the decades-long arguments over STM (scientific/technical/medical) journal
publishing, mainly about subscription price increases and intellectual
property and accessibility issues, one thing has changed in the last few
years. Scholars have become involved. Everyone in STM journal publishing,
no matter whether they work on the publishing (producer and seller) side
or on the library (customer and collector) side, agrees that scholars (authors
and readers) are involved now. The question is, what will come of their
In a range of telephone
conversations I had recently with a focus-group-size number of veteran
STM publishers — at commercial houses, university presses, and societies
— all of whom said they spoke only for themselves, not their employer,
and not all of whom wished to be quoted by name (so I won't quote any by
name), I asked provocatively what they thought of the term "scholar rebellion."
"First time I've
heard it phrased that way," a university press publisher said mildly, "although
people have been promoting free distribution for some time."
the best term," a senior executive at a major commercial STM publisher
said. "That's not the right word."
I think it's pushing it. Rebellion is a bit ridiculous as a term," said
a senior executive at another major commercial STM house.
But a society publisher
had a different take on the term: "Scholar rebellion? I'm not sure what
they're rebelling against," she said. "Scholarly publishers look at what
they do as a service, not a crime. Without scholarly publishers, scholars'
work would not have the dissemination that it does. Besides, most societies
break even with their publications, or, with the large-circulation titles,
make money with advertising.
"Scholars are rebelling,"
she went on, "against their institutions with regard to intellectual property.
Distance learning is a big issue. MIT put coursework online without examining
the intellectual property issues. Scholars assume they own their own coursework.
Institutions say they own it. What you can say is that scholars
are rebelling against big commercial publishers."
And an executive
at a commercial secondary publisher with whom I spoke in the summer of
2001 answered my scholar rebellion question more broadly: "The Internet
and copyright issues, the ability of people to self-publish, have conspired
to put pressure on full-text publishers."
Well, no matter
whether you call the current scholar involvement a rebellion or not, publishers
of all stripes have something to say about it. But before turning to their
comments, let's go back a few years to see how and when scholars got involved
in the STM publishing issues that have roiled librarians for so long.
Publishing Reality: Scholars
Drive the Process
Here's the way
I want you look at STM journals publishing: It's scholar-driven. I say
this even though, except for a handful of weekly medical and scientific
journals, such as the New England Journal of Medicine, and except
for the technical magazines and journals that dues-paying members of societies
receive, libraries pay almost all of the subscription fees.
Here's the argument:
Journals receive articles for publication because scholars have a need
to publish, whether simply to disseminate the results of their research
or to further their professional standing. The editors and editorial boards
of journals — the people who decide which articles to publish and which
ones to reject — are scholars themselves, as are the reviewers who determine
the quality of submissions. And those same authors, editors, and reviewers,
now in their role as readers of journal articles, constitute the patrons
whose interests librarians satisfy by obtaining journal issues and making
them available on the shelves and in the stacks, or by providing access
to online versions of the journals. So while libraries may be the market
for journals, the business is driven by scholars.
long complained that commercial publishers have only been able to earn
substantial profits from the publication of journals, particularly STM
journals, as a result of scholars' efforts. These profit levels, buoyed
by increases in subscription prices, are a source of considerable friction
between librarians and commercial publishers. While publishers have been
reluctant to criticize their customers, those same customers — librarians
— have not been shy about criticizing publishers. Some critics have seemed
so strident at times. For example one prominent STM publishing executive
told me that back in the late 1980s he routinely refused invitations to
debate librarians on panels addressing the friction between librarians
and publishers because he did not wish to be subject to the verbal abuse
he felt sure to receive.
Don't get the impression
that publishers hide under their desks when librarians are around. STM,
the international publishers group, has had a library relations committee,
directly engaged with librarians, for many years. The Professional and
Scholarly Publishing Division of the Association of American Publishers,
together with the Council on Library Information Resources, is starting
up a similar committee, to be composed of equal numbers of academic and
corporate librarians and publishers. For starters, agenda items may include
archiving/linking, usage data, "fair use" issues, licensing, and identifier
and numbering systems.
"The library community
is critical of the costs of journal titles, but there is no correlation
to the costs of individual articles," a publisher said to me in defense
of the industry position on price increases. "The question is, what do
they get for what they pay?" The Association of Research Libraries (ARL)
makes the opposing case with this set of statistics in support of its position
on subscription price increases:
Journal unit cost
Until the past
few years, the conventional wisdom among publishers was that scholars were
not interested in joining the volleys of words that librarians directed
at publishers. After all, a rationale for subscription price increases
was that an increasing level of research, as well as scholars' professional
need to publish the results of their research, led to more papers, which
led to more pages, more issues, and more volumes in a journal, and, therefore,
to higher prices. According to this rationale, the scholars themselves
were the cause of the price increases; the publishers were merely gatekeepers.
Furthermore, most publishers refused to believe that scholars would desert
an established, high-impact, peer-reviewed journal, which conferred status
on their research.
for coping with price increases did not involve scholars, except when librarians
solicited their opinions about paring journal acquisition lists. Besides
journal cancellations, libraries relegated their strategies to improved
document delivery, with its uncounted expenses, cooperative collection
development, and the consortial purchasing and licensing that publishers'
initiatives, particularly those involving the Internet, made simpler. (Publishers
assert that their initiatives have been beneficial to libraries. "Online
editions and consortia have increased access," a university press publisher
told me. "There's significant additional usage when consortia deals are
Then, in late 1997,
an event at Purdue University indicated the potential for enlisting scholar
involvement on the librarians' side in the STM journals war. That fall,
campus librarians had asked a faculty advisory group on journals collection
to do something about subscription price increases and the library's inability
to keep up with them. The faculty raised a fuss, and on December 1, Russ
White, then head of Elsevier Science, met with a group of professors at
Purdue. When you look back at the widely read account that appeared in
New York Times on December 29, the meeting seems to have been a trailer
for the struggle that was to come when scholars became fully involved.
[Read it yourself: Gilpin, Kenneth N., "Concerns About an Aggressive Publishing
Giant," New York Times, v147 , December 29, 1997, p. D2 (Late City
Edition), col 1., available on LexisNexis.]
When White told
the professors that prices for online versions of Elsevier journals could
be locked in at annual increase of 9.5 percent, the response was not only
that Purdue could not and would not absorb anything close to that level
of price rise, but also that the quality of what they were getting wasn't
worth the money. (Purdue, according to the Times, was spending more
than $1 million annually on Elsevier journals.) A medical chemistry professor
offered invective: "Elsevier journals tend to be second- and third-tier
publications, which range from the acceptable to the terrible," he said.
"Why do we want to buy garbage at 9.5 percent price increases?" It looked
like the librarians and the professors had bonded.
By the latter 1990s,
Internet empowerment of researchers gave rise to proposals for new relationships
between scholars and publishers. Some suggested, for example, that authors
of works based on federally supported science should, instead of transferring
copyright, retain copyright and only issue licenses to their publishers.
Others proposed that scholars should bypass both commercial and not-for-profit
publishers alike. Back in the early 1990s, Paul Ginsparg showed what Internet
empowerment meant when he set up the Los Alamos Physics e-Print archive
[arxiv.org], a free public repository that now covers most of physics,
and has expanded to include repositories for nonlinear sciences, mathematics,
computation, and language. Over 130,000 papers have been self-archived
on the site since 1991. It grows at the rate of about 25,000 per year,
handles over 70,000 transactions per day, and has over 35,000 users. Funded
by the DOE and NSF, it has a full-time staff, mirrored in 16 countries,
offering search facilities and e-mail notification of new submissions of
In this changed
and charged atmosphere, ARL established a vehicle — SPARC, the Scholarly
Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition — for making scholars greater
stakeholders in new publishing ventures. SPARC would not take the position
that journals ought to be free, but focused on making them more accessible.
The first question: Why did the journals have to cost so much? Lower prices
would enable greater access from the start. SPARC saw itself as a catalyst
for change. In one of its initiatives, it would offer near-term savings
opportunities for libraries by expanding capacity among not-for-profit
publishers and even by giving capacity to scholars themselves, so as to
incubate competitive, or alternative, publications, and give them time
to attract prestigious authors.
SPARC would see
its role as adviser, marketer, and salesperson. To help get alternative
publications underway, SPARC would first publicize the pricing problem
of commercially published journals, stimulate examination of the issues
and solutions, and encourage action by scholars. SPARC would aid editors,
societies, and universities to build publishing capacity and reduce startup
risk. The objective was to lower barriers to entry for competitors, thereby
creating alternatives for authors and encouraging new publishing models
that would lower prices.
By 2001, 3 years
into its existence, SPARC had 10 alternative publications up and running.
Publications committees in professional societies, made up of researchers
who serve voluntarily, have approved the creation of five alternative journals,
which are produced by the societies' professional staffs — two at the American
Chemical Society (ACS), two at the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC, based
in the U.K.), and one at the IEEE (the U.S.-based Institute of Electrical
and Electronics Engineers). One alternative journal is published by Cambridge
University Press. One has been established by a professor, Michael L. Rosenzweig,
at the Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, University of
Arizona, who, through his proselytizing Web site, has become something
of a poster boy for direct scholar involvement in journal publishing. Two
have been established in the Mathematics Department of the University of
Warwick at Coventry, U.K. One is produced by an entity founded by a group
Among the traditional
journals under attack from the alternatives are eight published by Elsevier
and two by Kluwer. (Probably the most prominent of the adversaries are
Elsevier's Tetrahedron Letters vs. ACS' Organic Letters.)
These journals are old enough to have grown large, in terms of number of
pages published annually, and, therefore, expensive on a per-title basis.
Averaging the subscription fees for the 10 journals shows a price exceeding
Five of the alternative
journals fall in the chemistry disciplines, two in mathematics, one in
electrical engineering, and one in computer science. Rosenzweig's journal,
Ecology Research, is the only life-science alternative journal out
of the SPARC initiatives. But, as we shall see, what with several key alternative
publishing initiatives proposed and implemented over the past 2.5 years,
the greatest pressure on established publishing is in the life sciences.
"The greatest noise is in the biomedical field," a journals publisher told
me recently, "because the preprint movement could not take hold there.
If you're unsure of the data you present, there's a potential for liability.
Biomedicine isn't like physics, which has a culture of preprints. Societies
have learned to live with Ginsparg. But what he's done hasn't been tried
on the biomedical side. You might think that because of the large amount
of advertising dollars present, biomedical publishers could be more adventuresome.
But societies have trouble with linking to sites with advertisements."
Dr. Varmus Calling
In the spring
of 1999, around the time the ACS launched the second of the SPARC-sponsored
alternative journals, Organic Letters, Dr. Harold Varmus, then director
of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), proposed an initiative called
E-biomed, a system that would archive and distribute electronic versions
of biomedical research articles — unedited and unreviewed manuscripts,
as well as articles that had gone through the traditional peer-review system.
feature of the plan is simplified, instantaneous, cost-free access by potential
readers to E-biomed's entire content," Varmus wrote in an online proposal
for the system. "The system we propose is intended to make knowledge and
ideas in life sciences widely and freely accessible to the scientific community
and the public, in the tradition of free public libraries."
In his proposal,
Varmus noted that "electronic communication is making dramatic changes
in the way information is exchanged among scientists." But "despite these
welcome and transforming changes, the full potential of electronic communication
has yet to be realized. The scientific community has made only sparing
use thus far of the Internet as a means to publish scientific work and
to distribute it widely and without significant barriers to access."
for all the world as if he were setting E-biomed up to deal directly with
authors and compete with established publishers (whether commercial or
society, it didn't seem to matter to him), suggested that shortcomings
in the current system of publication resulted in inefficient allocation
of costs and labor, as well as unmet publication needs in the research
community. A single repository would benefit both authors and readers —
authors from rapid publication, one-stop submission, and the addition of
possible commentaries to the articles; readers from barrier-free access,
one-stop searching/reading, inclusion of "journal approved" articles.
In contrast to
the practices of established journal publishers, authors would retain copyright
of articles posted to E-biomed, and articles could be freely downloaded
but reproduced only with their permission. E-biomed would have two sites
for authors: In one, reports would be submitted to editorial boards, which
could be identical to those that represented current print journals or
composed of some other newly formed groups. "Other reports," Varmus wrote,
"would be posted immediately in the E-biomed repository, prior to any conventional
peer review, after passing a simple screen for appropriateness." Varmus
noted that "each report would need to be approved by two individuals with
appropriate credentials" who presumably would ensure that the articles
were related to the subject areas of E-biomed and not too "extraneous or
just one paragraph of his proposal to extolling the virtues (peer review,
the ability of journals to confer status and grounds for career advancement,
attractive formats, and convenience) of the current system of scientific
publishing, which he acknowledged has worked well for more than 300 years.
He concluded the proposal with an invitation to the scientific community
to submit comments.
In the ensuing
weeks, many editors, academics, and society publications directors in the
life-science publishing community were among the hundreds who weighed in
with criticism. For example, Dr. Marcia Angell, executive editor of the
England Journal of Medicine, which is published by the Massachusetts
Medical Society, was quoted, "It would make the journal — the paper journal,
and also the journal Web site — merely archival. Redundant. Insofar as
that happened, it would weaken the journals and maybe even destroy them."
(A New York Times article on the controversy said that NEJM's
annual profit has been estimated at over $20 million.) Thomas E. DeCoursey,
a professor of molecular biophysics at Rush Presbyterian St. Luke's Medical
Center, wrote that the idea "would serve mainly to lower the quality of
scientific research. It would cheapen the value of scientific publication,
diminish accountability of both scientists and reviewers, and thus encourage
fraud." Michael M. Cox, a biochemistry professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison,
wrote, "It will inevitably become a massive repository of taxpayer-supported
junk that very few will read."
"Varmus is perceived
as 'naïve' in his proposal by many in scholarly publishing," Susan
Knapp, the American Psychological Association's senior director of publications,
wrote. "He ignores the value of peer review in his proposal concerning
draft manuscripts, and many professionals are concerned about how this
material may be used. In addition, the idea that editorial boards and publishers
will voluntarily — and for free — provide editing and peer review for articles
submitted to E-biomed is not likely to be viable."
responses were made, as well. While the European Molecular Biology Organization
(EMBO) announced on its Web site that it would not be involved in any efforts
to set up an electronic depository for non-peer-reviewed biomedical research,
EMBO, headquartered in Heidelberg, Germany, did say that it supported the
principle of a single electronic Web site where all life-sciences data
is readily searchable. EMBO's statement said that the question of such
a single site's existence has long been "when, rather than whether." But
the organization's executive director, Frank Gannon, said that a depository
for material without peer review, which forms a key part of the NIH's proposal,
could "severely undermine biomolecular research," and should therefore
be monitored. EMBO proposed that alongside the two categories proposed
by the NIH — i.e., fully refereed and non-refereed material — a third should
be set up with a panel of assessors to check the soundness of researchers'
science, without all the further requirements of traditional peer review.
Varmus went on
the road to discuss his proposal. On June 2, for example, he spoke to the
FASEB (Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology) Publications
and Communications Committee. FASEB considered its member societies directly
affected by the Varmus proposal, but in both his Web response and in public
forums, Varmus was dismissing the notion that the viability of scientific
societies would be undermined by depriving them of significant sources
of income currently derived from subscriptions, membership fees driven
by the desire to acquire scholarly society publications, and advertising.
According to FASEB's
own account of the meeting, committee members asked how the proposed system
would be funded and who would pay for it. They asked questions about management
and raised concerns about general oversight, as well as quality control.
They asked about the statutory authority and public oversight for a decision
of this magnitude, as well as about government competition with the private
sector. They discussed problems of editing and processing a large volume
FASEB Member Societies
wrote letters to Varmus, some of them line-by-line reviews of his proposal.
The American Physiological Society (APS) argued that despite Varmus's contention,
many of the leading societal and non-profit publishers were already on
the Internet. "First and foremost," the American Association of Immunologists'(AAI)
wrote, "we find that this proposal compromises the cornerstone of the scientific
method: peer review." AAI also mentioned concerns over the creation of
a monopoly by having a sole, centralized publisher — and the conflict of
interest that arises by having that monopoly in the hands of the "funding
agency charged with carrying out the assessment of the scientific accomplishment
of an investigator now also [carrying] out one of the most important signifiers
of that merit — publishing."
The American Society
of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB noted in its letter that "the
implementation of a monolithic organization responsible for all of scientific
communication . . . may have a consequence of impeding the healthy diversity
of existing journals."
The American Society
of Investigative Pathology (ASIP) concluded its letter by asking: "Is this
the best use of NIH funds? Should funding of E-biomed be a priority over
research grant funding? In bad years, will the NIH reduce resources to
this program to preserve research funding? Who then will sustain the effort?.
. . Should more consideration be given to organizing the existing electronic
efforts of publishers to achieve the goals of the proposal?"
The letter from
the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (ASPET)
suggested a non-competitive role for the NIH: "to establish an electronic
repository that contained the full text, fully searchable versions of past
scientific literature. By guaranteeing the maintenance of this archive
and providing tools through which it could be searched, NIH could play
a constructive complementary role to that of the academic publishers and
one that would represent collaboration rather than needless competition."
On June 30, Varmus,
along with representatives from three publishing organizations, talked
to science writers at the National Library of Medicine in Bethesda, Maryland.
Although the meeting was closed to the media, Chemical & Engineering
News, published by the American Chemical Society, carried a report.
(The report portrays the flavor of the debates and deserves to be quoted
here.) C&EN reported that sources present told of an adversarial
tone which dominated discussions between Varmus and his audience, with
Varmus expressing surprise at the vehement reaction coming from some publishers.
At one point, according to C&EN, he derisively called a publisher's
comments about E-biomed "paranoiac."
report continued: "He said it is not E-biomed's intention to eliminate
peer review and existing journals. 'On the contrary, we are eager to encourage
journals, especially those with strong reputations for rigorous reviewing
and careful editing, to become part of the system.' He argued that E-biomed
does not duplicate what current journals are doing in electronic publishing,
as publishers claim, citing that E-biomed would be free, unlike existing
journals that charge 'large' fees." Already, Varmus, though still contentious,
was sounding less like a publisher than he had in his proposal only weeks
As for the peer-review
controversy, C&EN went on to report that Varmus "noted the legitimate
concern about the posting of erroneous or misleading data, but said a large
part of E-biomed will be peer reviewed, and that few scientists would knowingly
post erroneous information because it could damage their reputations. He
assured people that information on E-biomed will be 'properly archived'
so that it will be accessible in the future.
"Critics have charged
that E-biomed meddles with the private sector and could be construed as
a 'takeover by the U.S. government.' Varmus insisted: 'The system we have
proposed welcomes the participation of existing journals, does not obligate
any journals to join, and would not be owned by the NIH or any other component
of the U.S. government.'
"He described an
advisory board that would set general policy and oversee E-biomed's operations,
noting that it would be made up of representatives from the international
science community, scientific societies, libraries, the general public,
and advocacy groups and would be international in scope."
As for the economics
of the system, Varmus, according to C&EN, "estimated it would
cost $2 million to $3 million per year to operate E-biomed. He claimed
that the infrastructure to do this is already in place...." Varmus also
posited that operating costs could come from the moderate page charges
paid by authors.
The three publishing
representatives responding to Varmus included Mary C. Waltham, then U.S.
president of Nature Publishing Inc., who asked: "What is best for science?
The wide, free availability of research will happen with or without E-biomed.
[However], too much information is the bane of working scientists. They
need well-selected materials and context from trusted sources." She was
further concerned about ownership of E-biomed. "Whoever owns the publishing
outfit determines its course. Who will own and manage E-biomed? Whose is
the ultimate responsibility?"
M. Michele Hogan,
executive director of the American Association of Immunologists, which
publishes the Journal of Immunology, expressed the views of many
scientific society publishers — that e-Biomed would be a competing publisher:
"It has been suggested that associations' objections are motivated solely
by economic self-interest," she said, according to C&EN. "But
the proposal would force not-for-profits to compete with NIH for their
own content. NIH could become the sole supplier of scientific content and
peer review." What would be lost is "peer review independent of government,
quality competition among journals, diversity, and technological innovation."
Moreover, "publishing could be subject to congressional intervention, the
vagaries of inconsistent funding, and possibly conflict of interest."
Hunter commented on Varmus's economic model, noting that his page-charge
idea is not done by commercial publishers. Such charges would penalize
scientists from poorer nations, she added, and would not meet Varmus' stated
goal of free and easier access to scientific information.
report concluded: "In closing remarks to science reporters, Varmus said
he's forging ahead and hopes to 'initiate a system in a year or so. We're
talking to some adventuresome souls who are starting new journals,' he
said with a smile as he left the podium."
But by the end
of August, Varmus issued a statement that allowed that "[a]lthough the
fundamental principles that motivated our proposal remain, specific aspects
have evolved in significant ways." One important concession was that "the
screening of non-peer-reviewed reports will be the responsibility of groups
that have no direct relationship to the NIH."
had a new name. Varmus wrote: "This repository — which we consider to be
the initial site in an international system — will be called PubMed Central,
based on its natural integration with the existing PubMed biomedical literature
database. PubMed itself will extend its coverage of the life sciences and
continue its linkage to external online journals."
Now the Varmus
system was no longer a publisher itself, dealing directly with authors,
but an aggregator of content developed by established publishers. NIH's
responsibility would be limited to maintaining this central repository.
PubMed Central would archive, organize, and distribute peer-reviewed reports
from journals, as well as reports that have been screened, but not formally
peer-reviewed. Varmus wrote: "Peer-reviewed reports will be provided to
PubMed Central from participating publishers and societies that have mediated
the review process." Copyright would reside with the submitting groups
(publishers, societies, or editorial boards) or the authors themselves,
as the participants determined.
In yet another
concession, publishers could impose embargoes: "The submission of content
to PubMed Central can occur at any time after acceptance for publication,
at the discretion of the participants. Although early deposition offers
the greatest benefit to the scientific community, we recognize the concerns
of publishers about financial consequences of rapid submission and will
welcome content submitted at any time."
Control of non-peer-reviewed
material was ceded by PubMed Central to outsiders: "The non-peer-reviewed
reports will also enter PubMed Central through independent organizations,
which will be responsible for screening this material. Many of the non-peer-reviewed
reports will be 'preprints,' both deposited in PubMed Central and subjected
to formal peer review by journal editorial boards. In other cases, these
reports may never be submitted to a journal for traditional peer review,
yet will be deposited in PubMed Central because, in the judgment of the
screening organization, they provide valuable data to the research community."
Varmus asserted that "[s]ome publishers and societies have already planned
preprint servers, and we believe that such groups — and other responsible
groups yet to be constituted — can bring diversity and experience to the
oversight of the non-peer-reviewed material. We emphasize that this material
will be clearly distinguishable from the peer-reviewed content of PubMed
By the time PubMed
Central went online in February 2000, these concessions to publishers had
been made. Support for a non-peer-reviewed system was put on hold; peer-reviewed
content could be submitted by publishers at any time after being accepted
for publication; and copyright ownership would be determined by the participating
At launch, despite
the concessions, only two journals had issues available on PMC — Molecular
Biology of the Cell and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Now 11 journals have issues available. Varmus has moved from Redskins to
Giants-Jets territory (he now heads up Memorial Sloan-Kettering), and PubMed
Central has morphed into something quite different than what his original
proposal envisioned. The box on the home page, which is hard to miss, states:
is a digital archive of life sciences journal literaturemanaged by the
National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) at the U.S. National
Library of Medicine (NLM). It is not a journal publisher. Access
to PubMed Central (PMC) is free and unrestricted. NEW OPTION for Publishers:
PubMed Central (PMC) has relaxed the requirement that full text be viewable
free at the PMC site. Now, if a publisher desires, PMC will provide a link
to a journal site for full text, instead of displaying it in PMC. [Emphasis
Keeping their journals
accessible mainly on their own sites was exactly the approach established
publishers, whether commercial, university press, or society, desired.
The publishers contend that, in the Internet environment, a central archive
like PubMed Central is not needed for access across publisher resources.
Searching across distributed systems would be sufficient.
In October 1999,
at the Frankfurt Book Fair, a group of STM publishers agreed to work together
to enable the automatic cross-referencing of articles referenced in journal
articles. A not-for-profit company called PILA (Publishers International
Linking Associates) was formally incorporated in New York in January 2000
to operate the service, named CrossRef. The PILA Board of Directors comprises
representatives from a group of commercial and not-for-profit publishers
— the American Association for the Advancement of Science (publisher of
the weekly Science), Academic Press (now owned by Elsevier), the
American Institute of Physics, the Association for Computing Machinery,
Blackwell Science, Elsevier, the IEEE, Kluwer, Nature, Oxford University
Press, Springer-Verlag (owned by Bertelsmann), and Wiley. Run from a central
facility, CrossRef functions as a sort of digital switchboard. It holds
no full-text content, but instead effects linkages through Digital Object
Identifiers (DOI), which are tagged to article metadata supplied by participating
publishers, each of whom can set its own access standards and conditions.
CrossRef went live
on the Web in early 2000 with more than 1.3 million article records from
about 2,700 journals in its metadata database. Approximately 1,100 journals
from 33 member publishers had reference links enabled by CrossRef. Now,
there are 84 participating publishers accounting for over 5,245 journals,
with over 3.5 million article records in the database. In the near future,
CrossRef says, it will begin incorporating other reference content such
as encyclopedias, textbooks, conference proceedings, and other relevant
A New Player, a New Game
In late 1999,
at around the same time that the STM publishers were coming to agreement
on CrossRef, a company that operated outside the STM "club" started to
set up the publishing activity that PubMed Central had moved away from.
The Current Science Group (CSG), whose chairman is the remarkable Vitek
Tracz, announced the creation of a new Web initiative for biomedical authors,
BioMed Central [http://www.biomedcentral.com].
It promised "to give researchers the tools they need to publish their data
quickly and easily and make it widely available on the Internet."
This new commercial
publishing venture, "designed to complement PubMed Central," would peer-review
all submissions of original research in all biomedical fields and would
make all competent papers, no matter how many ("unlike some other journals,
we do not operate 'gatekeeper-ism'"), immediately and freely available
through PubMed Central (unlike most other PubMed Central participants,
there would be no delay between publication of research in BioMed Central
and availability on PubMed Central), as well as through its own Web site,
without subscription charges or registration barriers. BioMed Central claimed
that its automated peer-review process would ensure that papers would reach
referees quickly and efficiently enough for accepted papers to appear online
approximately 35 working days after submission.
In defining "gatekeeper-ism"
as publishing what is currently fashionable and promoting itself as promising
to publish everything that passes peer review, BioMed Central claimed the
high ground over established publishers, whose journals have page budgets.
"Most journals have limited page budgets and have to filter what they publish,"
one publisher I spoke with commented. "The rules of economics dictate filtering."
The BioMed Central
site launched in the spring of 2000 with the promise that "the role of
peer review in BioMed Central is to distinguish between good and bad science.
As long as the science is good we will publish it." The company also promised
that "All BioMed Central articles will be archived, . . . so their permanent
accessibility is assured." In addition, PubMed would index all research
articles published in BioMed Central without delay. (PubMed, in my experience,
used to be quite picky about starting to index any new publication, waiting
to see whether the publication would take hold, but times have changed,
apparently.) BioMed Central was "working closely with ISI to ensure that
the BioMed Central journals are citation tracked and so will have
impact factors in the future." Visibility would be further increased, BioMed
Central asserted, because the full text of all research articles on the
site would be available without registration or subscription, so Internet
search engines would also index them.
Authors would keep
copyright, but would grant BioMed Central and anyone who might acquire
it an exclusive, irrevocable, worldwide license for the full term of copyright
to identify itself as the original publisher and to publish the article
for commercial purposes in print or in any electronic medium, alone or
in combination with other articles. BioMed Central would pay an author
a total of 50 percent of net receipts (revenues less costs) from any commercial
promise that access to research articles will remain free means that its
economic model has to rely on other sources of revenue, of course. The
notion of page charges has been floated, although currently BioMed Central
does not have them or charge for color figures. "At some stage, however."
BioMed Central states on its Web site, "it will probably need to charge
authors a moderate amount for publication to help support the cost of allowing
free access to primary papers. If so, the charge would be waived where
authors could not afford them." For now, "the company believes that a successful
science publishing operation can be built with income generated from offering
'added value' subscription-based information services in the form of review
journals, databases, and alerting services in addition to traditional advertising
revenues." Furthermore, although BioMed Central is primarily an electronic
publishing house, printed archival editions will be made available at the
end of each calendar year, and some articles that appear in affiliated
journals may also be published in printed form.
"The BioMed Central
initiative will have hard going," one commercial publisher asserted. "It's
not so easy to sustain as soon as you move outside the U.S. and certain
parts of Europe. Besides, the page-charge model rewards the wrong sort
of behavior. Those who can pay can publish."
I spoke with recently are divided on the subject of page charges, although
those opposing them probably represent the majority opinion in the industry.
"It's great to see somebody revive a concept that's been around for 40
years," one publisher told me. "Grants allow page charges for societies
only, not for commercial publishers. Page charges should support the first-copy
cost only, and since incremental distribution costs in electronic publishing
are very small, page charges can support the whole publishing process."
While this publisher thought that a venture that relied on page charges
would be a "significant competitor to the current publishing process,"
he acknowledged that "Vitek will need to find other sources of revenue."
A key question is, "Will researchers be willing to spend grant money on
publication?" There's that familiar problem, too: "Page charges are more
affordable to some groups in some subject areas than to others. There is
a big problem in the underdeveloped world."
was dismissive of page charges: "They're a dead duck. We took page charges
off the last of our society's journals this year. What's the point of hanging
onto an old model?"
"A page charge
model?" one publisher snapped. "What's the difference between page charges
and vanity publication? You just have a tendency to publish more pages."
CSG Chairman Vitek
Tracz has a history of starting and selling the medical and bioscience
publishing ventures he develops. Some he's kept, at least for the time
being, including, Gower Medical Publishing (books); Current Science Ltd
(the "Current Opinion" series of journals in many areas of clinical medicine,
as well as primary medical journals, which he sold); Current Medicine;
Current Drugs (the Investigational Drugs Database, IDdb); Science
Press; Current Biology Ltd ("Current Opinion" journals in various disciplines
of biology, as well as primary journals); one of the first communities
on the Web, BioMedNet (which Elsevier bought); Praxis Press (developers
of a major clinical medicine Web service, praxis.md); New Science Press
(books and journals, as well as teaching materials in the biological sciences
on the Web and in print); and, finally, BioMed Central. No wonder a publishing
veteran I spoke with recently reported joking with a colleague, "Vitek
started BioMed Central so he could sell it to [you fill in the blank]."
In the summer of
2001, BioMed Central announced that it had instituted a process by which
organizations can start their own online biomedical research journals,
which it will underwrite financially, using its new journal publishing
strategy. BioMed Central also announced that it would deposit e-journals
with the British Library. This deposit would take effect as soon as the
necessary system architecture was in place at the Library. At October 2001's
Frankfurt Book Fair, the head of the British Library told STM publishers
that the library had surveyed 20,000 business, science, and medical users
and learned from the 5,000 responses that customers want a single point
of entry to all information. Based on the survey, the library is working
with IBM to set up a digital library store and "outlicense" the collection.
Customers would pay for journal articles they want, not subscribe to journals.
The British Library head talked "partnership and cooperation" with publishers
and said that she didn't think this initiative would compete with subscriptions.
Scholars Themselves Join the
In the fall of
2000, with both BioMed Central and PubMed Central on the scene, a group
of bioscientists, several of whom had been involved in the development
of PubMed Central, including Varmus (You could hear the publishers scream,
"He's baaaack!") and new PubMed Central chief, David Lipman, initiated
another strategy to achieve free access to the literature. Echoing Varmus's
words, the group took the name Public Library of Science [http://www.publiclibraryofscience.org],
and developed an open letter that they began circulating by e-mail to scientists
around the world. "We recognize." the letter states, "that the publishers
of our scientific journals have a legitimate right to a fair financial
return for their role in scientific communication. We believe, however,
that the permanent, archival record of scientific research and ideas should
neither be owned nor controlled by publishers, but should belong to the
public and should be freely available through an international online public
"To encourage the
publishers of our journals to support this endeavor, we pledge that beginning
in September 2001, we will publish in, edit or review for, and personally
subscribe to, only those scholarly and scientific journals that have agreed
to grant unrestricted free distribution rights to any and all original
research reports that they have published, through PubMed Central and similar
online public resources within 6 months of their initial publication date."
There would be
no hedging this demand. Two PLoS founders put their views in no uncertain
terms, according to SPARC E-News: "Should the reward for the publishers'
small contributions be permanent, private ownership of the published record
of scientific research, and monopoly control over how, when, and by whom
a paper can be read or used and how much this access will cost? No!" In
April 2001, Mark Ward, BBC News Online technology correspondent, quoted
Dr. Michael Ashburner of the PLoS Group: "[The library] may not happen
this year, but it is going to happen because the technology is there and
scientists will demand it. This movement is not going to stop, no matter
how much the publishers scream."
When the Library
Journal Academic Newswire learned about the open letter, it reported,
in its Book Report for October 26, 2000, that 13 prominent scientists (in
addition to Varmus and Lipman, 10 were from Stanford and one from Berkeley)
had signed the letter. LJ asked Elsevier's unflappable Karen Hunter
the question, "Is a boycott of popular journals in the sciences really
on the horizon?" "'They are certainly within their rights to do that,'
she answered. 'But I don't think they'll find much support.'" The Book
Report noted, "Hunter sympathizes with issues of archivability and says
she is currently negotiating to participate in an archiving program. Hunter
is skeptical of any plan to collect research in one central, free library.
'Who would fund it? Government?' she asks. 'The fundraising of government
is so volatile, the priorities of government shift.' Hunter says that competition
in science publishing, both commercial and noncommercial, is essential
to innovation. 'Competition is useful,' she says. 'It facilitates new developments.'"
In the March 23,
2001, issue of Science, its editors cautioned that the PLoS proposal
would put not-for-profit scholarly publishers at risk because it would
"reroute an economically important source of online traffic for journals
that offer content and other products on their sites." Science did
agree to make its reports and articles available free on its Web site,
which uses the services of Stanford's HighWire Press to host the archive,
12 months after print issues are published. Around the same time, another
HighWire client, The Journal of Cell Biology, made its contents
freely available on its Web site 6 months after each issue's publication.
In support of this decision, editor-in-chief Ira Melman issued a statement,
"[t]he ability to search across thousands of servers, as long as those
servers do not have access controls, is the very reason that the Web is
such a powerful tool."
A PLoS response
to this news was posted on its Web site: "[W]e urge our scientific colleagues
to demand that their societies and journals disclose their full financial
records so that we can give fair consideration to the financial arrangements
that Science and other journals might offer against our proposal."
Better financial understanding might help calm the waters. A university
press publisher I contacted for this article noted "a tendency among scholars
to be unrealistic about costs in communications. It's a question of recognizing
what actual costs in the process are." Perhaps scholar relations committees,
along the lines of the library relations committees, might help, although
neither publishers nor scholars have time on their hands.
members sit on publications committees and presumably already know about
the finances of their publications, and whose members presumably decide
what do with any profits, had a sharp response to PLoS. The FASEB board
"denounced" what it called the PLoS "coercive effort": "FASEB encourages
debate on how best to improve the electronic publishing of, and access
to, peer-reviewed scientific papers. However, practicing scientists and
their representative organizations must be allowed to engage in constructive
discussion in an atmosphere that is respectful and free from coercion."
The American Society for Microbiology said it found the PLoS aims "too
extreme and unrealistic for ASM to support."
By the fall of
2001, over 28,000 life scientists had signed the open letter, and it is
having some effect, even though, according to a couple of the publishers
I spoke with, only a couple of thousand signatories are based in the U.S.
According to one society publisher, "Even though only one reviewer has
stopped reviewing for one of our journals because of our position on PLoS,
it is having a strong influence on pricing of our journal archive — whether
there should be a price or not, that is, should articles be free x number
of months or years after publication?"
The issue of the
locations of PLoS signers came up in another of my conversations: "A large
percentage of research comes from outside the U.S. What percentage of PLoS
signers come from the developing world? They face harsher economic realities
than our scientists do, so they tend to benefit more if PLoS succeeds."
In any case, PLoS
rhetoric leaves publishers shaking their heads. "There are a few people
who have a particular idea they're trying to push," a commercial publisher
told me. "Most of the other scholars who've signed the PLoS open letter
haven't thought about the issue in depth." A society publisher called PLoS
"a group of well-meaning zealots, who are misguided in their tactics. They're
small in number. Almost all are in the life sciences. People in other parts
of the sciences are out of sympathy with them and find them irrelevant."
publisher said that "money made on publications published by societies
is used for other society activities. I don't know where PLoS is going.
Looks like it's stalled. Only 2,500 signatories from the U.S. They're mostly
researchers in the life sciences. Most clinicians have other things to
do with their time. Journal publishing isn't such a big pressure point
in medicine. Boycotts or petitions should be about humanitarian issues.
There's no evidence that medical practice suffers from journal publishing
doing something about the costs of their publications in poor nations.
In July, the Times reported that the major publishers of about 80
percent of medical journals (Academic, Blackwell, Elsevier, Kluwer, Springer,
and Wiley) were expected to announce an agreement to provide researchers
in developing countries with online access to their publications free or
at sharply reduced prices.
seem to be doing something about archiving, which isn't a simple problem
for them to solve. A university press publisher acknowledged that "centralized
archives for back volumes is an issue that has to be addressed, especially
for society journals that shift publishers from time to time. But, it ain't
free. Formats change, and all versions are not backward compatible, as
well." This year, the Harvard University Library announced that it will
partner with Blackwell, Wiley, and the University of Chicago Press to develop
an experimental archive for electronic journals. The long-term venture
is sponsored by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which has already awarded
a $145,000 grant to Harvard for the planning of an electronic journal archive,
according to Library Journal Academic Newswire. In February 2001,
the Yale University Library announced its own Mellon-funded agreement with
Elsevier to develop a model electronic archive.
One of the commercial
publishers I spoke with offered this perspective: "Archives exist in print
form in many, many places. They're free to those people who can get to
them. Or you can get material through ILL. It would be very nice if all
archives were freely available, and it is an irresistible movement. But
can they be totally free? They do cost someone money. Archives will have
to be put in an overall business context. Our experience in the last 3
years is that libraries are quite willing to pay to acquire backfiles as
a way of avoiding ILL costs, among other things."
announced that it is considering publishing journals with original research
papers, timely reviews, essays, and commentary online. The plan has not
yet been launched publicly, but under initial proposals, journals would
be published online with page charges and institutional charges covering
the estimated cost per manuscript, expected to be approximately $300 per
published article. Costs would be subsidized for authors who cannot afford
charges. PLoS announced that it had already negotiated tentative terms
of a service contract with an "established online publisher."
to PLoS, "It is now clear that if we really want to change the publication
of scientific research, we must do the publishing ourselves. It is time
for us to work together to create the journals we have called for. We are
working to establish a nonprofit scientific publisher under the banner
of the Public Library of Science, operated by scientists, for the benefit
of science and the public."
"Whether a researcher-created
publication will be successful is open to question," a publisher told me
flatly. "People pushing for these new systems are sitting on tenure committees.
They give more weight to high-impact journals. They won't give publications
in electronic media the same consideration. Researchers have an informal
rating system. They believe that you can get something published if you
try long and hard enough."
industry is extremely skeptical as to how PLoS is going to pull anything
off," a publisher told me in early September 2001. "They're unlikely to
be successful, although they could shake hands with Vitek. He could provide
infrastructure, business acumen, marketing, etc. Vitek could put this together."
It turns out that
the "established online publisher" that PLoS referred to is apparently
Vitek's BioMed Central, which in an October 2001 press release, after stating
that it embraced the goals of PLoS, announced that it is receiving submissions
from "[m]any scientists who signed the PloS open letter [and] are actively
supporting open-access publishers like BioMed Central; Uta Franke from
Stanford University, one of the hundreds of authors who submit their research
to BioMed Central each month, comments; 'This is my first submission to
BioMed Central and I am quite excited about it. As a signer of the PLoS
open letter, I am taking seriously the commitment I made to support the
goals of the PLoS movement.'"
The BioMed Central
press release went on to state that "[t]here has been little in the way
of response from the big scientific and medical publishers since the boycott
was imposed on September 1st. One of the few publishers to comment is the
CEO of Elsevier Science, Derk Haank, who believes there is no evidence
of a boycott. However, this comment was made barely a week after the boycott
"We welcome the
actions of scientists like Uta Franke who vote with their submissions and
eagerly await the real effect of the growing support for 'open-access'
which is being demonstrated by the increasing number of scientists signing
the PloS open letter."
Another Player, Another Business
A commercial secondary
publishing executive I spoke with in summer 2001 mentioned "an upstart
Florida company which sells biological equipment to laboratories" as a
threat to established secondary publishers, because the Florida company,
in his opinion, used its abstracting and indexing service as a loss leader
and undercut the traditional abstract service publisher. The company, TheScientificWorld
which was incorporated in May, 1999 by Eric Tomlinson and Jeff Hillier,
has about 60 employees and has raised $20.5 million. TheScientificWorld
started in fall 1999 with both a purchasing service of scientific supplies
and equipment through an arrangement with Fisher Scientific and other suppliers
of biological resources, as well as a citation collection. Called sciBASE,
the citation and abstract service offers free searching that covers journal
literature and conferences from sources such as MEDLINE, the British Library
(for conferences), BIOSIS, CAB Abstracts, and PASCAL from INIST-CNRS. sciBASE
is linked to a fee-based full-text delivery service with 500 journals from
publishers including IOS Press, the International Union of Pure and Applied
Chemistry, Blackwell Scientific, Taylor and Francis, and Mary Ann Liebert.
Among other services, TheScientificWorld also offers users a personal news
page made up of news and feature articles, plus an alerting service covering
publications, meeting announcements, and news.
In April 2001,
TheScientificWorld began to compete not only with established primary publishers,
but also with Vitek's BioMed Central, when it started a multidisciplinary,
life and environmental sciences, peer-reviewed, online journal, TheScientificWorldJOURNAL.
The Webzine is site-license-based, but will make the full text of its articles
free of charge through public online libraries (e.g., PubMed Central) after
12 months. Authors will retain copyright in their work, and, if either
they or sponsors pay a "a commercially viable publication fee," their articles
will be offered free of charge in the first year of publication. TheScientificWorld
announced that it would archive the articles in its journal permanently.
It was Vitek-with-a-twist.
recruited scholars to aid in the development of the new journal, which
Jeff Hillier called a "groundbreaking effort." An October 2001 press release
announced that TheScientificWorldJOURNAL had reached agreements with more
than 350 scientists to serve as principal editors, associate editors, and
editorial board members. "This editorial network," the press release stated,
"guides the direction of TheScientificWorldJOURNAL and ensures all submitted
scientific work undergoes rigorous peer review."
"SPARC gets two
or three calls a month from journal editorial boards," SPARC's Alison Buckholtz
told me recently. "They have questions about serving their communities,
subscription pricing, whether authors can retain rights to their papers,
speed of production, and values — because of all the outsourcing, older
editors feel their publishers aren't as friendly as they used to be. Older
editors can be bigger risk takers than the younger ones. They'll consider
an alternative journal, which takes a long time to get up and running,
if they're not getting the value from their relationship with an established
publisher, if it's not about their community any more. Where are the prices
going, are the journal's policies changing? They want lower prices. That
would enable access from the start."
On his proselytizing
Web site, Michael Rosenzweig presents his rationale for why he quit as
the editor of a Kluwer journal and started his own SPARC-sponsored alternative
and why he encourages other editors to follow his lead. To date, there
are, as far as I know, just two well-publicized instances of editorial
boards picking up and leaving a commercially published journal.
In November 1999,
the complete editorial board (50 editors in total) of Elsevier's Journal
of Logic Programming (JLP) collectively resigned after 16 months
of unsuccessful negotiations about the price of library subscriptions.
They founded a new journal, Theory and Practice of Logic Programming
(TPLP) with Cambridge University Press, with the first issue scheduled
for January 2001. The Association for Logic Programming (ALP) withdrew
its support for the JLP and adopted TPLP as its sole official
journal, and several authors withdrew their submissions to the JLP
and resubmitted them to TPLP.
The former editors
agreed to keep their names on the JLP masthead until the end of
2000, the moment when all their JLP papers were to have been published.
Elsevier decided to continue the JLP with another editorial board.
The former board did not leave quietly. Their resignation announcement
stated that "[t]he Association, the former editors, and the logic programming
community strongly believe that there is support for only one logic programming
Recently, 40 people
resigned from the editorial board of Kluwer's Machine Learning Journal
to lend their support to the alternative publication,
Research. Their letter of resignation, which SPARC circulated, asserted
that they had resigned over the Kluwer journal's pricing level:
While these fees
provide access for institutions and individuals who can afford them, we
feel that they also have the effect of limiting contact between the current
machine learning community and the potentially much larger community of
researchers worldwide whose participation in our field should be the fruit
of the modern Internet.
None of the revenue
stream from the journal makes its way back to authors, and in this context
authors should expect a particularly favorable return on their intellectual
contribution — they should expect a service that maximizes the distribution
of their work. We see little benefit accruing to our community from a mechanism
that ensures revenue for a third party by restricting the communication
channel between authors and readers.
According to Information
Today, Kluwer issued a press release about MLJ to respond to
this situation. It read in part:
Publishers will continue its full support of the artificial intelligence
community and Machine Learning. Kluwer's commitment to the Machine
Learning community includes:
"Well, the journal
editors we talk with aren't jumping up and down," a commercial publisher
told me. "We can still provide satisfactory answers to their questions.
What is the set of services the publishers are offering? Are authors happy
with them? Can anyone do better?"
Posting of accepted
articles for free on the journal's Web site immediately upon acceptance
to post their papers on their own Web site, prior to and after publication
Serving our editors,
authors, and reviewers with an electronic reviewing system
from promotion to copyediting to distribution that ensure their work will
reach the community, and reach it with a professional presentation
Representing the journal
at conferences across all of computer science, exposing it to communities
outside of machine learning
Maintaining the current
individual subscription price of $120
Including in the 2002
volumes over 15 percent more content with a less than 5 percent price increase
publisher said that "quite a few people have been persuaded that publishers
are overcharging, but most people in research are too busy and realize
that the costs of publication are a very small fraction of the costs of
doing research. At best one is talking only about reducing the cost,
not eliminating it. The only argument is about the margin."
The fact of SPARC's
existence has had an effect on a commercial publisher's pricing policies
in another case. Last year, the American Association of Physical Anthropologists
(AAPA), which publishes the American Journal of Physical Anthropology
with Wiley, announced a new publishing agreement, under which Wiley reduced
the institutional subscription rate from $2,085 to $1,390 per year, offered
a second institutional subscription at 20 percent of the full rate, and
initiated a special rate for lapsed or new non-member subscribers.
Dr. Jonathan Friedlaender,
chair of the Publications Committee for the AAPA and a professor of Anthropology
at Temple University, credited SPARC's existence as a critical factor in
negotiating the successful agreement. "SPARC's activities and counsel played
an essential role in our successful negotiations with our journal's publisher
(and owner)," he said. "SPARC helped educate us on the history and present
condition of academic journal publishing; they offered informed opinions
on what they thought the future held in store; and, probably most importantly,
the publisher knew we'd been in contact with SPARC and were considering
their advice of starting a competing journal. Both our journal and association
stand to benefit substantially by the contract."
are not sitting on their hands. In summer 2001, the executive council of
the AAP's PSP Division decided to move ahead with an image campaign promoting
the positive aspects of traditional professional and scholarly publishing
through print, media, and electronic channels directed to library, academic,
and other user constituencies. An RFP has been sent to a number of public
relations, advertising, and publicity firms.
Publishers Face a Changing
non-issues," a society publisher told me, "because people are worked up
about them. But you can't single out publishers as the lone bandits who
make profits from research. What about the oil companies and the pharmaceuticals?
Suppose everything were free online," this publisher went on. "Eventually,
someone would come along and say, 'This is a mess,' and would replace it
with a publication or system with an article selection system. Good can
come of this. Publishers will get moving to show their value."
A commercial publisher
sounded a cautionary tone:
initiatives are a threat to traditional publishers, although the non-profits
will find it easier to meet the threat. SPARC and PLoS are threats. Their
threat isn't going to develop overnight, but it's real in the long run,
driven by enablements of the technological revolution. The situation isn't
threatening now, but 10 years from now it will look very different. The
margins of the commercial publishers won't be sustainable. They'll need
to offer new services. Societies may have to put more pressure on dues.
Commercial publishers will have to offer new services and may have to adjust
their profit expectations. They'll have to find other revenue streams not
directly tied to journals — handbooks, numerical databases, targeted niche
services to researchers that will save time and money.
For purely bibliographic
database vendors — in the long run I don't see that they're going to be
needed once everything is available online and everything is tied together.
I think there will be a problem there. All intermediaries will be under
threat. I recognize that PLoS wants to preserve the peer-review system.
So we're still going to have hierarchies of experts. An Eprint server will
submit a paper to a board, but the moment the paper is accepted, a switch
is flipped, and publication time is cut to zero. Distribution time reduced
to zero. Now couple this with well-thought-out author tools.
"We're in a period
of transition in a totally different world with fundamental changes," another
commercial publishing executive told me. "There will be a significant change
in scholarly communication in the next decade A lot more will be gotten
out of the information — what you can do with the text that the abstract
doesn't cover. The standard article won't go away. It will get richer.
There will be added data. The traditional journal will evolve. The need
for refereed information is still strong. The journal isn't doomed. It
will become a piece in a much more sophisticated information system. Our
company takes seriously the fact that things are changing.
"Who's going to
do all this? It should be the publishers. It's a waste of time for the
scientists themselves. When should stuff be made available to the world?
That's still a role for publishers."
no panic on the publishers' side," another commercial publisher told me.
"The journal culture — peer review, tenure — is going to change very slowly."
Well, there you
have it. Three years of scholars' involvement in the STM journals war,
call the involvement what you will, 3 years of initiatives, 3 years of
press releases, 3 years of acrimony. Three years of Varmus, Vitek, and
There was one major
mistake. For whatever reason, whether because of lack of awareness, or
arrogance, or too much time spent too near the NLM staff member who told
me years ago that "publishers are thieves," Varmus refused to recognize
that there are not-for-profit publishers, most of them learned societies,
and there are commercial publishers, and there are differences between
the two of them. It's one thing to go into battle against commercial enterprises
— people do it all the time, after all — but it's quite another thing to
do something that might harm an organization that exists to do good, and
has a tax exemption to prove it, and makes money to further its noble aims,
self-proclaimed though they may be. So PubMed Central had to be reined
in, lest it tramples what are, in essence, scholars' own publishing programs,
carried out by the societies they govern.
and TheScientificWorld may be making the same mistake. And despite their
garnering scholars' editorial participation, those same scholars may become
concerned that these commercial enterprises could be acquired some day
by established commercial publishers, the same publishers some scholars
are trying to avoid. In addition, it remains to be seen whether online
publication with commercial enterprises guarantees the status and permanence
that the academy requires, no matter what arrangements the enterprises
have with PubMed Central or the British Library.
We can expect more
press releases. SPARC has a well-oiled machine for generating them itself,
and the AAP's PSP Division, as noted earlier, is undertaking its own image
campaign. BioMed Central is playing the press release game hard, and TheScientificWorld
has a PR firm actively representing its interests. Don't expect the PubMed
Central people to fall silent. The battle for the hearts and minds of scholars
will continue to be waged fiercely.
journals program is off to a good start, but its growth potential remains
questionable. There is a lot of inertia in the journal-publishing system,
so I don't expect an explosion in the number of SPARC alternative journals.
And I don't know of a single commercially published journal that has folded
yet, although, as noted, there is at least one case of a subscription price
reduction. It's safe to predict, however, that SPARC will have more and
more successes, though limited in number.
As for the PLoS
undertaking publishing on its own, that possibility is a non-starter, in
my opinion, unless the writing of grant proposals, and everything else
a scholar has to do just to survive, becomes much less time consuming.
Publishing may be an accidental profession, but getting it right takes
expertise and persistence. Finishing a paper and pressing the send button
doesn't mean you've published it. But a PLoS fear factor could very well
have an effect on archiving policies throughout STM publishing.
It's time for their
adversaries, if they haven't done so already, to recognize that STM publishers
drive scholarship in a major way. Everyone knows that not every paper is
worthy of publication, but the journals business does provide wide distribution
of the papers worth publishing. The question is, as it always has been,
is the distribution wide enough?
It is also time
for the STM publishers, if they haven't done so already, to recognize that
libraries' financial position may now be getting tenuous, given the condition
of the global economy, and to continue to encourage and accommodate more
consortial arrangements. Even the moderating of price increases and a resulting
moderating of profits might have to be considered, as difficult as that
may be for shareholders and boards of directors to swallow.
publishers, as they have shown, do have the money and the will to innovate,
to use the Internet to everyone's advantage, and they would do well to
continue to recognize that it is in their own interests, as well as everyone
else's, that they continue to do so. Rebellions do have a way of getting
out of hand, or of founding new and better alternatives, depending on your
perspective. Publishers would do well to remember that at the beginning
and end of the journal-publishing process is an author or an editor, and
the relationship between publisher and author or editor is vital.
The late Robert
Maxwell, of dastardly reputation, who nevertheless was a major player in
the postwar rise of commercial STM journals publishing, was well aware
of the relationship, to judge by an anecdote dating to a period long after
he had left his journal publishing operations in the hands of his employees.
After a problem with the editors of a journal that Maxwell himself had
started in the early days had spun out of the control, it was Maxwell who
got the editors on the phone and "knocked heads" until the problem was
resolved. After many years, apparently, an old relationship between publisher
and editors was what really mattered.
the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) — a non-voting member of the
Professional and Scholarly Publishing Division of the Association of American
Publishers, the trade association that represents the interests of both
commercial and not-for-profit publishers — is a staunch supporter of PLoS
and PubMed Central, although critical of the latter's evolution. In the
summer of 2001, as the PLoS deadline approached, Mary Case, head of ARL's
Office of Scholarly Communication, writing on the SPARC Web site, acknowledged
publishers are concerned that in disciplines where the drop-off in use
over time is gradual, libraries will depend on the free access provided
through the central archives rather than subscribe. In those cases, the
journal may either have to cease publication or significantly increase
the subscription price to its remaining subscribers.... Libraries could
reduce the risk for societies by pledging to continue to subscribe to society
titles that make their content available for free after 6 months and keep
their prices at reasonable levels.
Case called on
the members of her association and profession to be more assertive:
Libraries can also
help in a number of other ways. First, find out who on your campus has
already signed the Open Letter. Names and institutions are available on
the PLoS Web site. Talk with these faculty, listen to their rationale,
and encourage them to talk with others in their departments. Second, provide
the entire biomedical and life sciences faculty with information about
the PLoS and issues in scholarly communication. Provide the names of their
colleagues who have signed the letter and may be willing to discuss it
Third, be prepared
to provide or suggest alternative venues for faculty to publish in as of
September 1. If publishers believe faculty have no other options, they
have no real incentive to change their practices. Publishers can wait until
September 1 and see what happens when 23,700+ scientists suddenly have
nowhere to submit their papers. While you want to be sure to keep track
of the publishers that have joined PMC, they may not on their own be able
to absorb all of the new submissions. The leadership group of the PLoS
has recognized this dilemma and is in the process of seeking out alternative
publishing vehicles. In the meantime, it is important to explore with your
faculty the possibility of setting up independent editorial boards. The
PMC will accept submissions from such groups as long as three members of
the board are currently principal investigators on research grants from
major funding agencies. The library could play an important role in supporting
the formation of such new "journals" and providing technical support and
action the library can take is to cancel titles that do not agree to support
the goals of the PLoS. If your faculty have signed the Open Letter and
alternative journals are launched, it is time to cancel those that choose
to ignore the interests of the scientists they are intended to serve.
SPARC has two Web-based
initiatives devoted to faculty outreach. At the beginning of last year,
SPARC and ARL's Office of Scholarly Communication (OSC) launched "Create
Change," a year-long campaign focused on reaching faculty through contact
with librarians. Create Change is now a Web site with resources for both
faculty and librarians. It is co-sponsored by ARL, the Association of College
and Research Libraries (ACRL), and SPARC, with support from the little
known (at least to me) Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, which Mrs. Delmas
founded in 1976 to encourage an intellectual interest in Venetian history
and civilization. So why the SPARC contribution? According to the foundation's
Web site, with contributions from the estate of Mrs. Delmas's husband,
a publisher and businessman, in 1988, and her own estate, in 1991, the
foundation expanded its interests to include the humanities, research
libraries, and the performing arts in New York City. [Emphasis added.]
In early January
2001, SPARC and the Triangle Research Libraries Network (TRLN) launched
Declaring Independence: A Guide to Creating Community-Controlled Science
Journals and formally unveiled the initiative during ALA. Declaring Independence
is a Web site [http://www.arl.org/sparc/DI]
and a print handbook that approaches journals editors and editorial boards