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Open access and academic journals: the publishers respond

Fees charged by academic publishers to access research journals have caused no small amount of consternation among readers…

Much of academic publishing has shifted online but that has created new costs, the publishers say. Flickr/rosefirerising

Fees charged by academic publishers to access research journals have caused no small amount of consternation among readers of scholarly research and fuelled the rise of the Open Access movement.

As part of a series on Open Access, The Conversation asked two top journal publishers – Wiley (which operates Wiley Online Library) and Elsevier (publishers of The Lancet and Cell) – for their side of the story.

Wiley’s answers were provided by Steven Miron, Senior Vice President of Scientific, Technical, Medical and Scholarly, Wiley.

Elsevier’s answers were provided by Dr. Alicia Wise, Director Universal Access, Elsevier.


What is your position on Open Access databases and institutional repositories like those at MIT, Harvard, and other academic institutions?

Wiley: Researchers publish their work in a variety of ways. In deciding how best to do so, they can choose rapid communication methods to their fellow researchers or slower, more formal publication in a high-status journal.

We support the idea that researchers should be able to publish their work wherever they wish to achieve their intended aims.

The decision to submit a manuscript for publication in a peer-review journal reflects the researcher’s desire to obtain credentialing for the work described. The publishing process, from peer review through distribution and enabling discovery, adds value, which is manifest in the final version of the article and formally validates the research and the researcher.

This process requires investment on the part of the publisher and we wish to recover our investments and ultimately profit from them. Naturally, we are concerned that posting the final versions of published articles in Open Access and institutional repositories lacking viable business models may have an adverse impact on the business of scholarly communication. We also recognise the desires of academic institutions to showcase the work of their faculty and are engaging with them to find mutually satisfactory solutions.

Elsevier: We believe the voluntary posting of manuscripts (but not the final published article of record in pdf form) is an acceptable practice for authors, and that both institutions and publishers should respect their choices. As a matter of principle, we believe authors should be able to publish wherever they choose without undue restriction.

But when an institution mandates the systematic posting of manuscripts, it is important that we work with them to ensure that their requirements are sustainable for the underlying journal. That’s why we created agreements with funding bodies such as the Wellcome Trust, to enable authors to comply in ways that we believe will be sustainable. We’re currently setting up and testing similar agreements for individual institutions.

What are you doing to boost access to scholarly work?

Wiley: Wiley’s mission is to be a valued and respected provider of content products and services, in print and digitally, that help our customers achieve their personal and professional objectives while making important advances in knowledge and understanding around the world.

Our focus is on continuing to deliver high-quality content in multiple formats that can be accessed anytime and anywhere, through products and services. Wiley Online Library provides seamless, integrated access to more than 4 million articles from 1,500 journals, 10,000 books, and hundreds of multi-volume reference works, laboratory protocols, and databases, and delivered in excess of 150 million full-text accesses in the last 12 months.

Wiley offers a variety of options for gaining access to the content offered via Wiley Online Library, including negotiated licenses for institutional collection access, institutional subscriptions at the title level; Pay-Per-View and prepaid article tokens. Wiley customers choose negotiated licenses for access to journal collections because they are able to provide their users with access to many more journals than those to which they subscribe at a fraction of the regular price.

Collection licenses continue to increase as a proportion of our business.

The spotlight on individual consortia or institutions moving away from negotiated licenses portrays an unrealistic picture, from Wiley’s experience.

Wiley Online Library offers a considerable amount of content for free. Any user may search across all the content in the service and browse to the abstract or chapter summary level free of charge. Users may browse free sample journal issues. A number of titles offer free access to their backfile of older content and over a third of our journals offer the OnlineOpen option, which allows the author to pay a fee to ensure that the article is made freely available to all upon publication.

Wiley also participates in the Research4Life program, the Emergency Access Initiative, the Programme for the Enhancement of Research Information (PERii).

Elsevier: For starters, access levels today are quite high. In fact, 93% of academic researchers say they are happy with their access levels. There are still access gaps, however, and we’re working on closing these by, for example, crafting licenses that extend access to small business or secondary students or by populating online lending services. We also work with funding bodies and institutions on sustainable posting policies and showcase their research outputs.

We currently have around 1100 journal titles offering authors the option to sponsor open access to their articles. We also have 31 titles that offer a delayed access option and three author-pays journals. In the world’s poorest countries, we provide free or low-cost access to scientific information through Research 4Life, of which Elsevier is a founding partner and leading contributor.

Some have argued that the fees charged to access individual articles from most journals are too high. Why are those costs at the level they are at? What do those costs cover?

Wiley: The published version of a research article has been shepherded through a rigorous peer review process, validating its importance, authenticity, and credibility. Publishers bear the costs of organising that process and incorporate the revisions recommended through the peer review process, copy-edit, typeset in XML, add links to citations and make the article more easily discoverable through the many search engines used by readers.

Moreover, the cost of accessing an individual article for customers paying annual subscription fees has steadily declined since journals began to be published online. Low cost options for individuals without access to library collections journals exist such as DeepDyve, with whom Wiley partners, which offers article rentals for as low as U.S. $0.99.

Elsevier: Elsevier and other publishers provide essential services to authors such as registration, validation, dissemination and archiving. As the number of journals and articles expand, our customers are deriving more value from their license agreements that provide access to more content.

When our customers do their analysis, however, they discover that the per-article cost basis on annual subscription fees is far lower than initially perceived. The average price paid per article downloaded has fallen substantially since the late 1990s. This is a result of our moving away from individual print subscriptions in favour of institutional licenses for a broader range of journals on SciVerse ScienceDirect, Elsevier’s online database for full text articles.

Some have argued that the internet has driven down production costs and prices should be cut accordingly. What is your view?

Wiley: Many expenses of initial publication are incurred regardless of how we deliver our products and services. Fixed expenses include: the costs of editorial offices, staffing and submissions, the management of peer review and production systems, as well as revenue sharing with society publishing partners who rely on this income to fund their professional development and other activities.

Savings due to online delivery, distributed printing, and other applications of technology, are met with new costs: investing in, maintaining, and improving the hardware and software infrastructure; 24-hour customer support; and innovative, valuable services like CrossRef (reference linking); CrossMark (certification of the Version of Record); and ORCID (author name disambiguation).

Elsevier: That’s a common misperception, but the reality is that the age of the internet hasn’t really changed the basic role and services publishers provide. Quality assurance through peer review, production, marketing, dissemination, and archiving of primary research findings still remain essential to the scientific community, also in a digital publishing environment. The costs of these processes won’t go away.

When we specifically look at production costs, it’s important to realise two things. First of all, print has not disappeared. We are printing less, but the upfront cost still exists. Secondly, the reality is that internet and digitisation of content is an added cost that publishers can rightfully recoup. Especially when you consider the substantial investment in technology enhancements to digitised content, the internet actually makes the production process more expensive.

Despite all this, the price paid per downloaded article has shown a dramatic decline.

Why do you place copyright restrictions on work published in your journals?

Wiley: Copyright facilitates international protection against infringement and plagiarism and provides redress for the author and the publisher against misuse so that the contribution can be made available to the fullest extent. It enables Wiley-Blackwell to maintain the integrity of content by facilitating centralized management of all media forms including linking, reference validation and distribution.

Copyright does not stand in the way of our mission to provide broad access to our publications through a wide variety of flexible access options — to the contrary, it enables it. We work hard to achieve a level of quality that can all too easily be compromised by those who misappropriate our content without any benefit to the authors, partners, and stakeholders who have invested in the publishing process.

Elsevier: Copyright law is not about restrictions – in this case, it is about providing a compensating reward to enable publishers to invest in high quality titles and innovative solutions to make the authors’ works widely available, discoverable and accessible.

How has the advent of the internet changed the industry?

Wiley: We are evolving from being a provider of content in static form to being a provider of dynamic new types of products and services our customers use to do their jobs, learn what they need to know, and live their lives. We are developing new ways to use our content in workflow solutions that help them achieve their goals. The bottom line is that we are now providing more access to more content to more people than ever before, with flexible product and business models that more closely meet the needs of our customers and reflect the value of our products and services to them.

New technologies enable publishers like Wiley to deliver content anytime and anywhere; create transformative ways for people to interact with content; address different learning styles; and engage with authors, readers, and partners. Yet the core of what we do remains unchanged: publishers facilitate teaching and learning; refine content into finished works; add credibility; promote scholarly discourse; validate research; help authors connect with readers; and help to transform information into knowledge and understanding. Publishers provide both parts of the knowledge economy – a trusted source of the information, analysis and context that leads to knowledge and a business model that rewards innovation, the preservation of the corpus of literature and the post-publication stewardship of the version of record of an article.

Elsevier: The internet provides our industry with great opportunities. From the early beginning, Elsevier has recognized and embraced these opportunities by investing in digital innovation, developing digital formats and services to provide easy access to quality information, in a way that consumers appreciate and value. Also, the internet allows us to create new business models that provide new sources of value for both users and authors.

So the internet has indeed changed the industry. From our perspective, it has changed the industry for the better. The digital age enables us to transform from being a content provider to being an information solutions provider, adding more value to the scientific community.

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