Archive for March, 2007

Paying a fee for Green OA

As Peter Suber has pointed out, a key feature of the HHMI-Elsevier deal (HHMI and Elsevier Announce Public Access Agreement, March 8, 2007) is that “HHMI is paying a fee for green OA“. The fee is “$1,000 for each article published in a Cell Press journal and $1,500 for each article in other Elsevier journals“, see OA News (9 March 2007, More on the HHMI-Elsevier agreement). None of the comments that I’ve seen pay much attention to the difference in the proposed “Green OA fee” for Cell Press journals ($1000 US) versus the substantially larger fee for other Elsevier journals ($1500 US). Why this substantial difference in fees?

The premier journal of Cell Press is Cell. It’s ranked #8 in the top 10 science journals at the eigenfactor.org site. (See also the data for ISSN:0092-8674). According to the journal-ranking.com site, Cell has a high ranking in the categories of both Cell Biology and Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and, on the basis of data from the journalprices.com site, has a low price per citation. The freemedicaljournals.com site lists Cell as free one year after publication. If I understand correctly, payment of the $1000 fee would simply reduce the embargo on Green OA from 12 to 6 months.

Is this a far-sighted effort by Elsevier to protect the Cell “brand”? This journal is already very cost-efficient, as measured by cost of subscriptions per citation. It could become even more cost-efficient (from the perspective of those who pay subscription fees) if several major funding agencies could be persuaded to pay for Green OA.

There does seem to be in increasing risk, as funding agencies that have mandated Green OA increase in numbers, that only those journals that permit Green OA within 6 months may retain marker share. And, among these, it may only be those that are the most cost-efficient (e.g. as measured by cost per citation) that thrive. Perhaps Elsevier wants to try to increase the probability that its Cell Press group of journals will be among those that survive in such a scenario?

For a perspective on the importance of cost-efficiency in retaining market share, see a post by David Goodman to the AmSci OA Forum (12 Mar).

It’s also interesting that this Cell Press page about the new Cell Stem Cell journal includes access to a few selected stem cell articles from other Cell Press journals. I assume that the access policies for the new journal will be the same as for other Cell Press journals? (There’s no mention of new access policies for this new journal on either page).

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Scenarios about paying for OA

There’s an ongoing debate about ways to pay the costs of OA, especially during the transition phase between traditional business models and newer OA-oriented ones. There are several potential sources of substantial revenues. One focal point for the debate has been on revenues from academic institutions (a major source of support for knowledge dissemination), relative to revenues from funding agencies (a major source of support for knowledge generation).

In a message on the subject “Re: Failing business models“, posted to the American Scientist Open Access Forum on February 24, 2007, Heather Morrison outlined two scenarios. In Scenario A, a funding agency permits the budget of a research grant to include funds that may be used for the dissemination of research results, “let’s say $3,000“. The grantee may choose to use these funds in various ways. They may be used for the payment of the OA publication fee or APF (article processing fee) for an OA journal (or for OA articles in a “hybrid” journal, in which only some of the articles are OA) . Or, they may be used in other ways, such as to cover at least some of the costs of attending a conference to present a paper on the outputs of the research. She predicts that Scenario A would result in “competition in the scholarly publishing industry, and ultimately better quality services at lower prices“.

In Scenario B, grantees don’t need to make such choices. Instead, the funding agency permits the $3000 to be used to pay APFs for OA, but these funds cannot be used for other purposes. She notes that “For many publishers, this amount is higher than true costs of publishing an online open access article, and allows for double-dipping (revenue from both subscriptions and processing fee charges)“. She predicts that Scenario B may lead to increasing inefficiencies in the scholarly publishing industry, and an upward spiral in APFs.

In a letter entitled “CIHR’s proposal to mandate self-archiving“, published in the January 2007 issue of University Affairs, Stevan Harnad commented that “Unlike the Wellcome Trust’s self-archiving mandate in the United Kingdom, CIHR’s does not offer to fund publishing in an Open Access journal. Apparently CIHR did not feel it had the spare cash for this. This is quite understandable: all potential publication funds are currently tied up in institutional journal subscriptions, worldwide. If and when self-archiving should ever lead to institutional cancellations that make the subscription model unsustainable, then those same institutional windfall savings will be the natural source for the cash to pay for Open Access publishing. No need to take it from research funds at this time, when it is not yet either necessary or affordable“.

Note that the draft policy of the CIHR (Canadian Institutes of Health Research) can be regarded as an example of Scenario A, while the OA policy of the Wellcome Trust can be regarded as an example of Scenario B.

What might be the implications for academic institutions if they (and funding agencies) capped APFs to achieve OA at $3000 (US)? The most enlightening discussion of this issue that I’ve seen has been in a series of messages posted to the LIBLICENSE-L Mailing List on the subject “Re: Institutional Journal Costs in an Open Access Environment“. I found one of these messages, posted by Ray English on April 26, 2006, to be of particular interest. His comments were about a study that looked at “journal costs in four scientific fields for a representative group of academic and research libraries of different sizes“. The particular study that he reviewed didn’t take into account the question of grant funds supporting OA publication fees. Nor did it take into account other possible sources of revenue for open access other than publication fees. And (if I understood correctly), it was assumed that all journals would charge an APF to achieve OA, and that the only way to obtain OA to articles was via OA (or hybrid) journals (that is, OA to self-archived articles was tacitly assumed to make a negligible contribution).

His entire message should be read, but the conclusion that I reached on the basis of his comments was this one. In a scenario where the APFs to achieve OA are paid entirely from institutional (not granting agency) funds, and the fees are capped at about $3000 (US) for all journals in the four scientific fields, then “there would be substantial savings for all of the institutions in the study” in comparison with the current situation.

Furthermore, “Savings would be greatest for the comprehensive universities (around 90% or more of current costs), somewhat smaller (but still very large) for the liberal arts colleges, smaller still for the doctoral universities … and smallest for the largest research institutions. But there would still be significant savings even for the latter group“.

If this interpretation is correct, then Scenario A (outlined above) should be attractive from the perspective of institutions that currently pay substantial amounts to support knowledge dissemination. This same scenario should also be attractive from the perspective of funding agencies that have decided to support not only knowledge generation, but also (at least to a limited extent) OA-based knowledge dissemination. Of course, from the perspective of publishers, Scenario A seems likely to yield less revenue over the longer term than will Scenario B. This is because, as predicted by Heather Morrison, Scenario B might lead to less competition, and perhaps even to an upward spiral in APFs.

More evidence-based analyses of a variety of scenarios are needed.

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