Monday, June 17, 2013

Outsell Open Access Report: missing the main point or are governments really committed to throwing away taxpayer money?

The Outsell Open Access Report is an interesting development in itself - industry looking at open access as a market rather than as a threat, and some of the information in the report is very useful. However, this report misses the mark in two very essential ways. The information in the report per se makes clear that with open access it is possible to publish at a small fraction of current publishing costs. Also, in an online environment, professional commercial publishers simply are not needed anymore. This report suggests that there is not yet a single fully open access journal in the social sciences and humanities, when DOAJ lists over 1,800 journals under social sciences and humanities.

Current gold open access (immediate free access on publishing) is responsible for  10-12% of the world's scholarly articles at about 2.2% of the total journal revenues, according to this report. The average open access article processing fee is reported at $950, less than a quarter of the $4,000 average for subscription journals. Taking these two calculations together, based on this report open access publishing is 4-5 times more cost-efficient than subscription publishing. However, this is just the commercial / professional sector. The Outsell report appears to be completely unaware of the substantial not-for-profit sector. For example, the report states that ""hybrid options support limited uptake markets, such as the social sciences and humanities, perhaps just until the market for a subject-specific “traditional” gold OA journal coalesces" p. 12 - presumably the authors are completely unaware of the well over 1,800 full open access journals listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals under Social Sciences.

Outsell predicts rising prices for open access article processing fees, when the reality is that scholars no longer need to rely on the commercial scholarly publishing sector at all. Publishing in the online environment just isn't that hard, or expensive. Priorities for public funding in higher education should be funding the research per se, addressing the growing problem of lack of full-time faculty, and keeping costs down for students - not protecting the profit margins of a bloated industry that has yet to note that the costs of things like computer storage in recent years have been going down, not up.

Outsell suggests that other countries will follow the UK's support for publisher profits approach. This is mad enough in the UK, where at least they have the excuse of protecting a positive balance in trade, but for every other country this is holding up innovation, increasing public costs, and shoring up a negative balance of trade.

Detailed quotes and comments

 "Drilling down to the journal market specifically, Outsell estimated that journal subscription revenue (which excludes society membership revenues) amounted to $6.0 billion in 2011, which makes open access 2.2% of this market for the most recent year in which we have built such an estimate" p. 8

Comment: In 2008, Outsell reported STM journal revenue at $8 billion - for details and citations, see chapters 2 and 5 of my dissertation. The $2 billion revenue discrepancy is not explained. I cannot afford the Outsell toll access reports. "

A 2012 paper published in BMC Medicine, the latest in an ongoing study by academics Mikael Laakso and Bo-Christer Björk, calculated that in 2011 the number of articles available in full, immediate open access journals encompassed 9% and 11% of all articles indexed in Scopus and Web of Knowledge, respectively. Hybrid articles added just under 1% of all articles to that total in both cases, meaning that the combination of gold and hybrid open access accounted for 10% or 12% of indexed articles, depending on the database".

"Outsell sees three scenarios that could drive OA revenue as a higher proportion of total STM market revenue, stemming first and foremost from the ultimate behavior of funding bodies." p. 13 Scenario 1 — New European Mandates Encourage Gold OA Scenario 2 — New Mandates Stimulate Green OA Scenario 3 — Mandates Accelerate in Non-European Research Centers: Suggests only Scenario 1 is likely.

 "We also anticipate that the average charge per article will slide upward with the launch of new, higher-value journals from strongly branded commercial and society publishers such as Elsevier, Wiley, and Nature", p. 15 "

Outsell estimates that the average APC (distorted somewhat by discounts and waivers, but excluding membership revenues) was about $660 in 2011; in 2015, this will increase to roughly $950 due in part to the increased number of well-branded journal publishers offering OA options at higher price points", p. 15

"also estimates that, based on Scenario 1, the revenue per subscription article will decrease by about $100, from $4,000 today to $3,900". p. 16