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Are Open Access Initiatives “Catastrophic” for Commercial Publishers?

Damage from the 1950 hurricane

Damage from the 1950 hurricane (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Elsevier has had a target on its back for years when it comes to OA, so it’s not surprising in this environment that a financial analyst is now warning that OA trends could prove “catastrophic” for Reed-Elsevier, lowering their profits by 60%:

Elsevier journal revenues would be under significant threat because the article processing charges it would earn for many of its publications are unlikely to prove anywhere near what the company needs to be revenue neutral. . . . We think the risk posed to the Elsevier business model is substantial. We believe investors are underestimating the disruption that both the EC and even the UK policies could pose to the business model of Elsevier . . .

Despite what this analyst says, there are many reasons to believe otherwise, and not just for Elsevier but for most, if not all, major commercial publishers:

  1. The math. Here’s some arithmetic, for those of you who still believe in it — if Elsevier is generating profit margins of 33% from its journals business (not clear this is so, but that’s the conventional wisdom), this impact, if as dramatic as this analyst believes it might be, could lower the margins on Elsevier’s journals business as it is currently conducted to 14%. This is still a good business, albeit not a darling of the stock exchange (except maybe nowadays). It seems worth noting that, in a bit of irony, the stock market power of Elsevier or any other company usually helps provide money for next-round investments in new businesses or entities. In this instance, PaidContent, the site reporting on this analyst’s claim, is part of GigaOm, which is partially funded by Elsevier Ventures. Good journalism, but what happens when there’s less money in Elsevier’s pockets? Math has a way of being merciless.
  2. The market. This is the opinion of one analyst, one who is not necessarily reading the tea leaves correctly. There is a lot of misinformation about OA and what it means for scholarly publishing, and it still remains in a definite minority position as a business model, even with mandates on its side. After all, there are mandates for deposit of manuscripts at the NIH, and a very low compliance rate even though it is free to do so. It’s easy to imagine that the compliance rate when a researcher has to pay to publish might be even lower — and funding for the mandates and for any compliance monitoring are key unsolved issues. A petition that garnered just over 12,000 signatories to protest Elsevier is easily given too much credence, while a larger number of paying customers and satisfied scientists are glossed over because they are the status quo.
  3. Adaptation is well underway. Elsevier has made some quiet moves to enter the OA space, including launching 25 OA journals, and publishing 1,200 journals with hybrid arrangements in which authors can opt to pay to make their articles OA. Other commercial and large not-for-profit publishers have been adapting for a while, including Wiley, Springer, Nature, SAGE, OUP, PLoS, and more. Price points vary widely, as do ownership arrangements, editorial approaches, and profitability. OA is not one thing. It’s a modified toll gate arrangement, with the toll gate moving from in front of the content to being flipped around so that it’s in front of the publisher’s release point. What the toll gate charges, and what services are withheld prior to payment, can and do vary. Toll gates exist in either OA or subscription publishing, however, so why an expert in one toll gate wouldn’t be able to execute another just as expertly isn’t clear. What is clear is that Elsevier is entering the OA space, and, if history is any guide, they will not be trying to go broke doing so.
  4. The gravitational effects of quality. There are real concerns emerging about the quality and reliability of the underlying literature, as producing, protecting, and filtering it becomes less profitable and synthesis, data, and intelligence services become more profitable. This shift of revenues will cause editors, publishers, and customers to shift their focus from the publication of primary research to development of secondary services. But the bottom line for any data, synthesis, or intelligence service is “garbage in, garbage out.” Right now, these services can perch on top of a literature that isn’t flawless, but that is generally quite reliable. What happens if the literature becomes less filtered, if quality standards are lowered as they are in some mega-journals, if publishers cater to authors more than to readers, and if conflicts of interest aren’t weeded out as reliably? What price are we willing to pay for fundamental quality?
  5. The lack of a price ceiling. The growth in OA mega-journals might be attributed to the pricing of the services (i.e., low), but in fact, the growth may be due to the ease of publication, which is the truly valuable part of these outlets for researchers. If this is the case, then the price point may be artificially low, and could move up significantly without upsetting the community. That is, if the market for rapid, one-stop publication is less price-sensitive than OA publishers currently believe, rapid and easy OA publication could become quite expensive and quite lucrative. There is no law of nature keeping these prices low.
  6. Evidence of OA’s profitability. OA publishing can be quite profitable. Aside from last year’s 22% profit margin and this year’s 18% profit margin for PLoS, more and more publishers are whispering about how this or that OA journal or journals family is surprisingly profitable, with margins that in some cases are standouts in larger companies. Commercial publishers aren’t going to miss these facts, and some of these journals I’ve heard about are already with commercial publishers. Springer didn’t acquire BioMed Central to lose money, and Wolters-Kluwer isn’t starting down the OA path with vigor in order to avoid profits. The analyst quoted in the PaidContent story may be exactly wrong — OA initiatives may make commercial publishers even more profitable.

Commercial publishers have adapted to new revenue streams before, and some quite recently. When society and association memberships were in their heyday during the 1940s through the 1980s, commercial publishers were there to become intertwined with these lucrative revenue streams. When print advertising was strong in certain fields, commercial publishers learned the business. When online sales became the norm in the late 1990s, commercial publishers were quick to learn not only how to sell these, but how to bundle them into the Big Deals we’re all familiar with. And when the market for primary literature down-shifted, secondary services and data initiatives started popping up as commercial publishers adapted to this shift.

Never underestimate the power of scale combined with the motivation of having something to lose.

This also should serve as a sober warning to those who believe non-publishers can easily become publishers thanks to the Internet or other tangential magic. It’s not as easy as it might seem, and even if you can do it, success will foster competition, which can be extremely difficult to fend off if the competitor has advantages you can’t match. And even if you can compete in the current environment, subsequent adaptation to market evolution is expensive.

In short, there’s little reason to believe that OA initiatives will be “catastrophic” for commercial publishers. These publishers have the staff, contracts, contacts, infrastructure, experience, archives, and technologies that can help them turn the corner into an OA world with more than a bit of “Tokyo drift” flair, if that’s where the market goes. Many are actively turning the corner now. This particular analyst’s concern may be misplaced. Looking at the market and the history of consolidation for the sake of market efficiency, I’d be more concerned if I weren’t a commercial publisher in the OA space. After all, OA is made for scalable efficiency, and commercial publishers have that in spades.

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About Kent Anderson

I am the CEO/Publisher of the STRIATUS/JBJS, Inc., the home of the Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery, JBJS Case Connector, JBJS Reviews, JBJS Essential Surgical Techniques, the JBJS Recertification Course, PRE-score, and SocialCite. Prior to this, I was an executive at the New England Journal of Medicine. I also was Director of Medical Journals at the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Discussion

40 thoughts on “Are Open Access Initiatives “Catastrophic” for Commercial Publishers?

  1. Kent,

    I think there are two separate questions here. One is: Can commercial publishers survive and thrive in an OA world? The other is: Might such a business model shift change–perhaps greatly–the current competitive/market-share landscape?

    I think the answer to both questions is, “Yes.”

    Scott
    (I work at Springer, my opinions are solely my own.)

    Posted by sjepstein | Sep 14, 2012, 7:17 am
    • I agree Scott, but the prior question is will this shift-change actually occur? I am beginning to doubt it.

      Posted by David Wojick | Sep 14, 2012, 7:42 am
    • On BBC Rado 4 last night, David Byrne (Radiohead), was asked how the record industry had gone so quickly from extremely profitable to struggling for survival, having failed to predict change or adapt to it. His answer was that they were having it too good, things were getting better and better, they were overcharging by big margins, especially for CDs, and inflating profits. As long as the money was rolling in, they didn’t want to hear that it wasn’t going to last.

      Posted by Anne Peoples | Sep 14, 2012, 11:24 am
  2. The analyst is just breaking the gold OA news to the investment community, in the usual hyperbolic style. Rumor dominates this community and commercial publishing stocks may well take a hit. Moreover, mandates attract investment, so we may well see an influx of venture capital to gold OA schemes. Confusion is the name of the game at this point.

    But in the interest of understanding I posted the following comment on the PaidContent.org article, which had some factual errors. The gold OA takeover scenario is premature at best. The US is not going down this road, nor are the Chinese. At this point the UK is going alone and their proposed APC funding is very low, which the research community has noticed. Asking researchers to pay for something they now get free is a tough sell. It is far too soon to sell off Elsevier. This OA bubble may burst while it is still small.

    Posted by David Wojick | Sep 14, 2012, 7:40 am
    • “Asking researchers to pay for something they now get free is a tough sell.”
      That’s not strictly true, now, is it? Researchers might be protected from the true costs of publishing in a subscription world, but they’re certainly not getting journal content for free!

      Posted by Tasha | Sep 14, 2012, 8:22 am
      • Perception is the issue here.

        Posted by Kent Anderson | Sep 14, 2012, 8:27 am
      • Tasha, I am referring to getting their articles published for free, versus paying APCs. That issue stands alone in the marketplace. As for content, I get it free at the library or from the author. I am talking about the researcher level, not some global equation. Subscriptions do not come out of my budget, but APCs do.

        Posted by David Wojick | Sep 14, 2012, 9:17 am
    • In certain disciplines, and from certain key societies, they don’t get it for free—page charges are still “normal” in certain disciplines and from certain key societies. I don’t know if anyone has done a formal survey, but I might hypothesize that there is a correlation between the popularity of OA in a given discipline and the prevalence of page charges (at least among the most important journals) in that discipline…

      Scott

      Posted by sjepstein | Sep 14, 2012, 9:21 am
  3. As I have always told the APS leadership, if the world goes OA, we will make the change and charge an APC to cover our costs. We have been publishing since 1898 and I do not see us stopping as a result of a change in the business model. I suspect one can say the same thing about commercial publishers. They will find a way to survive. A bigger challenge is whether research as we know it can survive. In the recent US News & World Report article by Simon Owen, he writes that the Harvard Medical School journal acquisition budget was $3.75M in 2010. In an OA world, the amount required to access the literature would explode for Harvard. According to the Web of Science, Harvard Med faculty were listed as contributing to about 12,500 articles published in 2011. Assuming the average OA fee is $1,500, Harvard would have to pay over $18M in Author Processing Charges. The research intensive universities would be responsible for underwriting access for everyone else.

    Posted by Martin Frank | Sep 14, 2012, 9:19 am
    • But if the funders pay the APCs then Harvard’s cost goes to zero. This is a snapshot of the huge range of the uncertanties.

      Posted by David Wojick | Sep 14, 2012, 9:54 am
      • And the funders will get the funds by diverting them from research to the detriment of science.

        Posted by Martin Frank | Sep 14, 2012, 10:05 am
        • That is a different issue, Martin, and far from clear. Research without communication is worthless, so the issue is what is the proper balance between them? Some OA advocates argue that eliminating subscriptions will dramatically improve research, thus justifying the hit on research budgets.

          It is a scientific question, which my team has done some research on, but it is hardly resolved at this time. We applied a disease model to the diffusion of scientific knowledge and found that increasing the contact rate might dramatically speed up scientific progress. But this is merely a concept, not a demonstration. See http://www.osti.gov/innovation/research/diffusion/.

          Posted by David Wojick | Sep 14, 2012, 12:45 pm
    • Medical article are usually published by a large number of authors, spread across severak institution. Your figure of a $18M cost for Harvard in a Gold OA world has to be divided by the number of institutions involved in a typical paper, so it is not clear at all that the cost for Harvard would be greater than its actual subscription cost.

      Posted by Benoît Régent-Kloeckner | Sep 18, 2012, 7:12 am
      • I’m not sure I would agree that medical articles can be generalized as having large numbers of authors spread across several institutions. It varies quite a bit, depending on the actual study. I publish seven specialized medical journals, and it’s very rare for us to have more than a handful of authors on any given paper.

        Also, given that in the UK there are already indications that Gold OA funding is going to be concentrated on a small number of top institutions (http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=26&storycode=421125&c=1), it’s likely that coauthors at institutions with less funding are going to expect their better-funded brethren to pick up the tab.

        Posted by David Crotty | Sep 18, 2012, 7:52 am
      • By the same token, the hassle and complexity of collecting partial fees from many authors is a significant cost. Which author will do this?

        Posted by David Wojick | Sep 18, 2012, 8:38 am
  4. What do you mean by “synthesis, data, and intelligence services” under point 4. The gravitational effects of quality. Could you please give some examples?

    Posted by Judy Chen (@chenycjudy) | Sep 14, 2012, 10:03 am
  5. The analyst Claudio Aspesi at Berstein Research has been consistently negative on Elsevier for at least 3 years. I’d like to see some reporting based on more than a single analyst’s opinion about a company, but I take all market research with a grain of salt.

    Posted by Laura | Sep 14, 2012, 1:00 pm
  6. It’s an issue only if one is worried about profits, of course…

    But please, the “garbage in garbage out” argument has to stop. Elsevier has been publishing journals like BBRC for decades, and these are and have always been high volume dumps for barely reviewed pedestrian research. Being open access should not be equated with low quality work, as that is a misdirection based on falsehoods. The venerable JCI is open access, and is one of the top biomedical research journals (and, might I add, financially solvent!). The PLOS journals, especially PLOS Biology and PLOS Genetics are rich with high quality research, and other like Genome Biology are also excellent. So please stop with this argument. A journal’s quality is judged by the research it publishes, not by its access policy.

    Posted by Benoit Bruneau (@benoitbruneau) | Sep 15, 2012, 3:42 pm
    • Profits are required (or “surpluses” to use the not-for-profit word). PLoS requires them. BMC requires them. And OA is spreading because it is increasingly seen as profitable. You might be happy about this.

      You have misread the “garbage in, garbage out” portion of my argument. There is a gravitational pull toward quality, and quality costs money to achieve. Some initiatives may drift from this, but with more synthesis services emerging, the stakes for quality are higher. The “publish, then filter” world won’t do well, I think, in this reality — at least, not as well as “filter, then publish.” The latter yields higher quality. You said so, yourself — BBRC is a “publish, then filter” approach, and you don’t like that.

      JCI has been publishing research online for a long time, but it has a mixed subscription model in reality — charging for commentaries, features, and other items, and generating a decent amount of subscription (individual and institutional) revenues this way. But it was perilous for a time, and may still be. As they wrote in 2003,

      . . . [JCI] has provided its articles online since late 1996. In the years afterward, online publication has been viewed by the journal and the leadership of the American Society for Clinical Investigation (ASCI, which owns and operates the journal) as an excellent means by which to disseminate the advances and insights published in the journal’s pages to a wider audience, yet as an imminent threat to the financial stability of the JCI and the ASCI. With a few years’ experience, the journal can now claim to have both benefited and suffered from the effects of unrestricted online publication.

      The PLoS journals you mention are not financially sustainable themselves. They need supplementation by the mega-journal’s revenues. Their quality is costly, and requires subsidization. A journal’s quality is judged by what it publishes, but its access policy (or overall business model) can have direct impacts on how well it can realize its aspirations. And to the topic of this post, whether OA or subscription or hybrid, commercial publishers are very capable of thriving however things change, and OA is increasingly seen by them as a profitable way to go.

      Posted by Kent Anderson | Sep 15, 2012, 4:38 pm
      • Thanks for this reply Kent. Indeed, I am glad to see open access papers making their way into traditional publishers’ business models. After I posted this I did realize the real intent of your statement about quality of papers in OA journals. Indeed, unlike some of my colleagues, I am not for a publish then filter approach. I am pleased to note that this reply of yours is the most progressive tone I have read from you. A convert, you may become.

        Posted by Benoit Bruneau (@benoitbruneau) | Sep 16, 2012, 1:17 am
        • I really don’t care about the business model as much as I do quality. Seeing journals remove things that drive quality bothers me. Remember, there are two sides to your argument, which should make you also as neutral about business model: “A journal’s quality is judged by the research it publishes, not by its access policy.”

          If you really believe that, then subscription publishers shouldn’t bother you, either.

          Posted by Kent Anderson | Sep 16, 2012, 7:19 am
  7. One plausible and interesting transition scenario goes like this. High ranking journals become hybrid, accepting gold OA papers with APCs, as many already have. The OA fraction builds over time, so that subscriptions fall off. At the end the journal is all OA.

    The APC may have to change as this transition occurs, to maintain viability. Quality is preserved, but OA emerges. Mind you the journal gets a bit of a windfall in the short run, but that is better than being gutted by the transition and losing the quality filter.

    Posted by David Wojick | Sep 16, 2012, 7:45 am
    • That seems to be the path we’re on. The money question will be key — is OA tenable as a majority model? Or does it only work when subscriptions make it look like gravy, and it’s priced low accordingly?

      Posted by Kent Anderson | Sep 16, 2012, 9:28 am
      • If gold OA is universally mandated over time then your money question does not really arise. Gold OA will become universal so the question is what will it buy? Not that I see this happening any time soon. Nobody wants to pay the gold.

        Posted by David Wojick | Sep 16, 2012, 9:54 am
    • The windfall only occurs if the journal is doing what’s known as “double dipping.” Many journals (such as those published by OUP) adjust their subscription price down in accordance with the OA fees that they’re receiving. The Finch Report specifically suggests that subscription prices must take OA uptake into account.

      So it’s more of a break-even than a windfall, at least for some publishers.

      Posted by David Crotty | Sep 16, 2012, 12:36 pm
      • Wonderful, David. This sounds like a working formula, perhaps it can somehow be incorporated into any future mandates.

        Posted by David Wojick | Sep 16, 2012, 1:44 pm
  8. As the author of the report which prompted this thread, I have emailed the blog a copy of the document. I hope it is made available to all of you, so that you will be able to read and judge it based on what I have actually written. Of course I welcome dissent and debate, and I view it as the only way to improve my work, but I would prefer it to be based on facts, rather than hearsay.

    A number of the facts raised as “objections” are – in my view – accounted for in the report, or questionable (compliance with the NIH policy, for example, now exceeds 80% http://crl.acrl.org/content/early/2012/07/23/crl12-382.full.pdf). I would be very happy to address any specific objections, of course, after you have had the opportunity to read the report.

    I do wish to make a few general points which are not addressed in the report, since it is geared to the investment community:

    1) I do not dispute that OA publishing can be profitable (and in fact our simulations suggest that – under most scenarios – Elsevier would remain profitable). The financial markets care little about the profitability per se and even about the changes in profitability: all this information is already reflected in share prices. It is the divergence from consensus forecasts which matters to investors, and which I have been trying to highlight.
    2) There is something deeply disturbing about the state of the relationships between the subscription publishers (Elsevier in particular) and their customers (starting with academic libraries). It is common to have disputes about pricing or terms and conditions, but – to my knowledge – this is the only sector within publishing in which a sizeable portion of the customers are constantly agitating and lobbying to put out of business (or severely cripple) their suppliers. Thinking of it, there are few sectors of the economy showing similar patterns of animosity.
    3) It is correct to state that this is the view of one analyst (and that I have been increasingly negative about Reed Elsevier for years). I do not pretend to have a crystal ball: all I do is to articulate a set of expectations about the future on the basis of my research and draw implications for the share price of Elsevier. I wish I could be 100% right!

    Posted by Claudio Aspesi | Sep 17, 2012, 2:39 am
    • Thanks Claudio, I thought the original article was weak and hyperbolic. I hope to read your report. In the meantime, here are some brief observations.

      Re your point 1, what does divergence from consensus forecasts mean? Forecasts of what? Given the unpredictability of the situation there probably should not be a consensus forecast in any case.

      Re point 2, the situation is unusual but not unprecedented. It is a political reform movement in progress, which may or may not be sustainable. These things come and go. We have something similar in the energy sector where people are agitating against fossil fuels, even though they drive cars and use electricity.

      Thus I would not describe it as deeply disturbing; in fact it is rather exciting. There are numerous prior examples, where an industry is threatened by forced restructuring. Our discussion suggests that there are both threats and oportunities here, but no reliable forecasts are possible.

      Posted by David Wojick | Sep 17, 2012, 7:27 am
      • David, on 1): Analysts (and investors) all keep models which contain detailed forecasts of the future – in this case of revenues and revenue growth for Elsevier (and Reed Elsevier) in the years to come. “Consensus” is the average of all forecasts – of course there can be higher or lower dispersion, depending on how different analysts and investors view the future itself. So “consensus” is simply a mechanical exercise, but it helps investors gauge a) how expectations change and b) whether the expected earnings and earnings growth of the company (each model ultimately is designed to produce an “earnings per share” number) justify its current share price. Is it appropriate to make forecasts? If you could not make forecasts you could not invest in a company, since you would have no view on its future profitability (and what you are buying is effectively its future cash flow). In situations of uncertainty investors should model a variety of scenario, assess with their own judgement the probability of each, and draw a conclusion on whether they wish to buy, hold or sell shares in that company.

        On 2): I respectfully beg to disagree. I cannot think of any other business to business or business to institution sector (as opposed to consumer markets, in which boycotts are a daily event) within publishing (indeed, as I said earlier in the whole economy) in which so many customers are lobbying to cripple their key suppliers. I have never met a legal librarian who wishes to see LexisNexis be put out of business; municipalities and states are not lobbying the government to mandate crippling business practices for textbook publishers; grocery chains are not striving to upend Nielsen; banks and hedge funds are not demanding regulation of Bloomberg or Thomson Reuters. This does not mean that these markets are uncompetitive: quite the contrary. In all those markets customers have the choice of voting with their purchase decisions, effectively deflating conflicts. It is the perception of “having no choice” (whether it is founded in reality or not) that drives so many academic librarians to demand wholesale change in some form.

        It s not my task to pass judgement on a brief summary of my document. I hope you are able to read the document it in its entirety. I look forward to your comments.

        Posted by Claudio Aspesi | Sep 17, 2012, 8:19 am
        • I have read the entire document now. It’s very interesting. However, I think my points largely stand. That is, it’s unclear that political mandates will translate into market mandates or market behavior; there is plenty of room for APCs to go higher; OA has proven profitable even as a minority model; and so forth.

          However, the full document adds plenty of nuance, and I appreciate that. The assumptions are interesting to review and contemplate. It’s especially interesting to note that if 5% of the world’s research is published by UK authors, and 60-70% of this is subject to public funding mandates, we’re talking about 2-3% of the world’s research being affected by the Finch report. And if compliance is low, we’re talking about a rounding error. Again, this mitigates the risk to some extent.

          The most interesting section to me was the discussion of how the Big Deals work — that is, how low-usage journals can be funded through Big Deal arrangements. The shift to OA really threatens to undercut these journals. What does that mean to the scientific enterprise, when many of these are run by small or emerging societies or offices? Another interesting section was how you ran the numbers on a “per published” vs. a “per received” basis — that is, only counting the costs to publish vs. counting the costs of rejection as well. This is a real issue.

          To your point of “I cannot think of any other business to business or business to institution sector . . . in which so many customers are lobbying to cripple their key supplier,” Microsoft immediately came to mind. There’s a lot of antagonism out there, many companies are looking for or creating alternatives, and so forth. And Microsoft antagonizes its user base (often unintentionally), making the game all the more serious. I also wouldn’t exaggerate this “lobbying to cripple their key supplier.” The number of signatories to OA petitions is dwindling over time, from 30K+ with the PLoS petition to 12.5K with the recent Gowers petition. One could argue that antagonism is giving way to ambivalence balanced by some adaptation.

          I can’t post a link to your PDF, but if you have it online, please comment back with a link so others who are interested can read it.

          Thanks.

          Posted by Kent Anderson | Sep 17, 2012, 12:16 pm
          • I hope it is clear now that a) I agree the scope of OA mandates is highly uncertain b) the calculations were made taking into consideration both the wide range of APC price points and the opportunity for major subscription publishers to tap into incremental revenue streams deriving from the received (but unpublished) articles. Ultimately, the key issue subscription publishers face remains the wide range of readership for their publications, and the risk that the ones in the “long tail” will not be able to command APCs sufifcient to compensate for the loss of subscription revenues.

            Posted by Claudio Aspesi | Sep 18, 2012, 2:15 am
        • Claudio, in the first sentence of my first comment I suggested that alerting the investment community to the possibility of mandated restructuring is a good idea, since the possibility is quite real. However, I have been studying, and participating in, this sort of thing for 40 years. To me it is just a business as usual political movement which calls for an industry restructuring, which may or may not succeed, so far not so much.

          Of course if one looks at the details all events are unique, but then we miss the lessons of history. Also, in this case the libraries are the ultimate consumer, since they are the last to pay. In any case there is nothing unusual going on here. The basic logic is quite simple. High prices meet a social movement, in this case the idea that information wants to be free.

          As for forecasting, I do not think that the ensemble average should be called the consensus forecast, unless the variance is very small. For that matter, in the present case I do not think that probabilities are appropriate. For example, the US Government, which is a key player, may or may not change in fundamental ways in the next few months. Gold OA mandates appear to be off the table entirely but things can always change. I know of no probability that captures the concept of having no idea what may happen, which is just where we are. There is such a thing as intrinsic unpredictability.

          Posted by David Wojick | Sep 17, 2012, 2:01 pm
          • David, I will not argue semantics: without forecasts, in general, investors will not invest; whether we call it consensus or something else is largely irrelevant. I agree with you that, in this case, the outcome is largely unknown. Most investors (and sell side analysts even more so), on the other hand, are largely convinced they know the outcome (and that the outcome looks a lot like today): consensus, in the financial community, is that OA will not play a meaningful role. All I was attempting to do with my document was to illustrate the possible consequences of some scenarios, since investors have largely been ignoring outcomes which diverge from an inertial path for the industry.

            Posted by Claudio Aspesi | Sep 18, 2012, 2:45 am
            • I agree Claudio, that it is important for investors to know that this is an unstable situation, which could change rapidly if certain governments act. Your work is therefore important. I would note that Elsevier is probably at no greater risk than other publishers, perhaps less.

              My point about forecasts was just a theoretical aside, as decision making under uncertainty is my field, broadly speaking. Intrinsic unpredictability, which is part of chaos theory, is an important new concept which has yet to be properly appreciated. As you say, forecasts are still the standard mode.

              Posted by David Wojick | Sep 18, 2012, 7:34 am
  9. Just for the record … good luck to them. If Elsevier can make the transition to being a useful, decently priced open-access publisher, then as previously noted I’ll welcome that.

    Posted by Mike Taylor | Sep 17, 2012, 10:37 am
  10. Yes it is exceptional that so many customers are lobbying against a key supplier. And its even more exceptional that the lobbying takes the form of advocating a completely different business model (whose long term effects on scholarly communication no-one can yet know, one person’s informed guess that OA will turn out just fine is no better than another’s that it will be a disaster). What’s been missing from the debate as I’ve watched it over the years is any sense of libraries combining against a ‘rogue’ supplier. To whom is Elsevier going to sell most of its journals if not to academic libraries? Why are academic libraries not jointly taking the simple approach – “Look we want your products, we accept they are very good, but these prices are unacceptable, go away and think about it”. Is it because Elsevier content becoming ‘must-have’ that the library can’t sell to faculty the idea that they must go without the journal of XYZ for a few years? Is anything really ‘must-have’?
    Is not the ‘must-have-ness’ a tribute to Elsevier’s sales skills as well as the quality of its products? And that the library can’t cancel some grossly over-priced title because faculty says is its ‘must-have’, doesn’t that say more abouty the changing relationships within academic institutions than anything else, and might not looking at reforming them be a better first step than re-engineering academic publishing? Clearly the library in most places is not the beating heart of the institution, its mind and memory, its more of an order-taking service for faculty?
    And yes, the Big Publishing boys, who caused the problem in the first place, will survive and prosper in this new world – as the execs in the boardrooms of Springer, Wiley & Elsevier read the Finch report, it could only have been good manners that stopped them laughing out loud about what a big fat gift was being given them, a whole new budget seam to game. And yes, the minor journals of minor publishers will not be able to so easily attract APCs, so a lot of the richness and diversity we presently have will disappear, and we won’t know whether that matters until it happens.

    Posted by bill hughes | Oct 1, 2012, 5:25 am

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The mission of the Society for Scholarly Publishing (SSP) is "[t]o advance scholarly publishing and communication, and the professional development of its members through education, collaboration, and networking." SSP established The Scholarly Kitchen blog in February 2008 to keep SSP members and interested parties aware of new developments in publishing.
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The Scholarly Kitchen is a moderated and independent blog. Opinions on The Scholarly Kitchen are those of the authors. They are not necessarily those held by the Society for Scholarly Publishing nor by their respective employers.
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