Posts Tagged 'Business models'

Academic and Professional Publishing – book review

My review of Academic & Professional Publishing, edited by Robert Campbell, Ed Pentz and Ian Borthwick has now been published in Learned Publishing where it is (currently) freely available . I liked it, a lot:

The fact that book publishing deadlines (especially multi-contributor works) sometimes means that the rapid pace of events can overtake some details has not prevented the authors from including concrete examples (notably in the excellent chapter on publishing and communication strategies) and it is all the better for it. Indeed, the book’s pace and scope compared to the daily torrent of information provides exactly the space for perspective and critical thought that we need.

If you’d like a second opinion, Judy Luther has also reviewed it for Scholarly Kitchen:

Reviewing this book had the feel of attending a productive meeting with a mix of interesting facts, worthwhile references, and different perspectives on important topics providing food for thought. Much like looking in a three way mirror, we recognize the familiar and realize that there are dimensions that we hadn’t seen before.

Heading for the open road: costs and benefits of transitions in scholarly communications

I have a new report (jointly produced with CEPA for RIN) out today: Heading for the open road: costs and benefits of transitions in scholarly communications.

We investigate the drivers, costs and benefits of potential ways to increase access to scholarly journals. The report identifies five different routes for achieving that end over the next five years, and compares and evaluates the benefits as well as the costs and risks for the UK. The conclusions are interesting … [read more]

Are not-for-profit publishers better for not-for-profit journal owners?

A contact mentioned to me that a large university press was drawing attention to a journal article by the economist Mark Armstrong to support their contention that non-for-profit (NFP) journal owners would be better off having their journals published by a not-for-profit publisher (i.e. themselves) rather than a commercial publisher.

The article (published ironically enough by a large commercial publisher) is Collection Sales: Good Or Bad For Journals? published in Economic Inquiry 48(1), Jan 2010, and available here:

Armstrong uses economic modelling to examine the impact of collection sales (bundling) of journals and concludes that “nonprofit journals may benefit from withdrawing from commercial publishers which distribute their own for-profit journals, and joining together to be distributed by less commercial publishers who set relatively low prices for their collections”.

Many NFP journal owners do indeed prefer to use NFP publishers, often for “soft” reasons such as alignment of mission/objectives and “cultural fit”, so I was interested to see that there might be an economic advantage to them for this.

Unfortunately it is hard to see that Armstrong’s economic modelling can have more than very limited relevance to the real world, because the simplifications he uses lead to descriptions that are more caricature than realistic.

For example, he says that

“all journals prefer to participate in collection sales programs, but the two kinds of journals are distributed by publishers with different pricing strategies: for-profit journals are attracted to (or are owned by) publishers who offer them high revenue but relatively low reach, while nonprofit journals use publishers who market their collections with relatively low bundle prices and higher reach.”

This comes near the start of the article; unfortunately for Armstrong’s thesis, it is the commercial publishers that currently offer the largest reaches (through their very large consortia deals), not the NFP publishers. (Not that the NFP publishers aren’t doing their best to catch up, of course!)

He also asserts that

“While for-profit journals do not care about reach, a nonprofit journal will need to consider both its remuneration and reach when choosing its publisher”

In this fantasy world, therefore, Nature (a for-profit journal) would not care about its reach while its arch-rival Science (a not-for-profit) would. This goes beyond caricature, it’s just plain wrong. All journals compete for authors and citations, and reach is one of the key means to these ends.

I’m not qualified to comment on the technical analysis used in the paper but it’s hard to put any credence in any conclusions that are built on such shaky foundations.

I’m inevitably reminded of my old marketing professor at Cranfield, Malcolm MacDonald, who use to say of economists that they would say on the battlefield as they were being overrun by the enemy: “Let us assume a tank. Ceteris paribus, we win”.

Returning to my friends at the university press, I do warm to the idea of evidence-based publishing – first coined I believe by the inestimable Richard Smith at the BMJ – but those professing to follow this path do need to understand the difference between evidence and cherry-picking. Or perhaps I’m just confusing discourse and rhetoric?

This year’s model: strategies for increasing access to research content

I’m down to talk under this title at the ASA Annual Conference next February 21/22. I’m going to base my talk on work that we’re doing with CEPA (Cambridge Economic Policy Associates) for RIN, the project on Dynamics of improving access to research papers. It’s going to be part of session titled The Subscription is Dead: Long Live…? I’ll be looking at transaction and micro-payment options, with Rick Anderson and Robert Kiley also talk in this session.

Overall it looks like being an interesting conference, with sessions like Show Me the Value! The New Reality of Library-Publisher Negotiations likely to be sharper than ever in the current climate.

Dynamics of improving access to research papers

The contract for the “Dynamics of improving access to research papers” project was awarded to CEPA (Cambridge Economic Policy Associates) working in association with Mark Ware Consulting.

This project is part of the Transitions in scholarly communications portfolio of projects that are being managed by the Research Information Network with a very diverse range of sponsors: JISC, ALPSP, PA, STM, PRC, BL, RLUK, SCONUL, SPARC Europe, RCUK, UUK and the Wellcome Trust. The sponsors represent virtually all the stakeholders in UK scholarly communication.

The project aims to provide evidence for a better understanding of the dynamics of the transitions needed to reach a selection of plausible end-points, and the costs, benefits, opportunities and risks that this entails. Transition is understood to relate to changes in practice, business models and organisational culture within the relevant constituencies, and any new entrants, over defined timeframes. The end-points will be associated with four broad models: open access journals (Gold OA); open access repositories (Green OA); extensions to licensing; and transactional solutions. The project will be founded on a comparative description of the transitions that (i) are taking place now, and (ii) would need to take place over the next five years, in order to reach each of the selected end-points. There will also be an analysis of the drivers and mechanisms underlying these transitions, and associated costs and benefits (both cash and non-cash).

We will be drawing on the model developed by CEPA for their influential 2008 RIN-sponsored report Activities, costs and funding flows in the scholarly communications system in the UK. In addition to CEPA / RIN model, we expect to develop a separate, high-level model for quantifying the wider economic benefits that might be associated with changes in the level of access resulting from the alternative scholarly communication scenarios (possibly based on the theoretical model (a modified Solow- Swan growth model) used in the JISC/Houghton reports). The work will differ from these earlier reports by the development of realistic scenarios capable in principle of being achieved over the next 5 years (as opposed to say an assumed global 90% open access), by looking at transition costs (rather than just snapshots), and by considering a range of routes to increased access (as above) which will be considered in combination rather than in isolation.

We hope this will be a significant piece of work that will contribute substantially to the debate around access, building on and extending the earlier work mentioned. The project is due to conclude in February 2011.

Open Access Submission Fees

Mark Ware Consulting has been commissioned by Knowledge Exchange (, a partnership of JISC (UK), SURF (Netherlands), DEFF (Denmark) and DfG (Germany), to conduct a study into the feasibility of submission fees in open access journals (i.e. as distinct from publication fees).

An open access business model based on submission charges could have real advantages over OA based (solely) on publication charges. For example, at present and under gold OA, authors have an incentive to submit their paper to an unrealistically prestigious journal or conference, since there is no cost to them, their paper might be accepted, and even if it is not, they will receive good feedback from senior reviewers. They can then re-submit the paper to less and less prestigious journals or conferences until it is accepted. There is little cost to them but great cost to the wider scholarly communications community. An approach based on submission charges may also introduce a greater level of competition into the scholarly communication domain by more closely relating payments to services provided. It might also provide a better OA model for high-rejection-rate journals where otherwise the publication charge has to cover the costs of peer review of all the rejected papers.

There may be, however, risks in a model based on submission charges, for example funders may find it difficult to develop an acceptable mechanism to limit the payments they are called on to make. For their part, publishers may be reluctant to deter potential authors by introducing a fee not required by their competitors.

There has been some discussion of this model in the past, for instance in the Wellcome Trust 2004 report Costs and business models in scientific research publishing, while in October last year Gavin Baker raised the topic on his blog post Submission fees: a means of defraying costs for OA journals?, and more recently there was some discussion on the liblicense listserv.

The study will involve reviewing the literature and looking at the past experience of journals using submission charges, and then exploring possible models and testing these through consultation with major stakeholders including research funders, publishers, libraries and infrastructure providers, universities and researchers (as editors, peer reviewers, readers and authors).

At this stage we would be very pleased to hear from anyone with an interest in this topic.


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