Sunday, August 20, 2006

From buying to producing (transitioning to open access)

One of the key factors in the transition to open access is the considerable sum of money libraries currently pay for periodical subscriptions. Depending on your viewpoint, this can be seen as either a challenge, or an opportunity. From my point of view, the funds currently spent on subscriptions could easily form the most important component of an open access production-based economics model.

It is not necessary to simply abandon the buying (purchase / subscription) model and replace it with a production-based model, as there are many hybrid models which can be employed to ease the transition for everyone involved. This post explores the hypothesis that library (or consortia) specific incentives for support for an open access processing fee approach will maximize uptake of the processing fee approach. One potential model is presented, in which publishers reduce subscription prices in anticipation of processing fee revenue, at differing rates depending on the level of the library's commitment to the processing fee approach.

Prediction (hypothesis): the most successful approaches to transitioning from buying to producing models will be those with built-in incentives for the individual library or library consortium (all else being equal, of course; this may not help publishers with excessively high processing fees, or processing fee programs that are not truly open access).

Rationale: the challenge for this aspect of transition is that libraries must continue to purchase / subscribe to journals, even if they would very much like to support open access models. Incentives that apply directly to the purchasing / subscribing library or consortium, rather than generally, provide a means to free some of the funds from the subscription budget to help pay for open access processing fees.

Research: divide journals into groups of equivalent quality, open access policies, and production fees, but with differing incentives for libraries, with one group offering library (or consortia) -specific incentives, and the other either general or no incentives. If the hypothesis is correct, uptake of an open access processing fee option will be significantly higher at the journals with library or consortial-specific incentives.

A thought: some publishers are currently making rather vague promises of decreasing subscription prices for all libraries if revenues from processing fees warrant.

Why not anticipate success, and lower subscription rates now? For many publishers, subscriptions are currently covering the cost of production - plus profit. With funding agencies mandating open access, and often providing funding for processing fees, it is reasonable to anticipate some income from processing fees. Instead of the usual annual increase in prices, a modest reduction anticipating this new source of income makes sense. An across-the-board decrease in subscription prices will free up at least some funds which can then be employed to pay for production-based models; the deeper the discount, the greater the potential for a rapid, and smooth, transition.

One model: Imagine a publisher with an incentives program, featuing two or more levels depending on the library's level of commitment, for libraries wishing to transition from subscriptions to open access.

Level One: Membership / discounted processing fees: libraries pay a membership fee which provides discounts for their researchers' processing fees, and commit to promoting the publishers' open access optional program. These libraries receive a modest discount, e.g. 5 - 10%.

Level Two: Direct processing fee support. Libraries commit to paying for processing fees, whether fully or partially. The level of discount could depend on whether support was full or partial. For example, a library at a research-intensive university could provide matching funds for researchers' processing fees, and receive a discount of perhaps 20 - 30%. Or, a library could commit to paying the full processing fees and receive a larger discount, perhaps 50%.

Given that this approach is quite new, it might make sense to approach this on an individual library or consortial basis. One approach might be for the library to pay up-front the equivalent of a year's subscription, i.e. committing to a certain number of submissions, or to making up the difference through a lesser subscription discount.

This approach could be publisher-wide, or it could be experimental, as useful research to help inform future directions for the transitional period.

This post is the second in the series Transitioning to Open Access.

This post reflects my personal opinion only and does not represent the opinions or policy of the BC Electronic Library Network or the Simon Fraser University Library.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Transitioning to open access

This is the first post in a series examining some of the potential implications of the growing trend toward open access, for publishers and libraries, with some thoughts on how to make the transition as smooth as possible for everyone involved.

Prediction (hypothesis): Journals with strong support for open access, high quality and no or reasonable processing fees will see increasing article submissions. Strong support for open access could mean either open access publishing, or very friendly, easy to find, understand and follow self-archiving policies.

Rationale: the impact of the growing OA requirement policies (mandates) by funders and universities, combined with increased researcher awareness of OA due to both the mandates and educational efforts by librarians and others, will cause researchers to increasingly seek OA publishing venues over the next few years. Journals that are seen to be both of high quality and OA-friendly, will meet these criteria. There are no financial barriers to publishing in journals without processing fees, and it makes sense that the lower the processing fees, the more likely researchers are to succeed in securing funding for processing fees. Therefore, it is predicted that high-quality, OA-friendly journals will see an increase in submissions over the next few years.

IF this prediction is correct, it also makes sense that journals and publishers without strong support for open access will experience a relative drop in submissions, and hence either quantity, or quality (if a drop in submission rate is accompanied by an increase in the journal's acceptance rate).


This hypothesis could be tested by examining submission rates to journals with similar quality, differing levels of support for open access, and differing processing fees, over the next few years. Journals providing strong support for open access via self-archiving could be considered as journals with no processing fees. The Sherpa/ROMEO list could be used as a rough indication of strong support for open access via self-archiving.

Implications for libraries:

Journals / publishers with strong support for open access have a high probability of ongoing or increasing quality and quantity. It makes sense to plan to support these publications, whether through ongoing subscriptions or through arrangements for institutional payment of processing fees. In the case of subscriptions, libraries can be reasonably confident about the wisdom of signing relatively long-term licenses (e.g. 3-5 years).

Journals / publishers without strong support for open access could see a drop in quantity and/or quality of submissions over the next few years. While this is by no means a certainty, it might be prudent to consider licensing terms to protect libraries against this eventuality, particularly when signing relatively long-term license (e.g., 3-5 years).

Implication for publishers:

Strong support for open access is a good strategy to ensure ongoing quality of journals and support from libraries. In other words, it's a good business decision! Lukewarm support - or opposition - is something else...

Comment (from Peter Suber, Open Access News): I have no doubt that author preference for OA will grow in proportion to author understanding of OA, and that this will show up both in self-archiving and submissions to OA journals. If we focus on submissions to OA journals, however, then prestige must enter as another key variable. OA alone will not change submission rates much unless supported by prestige. Because most OA journals are new, they don't yet have prestige in proportion to their quality. But this will change. As the prestige of high-quality OA journals grows, then the combination of that prestige and the intrinsic advantages of OA will surpass the advantages of prestigious non-OA journals and this will be reflected in submission rates. For more on these lines, see SOAN for March 2005:
For authors, the only reason to submit work to a TA [toll access] 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.

There's already some evidence that converting to OA or shortening embargoes increases submissions (at BMJ, JPGM, JMLA, MBC, and Medknow journals generally). I'll say more about this in an upcoming issue of SOAN and in the meantime would appreciate pointers to any additional anecdotes or evidence.

This post is part of the Transitioning to Open Access series.

This post reflects my personal opinion only and does not represent the opinions or policy of the BC Electronic Library Network or the Simon Fraser University Library.