Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Max Planck Digital Library on Open Access

Ralf Schimmer of the Max Planck Society's Digital Library  gave a fascinating presentation (PPT) as part of a panel entitled What Price Open Access at the recent CNI meeting. He, and co-authors Kai Karin Geschuhn and Andreas Vogler have now posted the paper on which it was based, Disrupting the subscription journals' business model for the necessary large-scale transformation to open access. Their argument is:
All the indications are that the money already invested in the research publishing system is sufficient to enable a transformation that will be sustainable for the future. There needs to be a shared understanding that the money currently locked in the journal subscription system must be withdrawn and re-purposed for open access publishing services. The current library acquisition budgets are the ultimate reservoir for enabling the transformation without financial or other risks.
They present:
generic calculations we have made on the basis of available publication data and revenue values at global, national and institutional levels.
These include detailed data as to their own spending on open access article processing charges (APCs), which they have made available on-line, and from many other sources including the Wellcome Trust and the Austrian Science Fund. They show that APCs are less than €2.0K/article while subscription costs are €3.8-5.0K/article, so the claim that sufficient funds are available is credible. It is important to note that they exclude hybrid APCs such as those resulting from the stupid double-dipping deals the UK made; these are "widely considered not to reflect a true market value". As an Englishman, I appreciate under-statement. Thus they support my and Andrew Odlyzko's contention that margins in the academic publishing business are extortionate.

Below the fold, I look at some of the details in the paper.

Having established the global picture that there is more than enough money, they look at the breakdown by country, and point out that:
For good reasons, multi-authored papers will be captured in the bibliographies or institutional repositories of all their home institutions, but in terms of cost-relevance each of these multi-counted papers needs to be paid for only once. For the time being, the dominant model is that the corresponding author is responsible for picking up and settling the invoice. Therefore the various national and institutional publishing lists must be de-duplicated to reflect the corresponding author papers only, in order to make accurate budget forecasts.
They show a consistent pattern whereby only 65-70% of a country's output has a corresponding author from that country. Countries with a higher output tend to have a higher share, and vice versa.

At an institutional level, the share is lower. Between 40-60% of an institution's output typically has  a corresponding author from that institution. Their own experience shows this:
For instance, as the current annual journal article output of all Max Planck Institutes is in the region of 10,000 papers, we anticipate the APC-relevant share to be a maximum of 6,000. Hence our projected costs for a complete transformation scenario would be no more than EUR 12 million. The Max Planck Society is a heavily output-oriented research organization and, at the same time, a big buyer of research information. Our current spending on journal subscriptions is already substantial enough to make the big open access transformation possible without having to ask for extra money.
I don't doubt that there is enough money in the system to support a wholly open-access system of scholarly communication paid for by APCs. My concern is that the transition from the current system to this nirvana is difficult precisely because there is in fact way more than enough money in the system.

Back in 2008 I served as a judge for Elsevier's Grand Challenge. Even then, conversations with Elsevier management indicated that they regarded open access as inevitable, but that they would do whatever they could to delay its onset. So my expectation would be that during the transition Schimmer et al propose Elsevier would continue their successful strategy; they would be the last publisher to switch.

There is way more than enough money in the system, so that as each publisher switches, money in library budgets is freed up. Elsevier has a long history of knowing exactly how much libraries can afford to pay for access to their journals, and charging it. So my expectation would be that as other publishers switched, Elsevier would raise prices just enough to absorb the funds freed up. The end-point would be a system in which Elsevier would be the only remaining subscription publisher, and would be vastly more profitable than it is today. It would have both more resources to delay open access, and more motivation to deploy them.

Before embarking on the suggested transition, some means of preventing this disaster needs to be developed.

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