, then they are not widening access as far as they responsibly can. Their challenge is to show that the known OA models are not responsible. Part of their challenge is to be prepared to widen access further if they discover that doing so will not violate their own high standards.
OA proponents are already taking steps to meet their challenge. Over 800 peer-reviewed OA journals around the world are now finding ways --more than one way-- to provide peer review and open access at the same time. But perhaps they will not survive, or perhaps they do peer review badly or exclude indigent authors. Let's look and see. These are not questions of principle, but observation. Moreover, if longevity is part of a responsible business model, then the observations will take some time. Finally, many journals are experimenting with OA, and finding new variations on older business models that seem to fit their unique circumstances. Letting these experiments run their course will also take time. Meantime, many studies are underway that collect business data from OA journals and subject it to independent analysis.
If non-profit publishers want to know how wide access can be without violating the standards of a responsible business model, then they should welcome the evidence as it emerges. They should welcome the present climate of experimentation. And they should participate in the experiments themselves.
The Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP) represents society and non-profit publishers just like those that signed the DC principles. Last year the ALPSP issued a public statement in favor of "maximizing access" to research literature but also expressing doubts about the known OA business models. The solution it called for was not to shun OA but to experiment. Instead of asking its members to wait for others to conduct the experiments and report the results, it called on its members to participate. Moreover, it called on its members to share their business data in an ongoing assessment of the viability of their experiments. Just last week, the ALPSP released its Principles of Scholarship-Friendly Journal Publishing Practice, repeating the goal of maximizing access, repeating the call to experiment, and arguing that OA itself is "in tune with the mission of many learned societies".
Some society publishers are experimenting with alternate business models. For example, the American Society for Cell Biology (not a DC signatory) provides free online access to its journal, _Molecular Biology of the Cell_ (MBC) two months after print publication. In an October 2003 interview in _Open Access Now_, the ASCB Executive Director, Elizabeth Marincola, said, "[N]o publication in the world...can credibly argue that their revenues will be significantly affected if they release their content six months after publication....It is the explicit goal of the society to try to find a way to release MBC without even a two-month delay while retaining our financial base."
Many of the DC signatories provide free online access after a six month embargo period. How many wait even longer? How many are experimenting with shorter embargo periods?
There is one way that society and non-profit publishers could support OA without ceasing to charge subscriptions. They could make it easy for authors to deposit their postprints in OA archives or repositories. If they ask authors to transfer copyright, then as the copyright-holders they could give permission for postprint archiving. Or they could let authors retain copyright so that authors would be free to deposit their postprints without anyone else's permission. The new ALPSP principles find that 60% of society publishers already permit postprint archiving. Moreover, "[a]lthough some speculate that increasing use of OAI-compliant metadata will ultimately enable such posting to undermine subscription and licence income, this does not seem to be the case so far."
Journals could go further and positively encourage postprint archiving. Among others who recommend this strategy is Jim Pitman, Chair of the Publications Committee of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics, a society publisher (not a DC signatory).
How many of the DC signatories let authors retain copyright? Why do (about) 40% still not permit postprint archiving? How many are considering an experiment in which they permit it?
Other notable OA experiments by non-profits are taking place at the American Physiological Society and the Company of Biologists (both DC signatories) as well as the American Anthropological Association, American Society of Limnology and Oceanography, and the Entomological Society of America (not DC signatories).
I'd like to know about other experiments, and will do what I can to draw attention to them through my blog and newsletter. And I'd like to know how non-profits assess the pressures of the contemporary journal marketplace. How many feel more threatened by OA than by declining library budgets and the big deal? How many are worrying that journals do not attract members as they once did, especially when potential members have subsidized online access at their institutional desktops? How many see OA as part of a solution to declining memberships and exclusion from the big deal rather than part of the problem? How many are focusing on one OA business model that may not work for them rather than thinking about the range of OA models, the varieties of gradual adoption, and the universe of untried, creative experiments?
My position is no secret. I want OA for all peer-reviewed research articles and their preprints, and I want it without any embargo period. But I also want OA journals to have responsible business models that don't compromise on peer review or exclude indigent authors. I endorse these criteria. But how many signatories of the DC principles would endorse OA if it could be shown that OA journals can meet these criteria? How many care whether existing OA journals already meet them? How many are monitoring experiments to test the viability of OA business models? How many are experimenting themselves?
Learned societies that publish journals are both consumers and producers of science. In this respect, they are like universities and individual scholars, and unlike commercial publishers. This dual interest creates conflicts about goals and priorities for which there is no single or simple solution. As producers of science, society publishers need to cover their costs. As consumers and users of science, they need to contribute to a milieu of barrier-free access and sharing. Or, as businesses representing scientists, they must survive in order to serve their members; but they must ultimately serve their members.
The OA proposition is that there are responsible business models that let publishers do both. If true, then journals can responsibly cover their expenses and still remove access barriers that hinder research. The dual interest of operating a healthy business and serving science does not, by itself, rule out the OA proposition or entail the need to compromise. But is the OA proposition true? That's a matter for investigation, not rejection on principle.
Washington D.C. Principles for Free Access to Science
Signatories of the DC principles
Response to the DC principles from the Association of Academic Health Sciences Libraries, American Association of Law Libraries, American Library Association, Association of College & Research Libraries, Association of Research Libraries, Medical Libraries Association, Open Society Institute, Public Knowledge, SPARC, and SPARC Europe
(Full disclosure: I am affiliated with two of the signatories of this response and participated in its drafting.)
ALPSP statement on open access journal publishing, including a call to experiment
ALPSP call on experimenters to share their business data for analysis
ALPSP principles of scholarship-friendly journal publishing practice (released just last week)
Open Access Now interview with Elizabeth Marincola, Executive Director of the American Society for Cell Biology, October 2003
Jim Pitman's strategy for open access to society publications, January 28, 2004
Objection-reply: Do journal processing fees exclude the poor? (from SOAN for 11/2/03)
Objection-reply: Whether the upfront payment model corrupts peer review at open-access journals (from SOAN for 3/2/04)
What learned societies and non-profit publishers can do to promote open access
For news stories on the DC principles, see the Best of the Blog (New Developments) section, below.
* Postscript. At the March 16 press conference announcing the DC principles, Martin Frank of the American Physiological Society emphasized the difference between various forms of "free access", which the principles endorse, and "open access", which the principles do not endorse. Some press and listserv discussions also latched on to the distinction between free and open access, perhaps because it's convenient shorthand for more complex differences of position. Some simply picked up on the word "free" and equated it with "open" despite Frank's attempt to distinguish them.
But the distinction between free and open access is not at stake here, and it only confuses matters to think that it is.
Unfortunately, there are no good short terms for the different positions in this debate. The DC signatories are right to avoid the term "open access" for what they do. But they are also right to say that they offer various forms of "free" online access. They do. But they only offer free access selectively, and this is their point. They offer it (1) to all of their content for some users and (2) to some of their content for all users. It's more precise and less misleading, then, to say that they are distinguishing selective from general free access, or partial from full free access, not "free" from "open" access.
Coming up later this month
Here are some important OA-related events coming up in April
* Notable conferences in April
Social Science Data Archives: creating, depositing and using data
Edinburgh, April 2, 2004
Digital Library Federation, Spring Forum 2004
New Orleans, April 19-21, 2004
Open Publishing: an Opportunity for Learned Societies to Regain Control of the Scientific Information Exchange (sponsored by SciX)
Ljubljana, Slovenia, April 20, 2004
E-Journal Technical Update (from UKSG)
Manchester, April 21, 2004
ePrints UK Manchester Workshop
Manchester, April 22, 2004
Social Science Data Archives: creating, depositing and using data
Oxford, April 23, 2004
Towards a New Publishing Environment (Second Nordic Conference on Scholarly Communication)
Lund, April 26-28, 2004
* Other OA-related conferences
Best of the blog: new developments
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.
* On March 16, a group of 48 non-profit publishers released the Washington D.C. Principles for Free Access to Science. Details and comments above.
Also see the response by a group of library associations and public-interest advocacy organizations.
David Malakoff, "Open" Versus "Free" Journals, ScienceNOW, 16 March 2004.
Katie Mantell, Societies back expanded free access to research, SciDev.Net, March 18, 2004.
Barbara Quint, Sci-Tech Not-For-Profit Publishers Commit to Limited Open Access, Information Today, March 22, 2004.
Lila Guterman, Scientific Societies' Publishing Arms Unite Against Open-Access Movement, Chronicle of Higher Education, March 26, 2004.
Jim Giles, Societies take united stand on journal access, Nature, March 25, 2004.
David Malakoff, Scientific Societies Lay Out 'Free Access' Principles, Science Magazine, March 26, 2004.
Anon., With "DC Principles," Societies Seek STM Middle Ground, Library Journal, March 29, 2004.
Anon., Library Groups Offer Some Praise for "DC Principles", Library Journal, March 29, 2004.
* The UK inquiry into journal prices and accessibility heard two sessions of oral evidence.
Uncorrected transcript of oral evidence given on March 1 by Robert Campbell (Blackwell), Richard Charkin (Nature Publishing Group), John Jarvis (Wiley), Crispin Davis and Arie Jongejan (both Elsevier).
Uncorrected transcript of oral evidence given on March 8 by Julia King (Institute of Physics), Sally Morris (ALPSP), Martin Richardson (Oxford University Press), Nigel Goddard (Axiope), Vitek Tracz (BioMed Central), and Harold Varmus (PLoS).
The next session of oral evidence will take place on April 21. The committee will hear first from a panel of libraries and then from a panel of researchers. Representing libraries and related groups will be Lynne Brindley (British Library), Peter Fox (Cambridge University Library), Frederick Friend (JISC and University College London), and Di Martin (University of Hertfordshire). Representing researchers will be Jane Carr (Authors' Licensing & Collecting Society), James Crabbe (Animal and Microbial Sciences, University of Reading), Nigel Hitchin (Mathematics, Oxford), D.F. Williams (Tissue Engineering, University of Liverpool), and John Fry (Microbial Ecology, Cardiff University).
BioMed Central created a web page on the UK inquiry. The page contains links to the written submissions, to the transcripts of the oral testimony, and to the very useful BMC catalog of 11 prominent myths about OA asserted by publishers in their testimony, followed by 11 careful replies.
I was going to publish my own list of links to written testimony, but now I'm glad to recommend the BMC list instead.
David Hencke, Science journal publishers defend profits, The Guardian, March 2, 2004.
Richard Wray, Open access publishers close ranks, The Guardian, March 9, 2004.
Catherine Brahic, UK hears open access evidence, TheScientist, March 10, 2004.
Sophie Rovner, Pressures Mount for Journals: Academics resist price increases as politicians probe publishing business, Chemical & Engineering News, March 15, 2004.
Paula Hane, U.K. Parliamentary Committee Holds Hearings on Scientific Publishing, Information Today, March 22, 2004.
Richard Poynder, The Inevitable and the Optimal, Information Today, April 1, 2004.
* Protests continued against the U.S. Treasury Department policy to apply trade embargoes to the editing of scientific articles by citizens of embargoed countries. Finally the protests had an effect and the Treasury Department agreed to a "general license" that effectively lifts the embargo.
Allan Adler and Marc Brodsky, OFAC's Interpretation of IEEPA's "Informational Materials" Exemption, AAP, January 23, 2004.
Scientific Censorship, Chemical and Engineering News, March 1, 2004. Letters to the editor from C.A. Carroll and Cecil Fox.
John Dudley Miller, Publishers steamed by US ban, The Scientist, March 2, 2004.
Lila Guterman, Congressman Says Treasury Department's Restrictions on Publishers Violate Law, Chronicle of Higher Education, March 5, 2004.
The Persian Watch Center launched a "Petition in support of immediate reversal of US Government Policy on Publication Ban from Trade Embargoed Countries including IRAN".
Isabel Gomez and Rosa Sancho, Support for Free Speech, Chemical and Engineering News, March 8, 2004.
A license to traffic in ideas, Chicago Tribune, March 11, 2004. An unsigned editorial.
John Dudley Miller, IEEE members furious, The Scientist, March 16, 2004.
Yudhijit Bhattacharjee, Editing Ban to Be Eased, But Cuban Travel Blocked, Science, March 19, 2004.
* The database bill pending in the U.S. House continued to generate news, comment, controversy and, this month, a rival.
Declan McCullagh, Weaker database bill gets House committee vote, CNET News.com, March 3, 2004.
Andy Sullivan, US database-protection bill stalls in Congress, Reuters, March 3, 2004.
Kim Zetter, Hands Off! That Fact Is Mine, Wired News, March 3, 2004.
* Elsevier extended the Scopus beta to 30 additional institutions, heating up the action created by the ISI-Citeseer collaboration announced earlier and the new work on an Open Access Citation Index.
Bobby Pickering, Elsevier prepares Scopus to rival ISI Web of Science, Vnunet, March 8, 2004.
Vincent Kiernan, New Database to Track Citations of Online Scholarship, Chronicle of Higher Education, March 12, 2004. On the ISI-Citebase collaboration.
Paula Hane, Elsevier Announces Scopus Service, Information Today, March 15, 2004.
Kate Worlock, Scopus is unveiled for library testing, EPS, March 15, 2004.
* Two significant OA data-sharing initiatives for cancer research were launched in the U.S. and U.K.
The Cancer Biomedical Informatics Grid (caBIG) is a major OA project from the U.S. National Cancer Institute (NCI). It hasn't yet officially launch, but the NCI made a public announcement of its near-readiness on March 9.
The International Genomics Consortium launched expO, a gene expression database focused on cancer therapies.
A March 18 editorial in Nature looks forward to the possibilities unleashed by the two initiatives and by their interaction.
Stephen Pincock, Cancer Data Initiative Launched, The Scientist, March 18, 2004.
Stephen Pincock, Initiative to exchange cancer research information is launched, BMJ, March 27, 2004.
* The Canadian Supreme Court ruled unanimously on March 4 that scholars may make single copies of copyrighted works for research purposes without paying any fees or violating copyright. Such copying is covered by "fair dealing" (called "fair use" in the U.S.). At the same time the Court rejected the concept of special protection for databases and reaffirmed that only works requiring non-trivial "skill and judgment" are copyrightable.
The Court's decision in CCH Canadian Ltd. v. Law Society of Upper Canada
The Law Society of Upper Canada, the winning party in the case, issued a press release applauding the holding.
Kirk Makin, Ruling rejects licensing fees, Globe and Mail, March 5, 2004.
Michael Geist, Low-tech case has high-tech impact, Toronto Star, March 22, 2004
("...one of the strongest pro-user rights decisions from any high court in the world, showing what it means to do more than pay mere lip service to balance in copyright.")
* Steve Stoft rigged up a custom Google search to search "just about every CRS report available on the web". If you remember, these are taxpayer-funded research reports, famous for their thoroughness and objectivity, commissioned by members of Congress but rarely released to the public.
* The University of California joined the Public Library of Science.
* Searches on Thomson's ISI Web of Knowledge now cover 11 open-access databases, including arXiv and NASA's Astrophysics Data System. Thomson says there are more to come --and adds that this new layer of functionality comes at no additional charge.
* Back in 2002, arXiv removed 10 creationist preprints by Robert Gentry, explaining that Gentry "lacked proper academic credentials". On March 23, 2004, Gentry's lawsuit against arXiv was dismissed by a Tennessee court.
* A new Wellcome Trust report, not primarily on OA or models of publication, concludes that OA can make the research record less biased by making it easier to disseminate negative results.
* SPARC and SPARC Europe signed the Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities.
* On March 26, 2004, ALPSP released its Principles of Scholarship-Friendly Journal Publishing Practice. The principles endorse postprint archiving (at least it doesn't seem "to undermine subscription and license income...so far") and OA to back issues ("[i]f the timing is carefully chosen"). They encourage experimentation with OA (the idea of which is "in tune with the mission of many learned societies").
* A discussion thread emerged on LibLicense on how open access would affect impact factor. Peter Evans excerpted many of the key postings in the thread for a summary in the March 26, 2004, issue of UKSG Serials eNews.
* On March 25, the Lund Directory of Open Access Journals listed its 800th journal.
* Yahoo maintains Free Full Text, a directory of over 7,000 scientific and scholarly journals.
* On March 23, the World Association of Medical Editors released a policy statement on Geopolitical Intrusion on Editorial Decisions. It doesn't mention the recent U.S. application of trade embargoes to the editing of research articles by scientists from embargoed countries, but it seems to be aimed at exactly that kind of political distortion of science.
* The Creative Commons advertised for a full-time manager for its forthcoming Science Commons.
* The Budapest Open Access Initiative added a page on Important Open Access Initiatives, such as the Bethesda Statement and Berlin Declaration. It has also created an Open Access Resources page to organize some of the content already on the site such as its guide to repository software and business guides for OA journals.
* Carl Lagoze won the 2004 Frederick G. Kilgour Award for Research in Library and Information Technology. Carl is the co-creator of the Open Archives Initiative, co-inventor of FEDORA and DIENST, and one of the undisputed godfathers of online access and interoperability standards.
* On March 22, Brewster Kahle and Richard Prelinger filed a suit in a federal district court in California claiming that the Berne Convention Implement Act (BCIA) and Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA) together create an "effectively perpetual" copyright term for a certain category of works, and therefore violate the U.S. constitution. The affected works are those published after January 1, 1964, and before January 1, 1978. Kahle, Chairman of the Internet Archive, and Prelinger, President of the Prelinger Archives, are represented by three attorneys, including Lawrence Lessig, from the Stanford Center for Internet and Society.
Also see the web page on the case created by the Stanford Center for Internet and Society.
* The Information Program of the Open Society Institute (OSI) is now making grants to support institutional memberships in the Public Library of Science. Like OSI's ongoing program to support institutional memberships in BioMed Central, the new grant program focuses on institutions in developing countries.
David Dickson, Developing country researchers get 'open access' boost, SciDev.Net, March 29, 2004.
David Dickson and Christina Scott, Soros scheme provides grants for scientists to publish research in open-access journal, Cape Times, April 2, 2004.