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.

1 comment:

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