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     June 17, 2002

Ingenta and FOS

I'm puzzled by Ingenta and want to explain why.  Ingenta is the world's largest web-based aggregator of priced scientific journal literature.  It offers paying customers access to more than 30,000 publications.

It is very successful at what it does.  In October 2001, Ingenta announced that it had become profitable ahead of schedule (FOSN for 11/9/01).  In the six months ending March 31, 2001, its gross profits were up 348%, and its gross margin up from 67% to 76% (FOSN for 6/25/01).  In the six months ending March 31, 2002, Ingenta's sales were up 52%, its gross profit up 70%, and its gross margins up from 76% to 83% (FOSN for 4/15/02).

Profit is compatible with open-access, as BioMed Central is proving.  But Ingenta does not offer open-access.  Publishers pay Ingenta to produce electronic versions of their print journals, which both parties want to keep behind a toll gate.  Readers pay Ingenta to download articles.

Ingenta knows that online publication and distribution cost much less than their traditional counterparts.  Its business model is built on this efficiency.  Ingenta-funded research shows that "by switching to online distribution, publisher royalties and revenue could increase by 38%".  (See FOSN for 11/9/01.)  One way to describe the difference between FOS publishers and traditional publishers is that the former pass the savings on to readers and the latter do not.

I don't say this critically.  For-profit publishers with a traditional business model (charging the reader-end for access rather than the author-end for dissemination) are wise to leverage the efficiencies of the digital revolution.  I say it only to identify Ingenta as a company with a traditional business model, more concerned to use digital efficiency for increased profit than for increased access.

Given that, here's the stumper.  On April 5, Ingenta named the U.S. contingent to its Advisory Board.  The new members are Mary Case (Association of Research Libraries), Clifford Lynch (Coalition for Networked Information), Andrew Odlyzko (University of Minnesota), Carol Tenopir (University of Tennessee), and Mary Waltham (Nature).  What's notable is that a clear majority of the new members are FOS-friendly. (See FOSN for 4/15/02.)

The puzzle is why Ingenta would name such an FOS-friendly advisory board.

The new board members are distinguished, thoughtful people with more interests in scholarly communication than just FOS.  I'm delighted that Ingenta named them.  When the right issue is framed, a majority of the board will lean toward FOS solutions, and Ingenta must know this.  I congratulate Ingenta for its willingness to hear thoughtful people make the case for FOS and to bring them inside to do so.

I don't want to see a contradiction between Ingenta's business interests and its decision to name this board.  Instead I want to use its decision to name this board as a reason to revise my conception of its business interests.  But this is where I am stymied by lack of information and perhaps lack of imagination.

The best I can do so far is to think that Ingenta wants to know what is really happening in the landscape of scholarly communication.  Since FOS is one of the significant trends, it wants to know about it.  So far, so good.  Ingenta probably also wants to know whether FOS is an opportunity for profit or simply a threat.  The fact that BMC is turning FOS into profit doesn't mean that Ingenta is contemplating anything of the kind.  But this knowledgeable board will undoubtedly educate Ingenta about the possibility.  If I were Ingenta I'd want to know whether the progress of FOS is a wave to ride or a trend to oppose.  Either way, I'd want to know how.  But I'm not Ingenta, and that's why I'm puzzled.

I asked Andrew Odlyzko some of these questions.  He can't speak for Ingenta, but he can explain why he accepted its invitation to join the board.  He's given me permission to quote this reply.

My main interest is in the general improvement of scholarly communication, not just in promoting free online scholarship (FOS).  I am a strong supporter of FOS, but do not expect that this will fill all the needs of the scholarly community and the wider world this community has to engage with.  All the historical precedents suggest that total spending on scholarly communication will continue to increase, as intermediaries (whether libraries, professional societies, or  commercial entities) develop services that scholars are not able or willing to provide for free.  Therefore I am willing to provide my advice to all such intermediaries as they adjust to the new environment of electronic communication in which FOS will play a major role, but will not be everything.


On the naming of the US-based members of the Advisory Board

Ingenta financial health, 2002

Ingenta financial health, 2001

In March, Ingenta was named one of the UK's 100 most visionary companies (FOSN for 3/25/02)

* Postscript.  I'd be very happy to hear from anyone who can speak for Ingenta.  I'd also be happy to hear about other non-FOS publishers that have taken steps to hear the FOS argument.


Where to find FOS news now that the Newsletter is slowing down

* Since the last issue of the Newsletter came out, over two weeks ago, I've been posting new items several times a day to the FOS News blog.  In fact, I've been posting so much that I haven't yet realized the time-savings that these changes were designed to make possible.  If you haven't visited the new blog, you should do so.  The news hasn't dried up, just shifted venues.

* So far I've recruited three others to contribute news items to the blog in addition to myself.  I'd like many more.  The idea is to have a large and diverse group, so that (1) each new bit of FOS news will be noticed by at least one of us and (2) none of us has to work very hard.  If you are willing to post an item now and then, no matter how rarely, please consider joining the group.

* If you dislike visiting a web page for FOS news, there are two ways to get updates by email.  (1) You can sign up for email notification when new items have been posted to the blog, without receiving the posts themselves.  (2) Or you can sign up to receive the posts themselves, links and all, once a day.  I recommend the latter.  Both are available from the blog sidebar.

So far, fewer than 1% of the newsletter subscribers have subscribed to the blog, which is surely a function of the newness of the blog and perhaps also its unfamiliarity.  (I don't know the names of blog subscribers, only the numbers.)  If you'll miss the news formerly carried in Newsletter, or dislike visiting the web for your news, this is the best solution for you.  Try it; you can always unsubscribe.

* If you find these two email options inadequate, consider RSS syndication.  If RSS is new to you, read the unintimidating introduction below.  If you're an old hand at it, then just add the FOS News feed to your favorite news aggregator.

An unintimidating intro to RSS subscriptions

Review of personal RSS aggregators

* I'm forwarding press releases and other documents to the FOS discussion forum that I previously summarized in the Newsletter.  To spare Newsletter subscribers extra email, I made the forum separate.  You might want to subscribe to both.

* I've created a web page of FOS-related conferences and workshops.  This replaces another significant service formerly carried by the Newsletter.  The new web-based list goes as far into the future as I have information.  By contrast, the Newsletter could only list the next 1-3 months' worth.  The web list should give you enough advanced notice that you can consider submitting a paper, not just attending.

* In making the blog searchable, I also made all the FOS pages on my own site searchable.  This does not include back issues of the newsletter and postings on the discussion forum, but these are already searchable from their separate archives.  But it does include the FOS Guide, FOS Timeline, FOS Lists, FOS Sources, and FOS Conferences, and of course the blog and its archive files.  I've put search box in several places but the most convenient is on the blog itself.  Note that the search engine re-indexes my files once a week (Sundays at noon) --so while it will sometimes be nearly a week out of date, it will never be more than a week out of date.

* I'm very happy with the net result of all these changes.  They offer convenient replacements to virtually all the functionality of the Newsletter.  The exception is for longer essays, which I plan to continue publishing in the Newsletter, at least as I find time to write them.  Moreover, these replacements are intrinsically scalable and participatory.  The more of you who join the weblog as contributors, the more adequate the weblog alternative will be.

For news, as opposed to its interpretation and analysis, the blog has a handful of welcome virtues that the Newsletter lacked.  It gives readers a wider choice of delivery methods (web, email, RSS).  It gives each story a unique URL for reference.  It promulgates news immediately, not weekly or intermittently.  It delivers several small items per day, not one indigestible lump every week.  And it broadcasts many voices --perhaps yours.

FOS News blog

FOS Conferences

FOS home page
(Subscribe to the discussion forum, search the FOS pages.)

* Postscript.  Some of the improvements I described above were launched in wobbly forms and then repaired or improved.  The blog archives, search engine, and email subscription are all in this category.  If you tried them in their earliest forms and were not happy with the results, please try them again.

* PPS.  I want to thank Mark Pilgrim for his invaluable help with the FOS News blog.  He helped me set up the archives, create permanent links to individual postings, make the site handicap accessible, set up RSS syndication, and improve the look and feel.  He's also agreed to be a contributor.


The Free Online Scholarship Newsletter is supported by a grant from the Open Society Institute.


This is the Free Online Scholarship Newsletter (ISSN 1535-7848).

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Guide to the FOS Movement

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Peter Suber

Copyright (c) 2002, Peter Suber

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