The International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers, or STM - the body that represents primarily the highly profitable sector of scholarly publishing - has issued the "STM submission on “Recommendations for implementation of Open Access in Denmark”. Following are some comments on this submission.
In brief: STM makes a case for a EU benefiting from balance of trade. Denmark may wish to consider whether it is a supplier to other countries of this balance, and whether this situation risks loss of Danish-funded research. This is the situation for the vast majority of countries in the world. STM greatly overstates their contributions to scholarly publishing, for example claiming to "underwrite the creation" of scientific information. This is patent nonsense; for a publicly funded research article, it is the public funder, university and scholarly researcher / author who create the information. STM claims to have taken on the role of preservation; it would be bizarre indeed for the private sector to take on this role. STM bases their economic case on the high cost of moving to the online environment in the 1990's. Any industry that has not noticed the tremendous decrease in costs of information technology in the last two decades is rather obviously out of touch. Speaking of out of touch, STM claims to have been involved with scholarly publishing for 350 years. In reality, almost all scholarly publishing was in the hands of the not-for-profit sector until after the second world war, and today, the open access publishing community, not at all mentioned in this letter, is sizable and growing, with over 5,000 fully open access, peer-reviewed scholarly journals listed in DOAJ, which is growing by more than 2 titles per day.
STM makes a "Euro 3 billion contribution to the EU’s balance of trade".
While I cannot comment on the overall balance of trade, I would suggest it worthwhile for Denmark to consider the Denmark-specific situation. The number of very large, highly profitable STM publishers in the world is very small, and I don't think any of them are centered in Denmark - which makes it highly likely that Denmark, like the vast majorities of countries in the world, is on the supply side of this balance of trade, i.e. like Canada, in Denmark the cash flow is likely very much from Denmark outwards. Another similarity is that Denmark, like Canada, in giving away the results of Danish-funded research to highly profitable publishers in other countries, risks losing access to the results of the research that it has funded, should Denmark be in a position to not be able to afford the pricey packages of these publishers.
STM publishers recognize and applaud the efforts of private sector organizations and government institutions to supply funds to support scholarly research activity. These funding activities are an essential component of today’s well-functioning and interdependent system of scholarly scientific communication that relies on each of its major stakeholders (e.g. authors, researchers, primary and secondary publishers, libraries, universities, federal government) to perform a key role in the development and dissemination of peer-reviewed papers. The essential role that publishers play in this system is to underwrite the creation, registration, certification, formalization,
improvement, dissemination, preservation and use of scientific information.
It is misleading to include the efforts of private sector organizations in this response; a government mandate for government-funded research will obviously not include privately funded research. Also, STM is greatly exaggerating the role of the publisher. STM does not "underwrite the creation" of scientific information, for example. With publicly funded research, it is the public funder, the university, and the scholarly author(s) who create the information. It is voluntary peer-reviewers and often semi-voluntary editors who are responsible for peer review (registration and certification).
Preservation: it makes no sense to ask the private sector to take on the role of long-term preservation. Any private organization has a right to change its focus of operation, or cease to exist, at any time. The role of preservation should be undertaken by the public sector; this has long been the role of libraries, and should continue to be so.
Consider how ludicrous it would be to mandate that private publishers undertake the role of preservation - a policy that would say something like, "if you undertake to publish scholarly information, it shall be thy responsibility to maintain it, for all eternity!" Now THAT would be an unfunded and unsustainable mandate, wouldn't it?
"STM publishers support the maximum sustainable dissemination of the published record of science and for 350 years we have helped create, disseminate and (now) preserve the world’s body of knowledge".
The commercial sector in scholarly publishing emerged after the Second World War. Up until this point in time, scholarly publishing was conducted almost exclusively by not-for-profit scholarly publishers, and the not-for-profit sector continues to produce a very large portion of scholarly publishing. Far from supporting the maximum sustainable dissemination of the published record of science, STM has taken advantage of an inelastic market to consistently raise prices above inflationary levels, creating a serials crisis.
Today over 2,000 scientific and scholarly publishers worldwide (including large and small commercial, university presses and learned societies) manage and fund the processing of some 2-3 million manuscripts submitted from researchers and finally produce annually in excess of 1.5 million peer-reviewed published journal articles in some 25,000 journals.
STM neglects to mention that today, a large and growing share of these publishers are either fully open access publishers (the vetted Directory of Open Access Journals now lists more than 5,000 fully open access, peer-reviewed scholarly journals, and is adding titles at the rate of more than 2 per day), or publishers who provide open access after a temporary embargo period (often 6 months to a year) on a voluntary basis. A majority of publishers allow for author self-archiving, as listed on the SHERPA RomEO Publisher Copyright Policies and Self-Archiving site. In other words, the number of publishers who would have to change current policies and practices to conform to a public open access policy mandate is small, and shrinking.
On the funding: it would be more accurate to say that the highly profitable publishers are FUNDED BY the system, rather than that they fund it. It is understandable if their view is different, however, scholarly publishing is different from a typical business, as it is the scholars themselves who are the largest group by far of readers as well as authors. It is more accurate to say that libraries, acting of behalf of their scholar reader/authors, who fund the system, indirectly through publishers.
Since the early 1990s, STM publishers have invested heavily in the migration from print based products into electronic, digital versions, with the result that 96% of scientific, technical and medical journals1 and 87% journals in arts, humanities and social sciences are available electronically, fully searchable, and accessible on the world wide web.
In the early 1990's, it was indeed expensive to move into the online environment. However, technology has evolved, as has publishing software, and the costs of computing have decreased - very dramatically so. Nowadays, using freely available open source software such as Open Journal Systems, the technology requirements of scholarly publishing are a very great deal less than was the case in the 1990's. It makes no sense at all to base the economic present and future on the basis of one time-limited expense.
For more background, please see my book, Scholarly Communication for Librarians. Links to two open access chapters can be found from the main page of my blog. Requests for clarification about any of the details of this post are most welcome.