The Economics of Open Access Journal Publishing

Stevan Harnad harnad at ecs.soton.ac.uk
Fri Dec 10 15:25:38 EST 2004


On Fri, 10 Dec 2004, Mark McCabe wrote:

> The model that Chris Snyder and I have developed to analyze journal
> publishing... demonstrates... that the quality of a journal's editorial
> staff helps determine whether open access or reader pays (or some
> combination of both) is optimal for a profit-maximizing publisher,
> a non-profit publisher, and for society at large.
> 
> If we assume that better quality editors do a better job of discriminating
> between good and bad articles, and that readers like to avoid reading bad
> articles, then we show that journals with high quality editors are more
> likely to use subscription fees... [because] higher quality journal is
> of higher value to the reader who in turn is willing to pay more for this
> benefit. The publisher, realizing that lower prices to authors and higher
> prices to readers generates more profits, adjusts prices accordingly.
> 
> http://www.prism.gatech.edu/~mm284/

Mark (nice to have met you in Cologne), I don't doubt any of this. This
kind of analysis looks perfectly suited to magazines in which articles
are bought in from journalists as work for hire (higher quality, more
audience, lower price) -- except that journalists are not interested in
paying to have their articles appear, so no mixed models there! Perhaps
adverts are candidates, because advertisers *are* willing to pay to
have their adverts appear -- but there the mix is between journalists'
articles, which readers pay to read and journalists are paid to write,
plus adverts, for which readers are not interested in paying, but
advertisers are interested in paying to have them be read.

But peer-reviewed journals are a completely different story: The authors
*are* the advertisers. They don't want to be paid for their articles;
they want to maximise users; and they don't want any potential users lost
because they cannot afford to pay for access. Moreover, it is mostly not
the users who pay, but their institutions (if they can afford it). And
the authors (like advertisers) are paid off in research impact -- which
translates into research funding and salary increases.

I haven't seen your models, but I'll bet all these further parameters,
reflecting all these further (sometimes conflicting) interests,
are not in there yet. Moreover, if they were, I already know exactly
what the outcome would be: Authors would supplement whatever access
user-institutions could afford to pay for with free online access for
all those would-be users who could not afford to pay, so as to maximise
the impact of their own research. There would indeed be a "mixed" model,
consisting of those user-institutions that can afford the paid access (to
the publisher's paper and online version) plus those users that cannot,
and instead access the author's supplementary OA version for free online.

Possibly your models -- once they take all this into account --
could indeed predict if and when all this would lead to a transition to the
author-institution-end cost-recovery under cancellation pressure arising
from the authors' self-archived OA supplements, but there too there are
intangibles, such as how long user-institutions will want to keep paying
for the paper edition, and which of the added-values of peer-reviewed
publication today (including copy-editing, mark-up, PDF, dissemination,
and archiving -- plus peer review itself, and the associated "branding"
that comes with its track-record) user-institutions will want to keep
paying for.

I'm not making any predictions (though I have my hunches), because
I think there is no need to make any predictions. It is certain that
maximising research impact through self-archiving is immediately
feasible for 100% of articles, today, and has been shown empirically to
bring significant benefits (in the form of enhanced research impact),
in all disciplines. It is not yet clear how growing OA will affect the
demand for the publisher's proprietary version: There is no sign of any
cancellation pressure yet at the 20% overall OA we have now (but even in
subfields with OA closer to 100% there is no cancellation pressure yet).

What requires no modeling is to see that 100% OA is 100% OA, with all
the resulting benefits, and that this is already 100% feasible today,
though self-archiving, and waiting only for researchers to become more
aware of the growing empirical evidence for the research-impact benefits
of providing OA through self-archiving and/or for their institutions and
research funders to become aware of it, and to mandate OA self-archiving.

There is no point waiting for publishers to convert to the OA cost-recovery
model of their own accord. They may never do it of their own accord, and it may
not even ever be necessary: The toll-based cost-recovery may be able to co-exist
in a peaceful equilibrium with 100% OA self-archiving in perpetuum.

What is certain, though, is that toll-access alone cannot provide all the benefits
of OA, for one simple reason: Even if all publishers were non-profit, and even if
they made their current products/services accessible *at-cost*, it would still be
the case for every one of the 2.5 million articles published annually in the
planet's 24,000 peer-reviewed journals that it would not be accessible to
all of its potential users -- and many articles would not be accessible
to *most* of their potential users. So research impact would continue being
needlessly lost, as if nothing had changed since the Gutenberg era.

Yet that state of affairs -- with its associated daily, weekly, monthly,
yearly cumulative research impact loss -- is precisely what the online
age and self-archiving have at last made it possible to remedy, completely,
now that that accumulating impact loss is no longer necessary.

Stevan Harnad

    Relevant Prior American-Scientist-Open-Access-Forum Subject Threads:

    "Savings from Converting to On-Line-Only: 30%- or 70%+ ?"
     (Started Aug 27 1998)
     http://www.ecs.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/Hypermail/Amsci/0002.html

    "The Logic of Page Charges to Free the Journal Literature"
    (Started April 29 1999)
    http://www.ecs.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/Hypermail/Amsci/0210.html

    "2.0K vs. 0.2K"
    (Started May 7 1999)
    http://www.ecs.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/Hypermail/Amsci/0228.html

    "Online Self-Archiving: Distinguishing the Optimal from the Optional"
    (Started May 11 1999)
    http://www.ecs.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/Hypermail/Amsci/0248.html

    The True Cost of the Essentials (Implementing Peer Review)"
    (Started July 5 1999)
    http://www.ecs.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/Hypermail/Amsci/0303.html

    "Separating Quality-Control Service-Providing from Document-Providing"
    (Started November 30 1999)
    http://www.ecs.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/Hypermail/Amsci/0466.html

    "Distinguishing the Essentials from the Optional Add-Ons"
    (Started July 2001)
    http://www.ecs.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/Hypermail/Amsci/1437.html

    "Author Publication Charge Debate"
    (Started June 28 2001)
    http://www.ecs.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/Hypermail/Amsci/1387.html

    "JHEP will convert from toll-free-access to toll-based access"
    (Started January 5 2002)
    http://www.ecs.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/Hypermail/Amsci/1812.html

    "The True Cost of the Essentials"
    (Started April 2 2002)
    http://www.ecs.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/Hypermail/Amsci/1973.html

    "The True Cost of the Essentials (Implementing Peer Review - NOT!)"
    (Started April 1 2002)
    http://www.ecs.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/Hypermail/Amsci/1965.html

    "Journal expenses and publication costs"
    (Started January 10 2003)
    http://www.ecs.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/Hypermail/Amsci/2589.html

   "Scientific publishing is not just about administering peer-review"
    (Started  October 15 2003)
    http://www.ecs.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/Hypermail/Amsci/3068.html

    "The Economics of Open Access Journal Publishing"
    (Started November 3 2003)
    http://www.ecs.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/Hypermail/Amsci/3141.html

    "The Green Road to Open Access: A Leveraged Transition"
    (Started January 7 2004)
    http://www.ecs.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/Hypermail/Amsci/3378.html






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