Monday, June 11, 2007

A potential positive cycle: more access, more funds


Hypothesis: a process of transitioning to open access can unleash funds, creating a positive cycle of increasing access and freed funds to create more open access; the very opposite of the negative serials pricing spiral of recent decades, which featured increasing prices and decreasing access.

As support for this hypothesis, this post looks at the potential for open access if libraries were to focus on high-priced journals (US $1,000 or more for an institutional subscription), and succeed in working with their faculty to convert just 10% to a volunteer / in-kind support model.

It is estimated with such a scenario, that individual libraries could save up to $450,000 US from their budgets after spending on open access journal support is factored in. The cumulative savings for libraries are potentially huge; for example, if the ARL libraries subscribed to just a quarter of these journals each, the annual savings for ARL would be in the order of $13.8 million annually. This would only be a fraction of the savings for libraries, as ARL is only a subset of libraries, albeit large ones. The true collective savings for libraries would have to factor in libraries around the globe, including libraries in Europe and the somewhat smaller libraries in North America. If these savings were invested in further open access initatives, libraries would save even more, freeing up more funds to create more access.


A quick glance at Ulrich's quickly illustrates that there are hundreds of scholarly journals in the price range of US $1,000 (or equivalent) or more (sometimes quite a bit more) - at least 350 journals. In theory, the price for a basket of these journals would be about $500,000 US per year or more, as the average is much higher than $1,000 US (e.g., the mean for the journals is $1,400 US). (In reality, of course, many of these journals are bundled in separate big deals).

Let's take a theoretical look at what this kind of revenue might mean in an open access environment:

The private, not-for-profit Scholarly Exchange offers a hosted journal service which is free for the first year, and $1,000 US for the second year and thereafter (or less, if the journal is willing to participate in an advertising revenue-sharing approach).

To emphasize: there are at least 350 scholarly journals for which the price of a single institutional subscription exceeds the revenue needed to provide hosting and technical support for an open access scholarly journal.

Many journals, even subscription journals, operate largely on volunteer labour and in-kind support, for example free office space at universities. If any one of these 350 journals operates in this manner, then a subscribing library could help the journal to transition to open access, using the services of Scholarly Exchange - and save money too.

Every other library would then have access to the journal - and at least $1,000 USD freed up for other open access initiatives.

If even 10% of the 350 or so journals in this price range were converted to an open access model using library support, that could mean savings of up to $450,000 US annually for a library with subscriptions to all these journals. Even a library with subscriptions to only half these journals would save $225,000 US.

Assuming the 123 members of the Association of Research Libraries had subscriptions to just a quarter of these journals each, the collective savings (from converting 10% of the journals to a volunteer / in kind model) would be $13,837,500 US.

$13.8 million dollars annually could fund an awful lot of open access, for example:
Scholarly Exchange hosting and support for another 13,837 journals
138 journals with a budget of $100,000 each for editorial support and copyediting as well as hosting and support
Processing fee charges for:
5,535 PLoS articles at $2,500 each
11,070 BMC articles at $1,250 each
27,675 Hindawi articles at $500 each

Of course, any of these additional open access initiatives would free up yet more funding, for more open access; until we are all truly accomplishing a great deal more, with less resources.

This scenario is only looking at one subset of libraries, albeit a subset of large libraries (ARL). To really understand how well this can work, add in the savings and investment of libraries in Europe and elsewhere, not to mention the somewhat smaller academic libraries in North America.

The estimate of at least 350 scholarly journals with prices of US $1,000 or more is based on Ulrich's searches, conducted on June 11, 2007, for active, refereed, academic / scholarly journals, with an institutional price of US $1,000 or more (233 titles; median price $1,400 US), or 824 Euros or more (149 titles). The total of both lists is 389. This was rounded down to 350 for the sake of simplicity and to allow for some duplication, although at a rough glance it appears that duplication between the two lists is minimal.

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

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