The Ivy Plus Libraries Confederation – a consortium of 13 academic libraries that includes all the Ivy League universities and colleges as well as several other elite institutions, mainly on the east coast of the US – recently released a letter addressed to the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy (OSTP), responding to the most recent iteration of its guidance memo regarding public access to the products of federally-funded research, both research reports and data.

The letter expresses “strong support for the updated policy guidance issued by the [OSTP] that will make funded research immediately available to the public to freely access and fully use.” However, the Confederation also expresses serious concern with what it sees as the OSTP “allowing the interests of commercial publishers to dictate the paths available.”

What do they mean by this? “We refer here,” the letter explains, “to the pay-to-publish model of open access to research publications, as exemplified by individual APC (article processing charge) fees charged directly to authors, and/or institutional Read and Publish agreements where libraries pay bulk APCs on behalf of their scholars and unlock institutional access to read pay-walled content.”

Cartoon of businessmen pulling tight a rope lasso around dollar bills

Anyone who has read both the Nelson Memo and this letter from the Confederation may be left with several questions, including:

  • Where do the letter’s authors get the impression that the OSTP is recommending, let alone prescribing, the dissemination of federally-funded research via APC-funded publishing channels? That funding model is nowhere mentioned in the memo, nor does it seem to be referred to in any implicit way. Does this concern arise from the fact that the OSTP guidance specifically requires public access to “peer-reviewed scholarly publications” that result from federally funded research (as distinct from preprints, which may or may not have been peer-reviewed prior to posting)?
  • The letter’s signatories are obviously convinced that “commercial publishers” had an undue influence on the new guidance. But what exactly is meant by “commercial publishers”? Does this term refer specifically to for-profit publishers? Or also to non-profit publishers that sell content and/or publishing services? (If the latter, then what would be the definition of a noncommercial publisher? Perhaps one that survives entirely on donations and/or institutional subvention?)
  • What action or actions would the Confederation like the OSTP to take in response to their letter?

To that final question, there is an answer in the letter, though a rather vague one:

We both applaud this policy change and are aware that it may result in significant additional costs related to publication, repositories, data management, and staffing which we anticipate will be shouldered by individual researchers and institutions. We urge you to work with the research community to identify appropriate financial support to these additional burdens in future spending bills. Investing in infrastructure and services that are directly aligned with the research mission will be critical to laying the foundation for a more open and equitable system of research that will result in better, faster answers to the problems of our time.

Is the Confederation urging OSTP to use its influence to increase funding for the creation of Diamond/Platinum open access (OA) journals? To prevail on government funders to provide specific earmarks in research grants for the subvention of APCs? To increase… library staffing?

As I read this letter, I had a growing sense that the OA movement is starting to paint itself into a corner. For a couple of decades now, advocates have regularly protested that they understand fully that publishing costs money: they (or at least most – maybe not all) recognize that good editors have to be paid, that peer review has to be managed, that the maintenance of a complex website is expensive, that reliable and well-organized archiving is not free, etc. The problem, they have said, is not with publishers getting revenue to support their work, but with publishers getting revenue by charging for access to the scholarly products of research — especially publicly-funded research.

As I read this letter, I had a growing sense that the OA movement is starting to paint itself into a corner.

But it seems as though every time a publisher tries to get the necessary money from somewhere other than readers, there’s always a problem, and often one raised by the OA community itself. Toll access is of course completely unacceptable, but APCs (as the Ivy Plus Libraries Confederation rightly points out) are just another kind of toll access; the toll gate is simply moved from its former spot between the reader and the content to a new spot between the author and the publishing service. Furthermore, when drawn from research grants, APCs divert money away from the support of new research towards the dissemination of research already performed — a worthy expenditure, perhaps, but one that entails a real and significant opportunity cost. Subscribe-to-Open, the popular model du jour, relies entirely on libraries continuing to pay subscription fees. And of course when an institution such as a scholarly society or a university underwrites a journal entirely, making it free both to read and to publish in, that money is taken away from other worthy organizational priorities as well. So from whom or from what program should the money be taken?

And make no mistake: for an actual journal, one that is run well and edited with professional care, the cost is going to be significant. The problem is, no matter how you do it, publishing – real publishing, as opposed to simply posting a document on the open web – is going to cost money, and often serious money. And no matter where that money comes from, it is going to be taken out of someone’s pocket or budget, or away from some other initiative or priority. Budget allocation is a zero-sum game – that’s the essence of a budget. If we underwrite publishing with access fees, readers suffer; if we underwrite it with APCs, authors suffer; if we underwrite it with instutional subventions, the institution becomes less able to do other worthy things; if we redefine publishing to mean something cheaper, less rigorous, and less reliable than what it has been in the past, we gain savings at the cost of rigor and reliability.

It seems odd that we keep having to say it, but apparently we do: there is no free lunch in scholarly communication. If the work is going to be done, someone is going to pay – and whoever pays will, almost inevitably, be someone whom we could argue should not have to pay. Objecting to that fact, and publicly pointing out its implications, won’t change it.

Rick Anderson

Rick Anderson

Rick Anderson is University Librarian at Brigham Young University. He has worked previously as a bibliographer for YBP, Inc., as Head Acquisitions Librarian for the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, as Director of Resource Acquisition at the University of Nevada, Reno, and as Associate Dean for Collections & Scholarly Communication at the University of Utah.


54 Thoughts on "The Ivies (Plus) Have Concerns about the Nelson OSTP Memo"

Thanks for this piece, Rick. There is a real sense of growing frustration coursing through this essay and it’s understandable. And you’re not alone. I sit firmly sat in the middle ground between the two overly-simplified camps of ‘commercial’ and ‘OA’ and I can see equal growing frustration wherever I look. You say here, “…what exactly is meant by commercial publishers?” and the response could be an equally blunt, “what exactly do you mean by the OA movement?” There is a genuine lack of open, intelligent, listening-first discourse. The polarization that we see in wider society (choose your field, any will do) permeates the individuals, the institutions, the geographies in this conversation. What we have is a world of scholarly publishing that has grown rapidly and is far larger than that conducted by commercial publishers (again, whoever that is) – and not all of it OA. The legal, commercial, and prestige barriers erected and maintained by ‘commercial publishing’ (again…) ensure that the two evolving systems continue to grow and diverge. I think that is a real problem. And I do not see any real space for that to be discussed and debated in our existing annual conferences and gathering points. The polarization, the othering, and the debates within each other’s echo chambers only continue to fuel the distrust and frustration which is voiced so well here.

Hi, Mark —

Thanks for your comment. For what it’s worth, for the past ten years or so I’ve been on a quest both to model constructive and respectful bilateral debate and to help contribute content characterized by that kind of exchange, by organizing and hosting formal debates on scholcomm topics (many directly related to OA) at conferences like Charleston, SSP, and Researcher to Reader. I’m very pleased to report that my colleagues and I have had significant success in doing so — not only producing such content but also modeling the possibility of constructive, civil, and productive exchange on even very contentious topics. The most recent took place in London several weeks ago. You can find a few more examples of these programs here, here, here, and here — and there are more.

Yep, I was at the R2R event and present at many others. My comment was not intended as a criticism of you or those events or of people who oppose OA or of profit. What I perceive is that such debates take place within the predominant institutional logic of the place in which they happen. For these annual gatherings of publishers, we frustratingly slip (inevitably) back to the business model conversation rather than what sits behind the drive to open (not just OA). It is understandable, that is the logic in which the majority of conference participants engage with OA and it is to be expected – maintaining quality and livelihoods. Likewise, when you gather at large events outside of North America and Europe the institutional logic of those places dominates the discussion. Creating a dualism in the debate. My piece in the SK (February 16) was intended to throw some light on a world of scholarly publishing that has grown rapidly partly as a consequence excluded from participating in ‘commercial publishing’ (again…) due to the barriers of language, costs, perception, etc. That enormous ecosystem operates on a relatively tiny amount of money extremely well – with extremely thorough peer review and without the effects of having to scale and cut corners to make top-line, bottom-line metrics work. It would be a fascinating study to know what the monetary cost of that huge global output is by comparison to that of commercial (…) institutions so we can look more closely at who pays and how, properly. Rather than naïvely thinking that all this activity happens without cost.

I’d like to make two additions to this conversation, hopefully helpful. First, to Mark’s lament about there being a “genuine lack of open, intelligent, listening-first discourse” on OA issues, there have been, in fact, several such efforts in this space in recent years—e.g., FORCE11, RDA, the National Academies, and OSI (the Open Scholarship Initiative), to name just a few. It’s proven harder, however, to rally attention to these approaches advocating thoughtful deliberation and carefully constructed action than it has been to draw attention to storming the Bastille approaches like Plan S. With regard to OSI, which I’ve managed since late 2014, we spent about four years (2015-2019) seriously debating these issues and the last three years (2020-present) writing up policy proposals for how UNESCO and other policymakers can address them. OSI was constructed to be a nonpartisan observatory of all things open, with around 450 experts drawn from 20 differrent stakeholder groups and 30 countries. We have been funded about 25% by UNESCO (OSI serves as part of UNESCO’s Network for Open Access to Scientific Information and Resources), 25% by foundations (mostly Sloan), 25% by publishers (to cover conference attendance scholarships), and 25% by participants and their institutions (via conference fees). Many of the TSK chefs have been active in OSI’s listserv debates over the years. The point of these debates hasn’t been to find answers, to but to understand perspectives, and from this understanding, grow our ability to construct a framework for common ground solutions (see The majority of OSI participants think common ground solutions can be built on these four pillars: (1) Research and society will benefit from open done right; (2) Successful solutions will require global and inclusive collaboration, (3) Connected issues (like peer review and impact factors) need to be addressed, and (4) Open isn’t a single outcome, but a spectrum of outcomes.

Second, at present, our most prominent and influential OA policies are not resting on any of the common ground pillars identified by OSI. They are ideoligically directed instead of driven by need and evidence; they are not inclusive—researcher voices are not heard and researchers in the Global South are essentially dismissed; OA is pursued as an end in itself and not as one of many reforms to help improve research; and the broad spectrum and long history of real world open outcomes is ignored, with policymakers instead insisting that the only kind of open worth having is the kind imagined 20 years ago in Budapest. Therefore, the right way forward with OA policymaking, if I may be so bold, is to stop chasing this rabbit down this particular ideological hole, and instead refocus our attention on serving researchers, following the evidence, and designing broad and inclusive OA policies that can survive, work together, and improve research outcomes, access and equity for all researchers everywhere. A forthcoming (April) OSI policy paper will explain all this in more detail.

Thanks, Glenn. I don’t think that we disagree too much – and if we do it’s because I haven’t articulated my position as well as I’d like. What I’m pointing to, in a way, is that the world outside this particular Kitchen is moving ahead with serving its researchers, largely on one part of the open spectrum, at scale, and sustainably. The way that Europe is looking to Latin America for learning from public policy and experiences from implementation potentially means an acceleration of this ‘other ecosystem’. It’s successful in delivering while resting on the pillars you mention. Maybe not pillar #3 entirely as JIF relies on commercial parties so it may just end up being ignored – and that is a danger for many commercial players. This larger global system is growing despite these conversations we are having (or not as the case may be) in North America and Europe. The development of homegrown capacity within the Global South is happening whilst we discuss such things as APCs and TAs, and it is increasingly influencing governmental policy in Europe and elsewhere. My point is that these two huge systems now exist concurrently with each other. Rick may be correct that the OA movement may have painted itself into a corner within the commercial system of scholarly publishing (I don’t necessarily agree), but the global scholarly communication system is accelerating rapidly outside of this commercial conversation without the constraints of these lengthy debates as to what is right and what is wrong in terms of historic financial contributions and who should pay going forward. It’s not a competition, obviously, but researchers in the North could do worse than look to publish in the Global South, there are many routes open to them. But we know why they may not as we immediately bump into the systemic, commercial barriers to entry that have been built (sometimes knowingly, sometimes unwittingly) within commercial publishing to protect revenues. As such, the two systems may continue to evolve and develop separately while we solve the ‘who pays’ conundrum in our commercial system.

Bottom line, “somebody has to pay.” The subscription model worked for hundreds of years, except for those who lacked the means to pay for access. APCs only partly solve the equity problem. Everyone can access, but not all can afford to pay to publish. Also, one-time payments do not support perpetual access and infrastructure investment. The Ivies seem to be advocating for government funding of a fully free and accessible research-publishing infrastructure (including peer review?), basically putting independent publishers out of business.

I would argue that Ivies Plus is advocating for the government to pay for the full value of the product they have purchased. Governments are using tax dollars generated by the people they represent to effectively ‘purchase’ research in a given area. That purchase should include the accessible dissemination of said research to investors (the government and their funders, aka citizens). If grants are expected to include publication costs, no independent publishers would be put out of business. Instead the government (or other grant giving institutions) would simply be required to pay the full cost of their bill. If grant giving institutions don’t want to pay that fee, they should create alternative research sharing platforms rather than passively waiting for profit-driven third parties to step in and decree the model and cost. IPC isn’t suggesting anything remotely radical here, they’re just noting that grants should cover the true cost of the research cycle. Yes, somebody has to pay….but they shouldn’t be paying multiple times for the same product. Access should be included in the original bill.

If that’s what they’re saying, then I fully support it. The wording is vague as Rick noted.

Personally, I don’t think the wording was vague. I don’t think Rick did either, honestly, as he was almost immediately able to come to the same conclusion as I did re: Ivy Plus’ intentions/meaning. Rick’s actual objection is rooted in his belief that requiring the government or other funding agencies to pay their full bill will result in an assumed and vague loss of productivity, a conclusion that I find specious at best. The letter is not prescriptive, no, but it is, in my opinion, very clear.

I do think there’s a vagueness to the “ask” here. Policy is written about outcomes, rather than routes. The OSTP and the agencies specify an endpoint, and leave it up to the funding recipient to choose their route. They clearly specify that publication costs are allowable uses of research funds. Since that’s already in place, what are they asking for?

Amy, you say that the wording of the letter isn’t vague, but at the same time you seem to believe the Confederation is saying the opposite of one thing they say quite clearly — which is that they object to the prioritization of the APC funding model. When we talk about using research grant funds to make resulting articles OA, that model is the one we’re talking about.

And I guess I’ll also point out here that there’s nothing at all “vague” about the effect of such redirection, or “specious” about pointing out its concrete reality. $1500 in grant funds used to pay an APC represents $1500 not available to conduct research. You may or may not think that’s enough money to worry about, but the effect is both real and concrete — and over the course of several billion in grants it amounts to tens of millions in foregone research. (As a former boss of mine used to say: “A million here and a million there, and pretty soon you start to run into real money.”)

Aren’t the agencies already doing this? Essentially every agency has said that funded researchers can use their funding to pay these costs. Grants already include publication costs. Further, at many institutions, some portion of grant overheads go to support the libraries. Specifically, the NIH says:
“NIH currently allows funding to be used to cover costs of publication, consistent with the NIH Grants Policy Statement, 7.9 Allowability of Costs/Activities. Under the NIH Public Access Policy, NIH has clarified that publication costs, including article processing charges often associated with open access publishing, may be charged to NIH grants and contracts”

NASA says:
“SMD [Science Mission Directorate] shall provide funding to comply with this policy that is consistent with the proposed work and resources available.”

More research (used here in its most nebulous and vague form) is nice, but sometimes we cannot afford the nice things we want. Your claim re: research reduction seems like a reasonable objection on the surface, except it is entirely based in both the assumption that the “saved” money would be used for research to begin with and that the “saved” money would be put to more impactful use. Given the usual bloat associated with both the government and, really, any large organization, I think this is unlikely to be the case. Even if it were, the fact remains that the “purchases” are being made and not fully paid for. I cannot decline to pay a portion of my rent simply because I would rather purchase a new car. Both are arguably necessary and lead to additional productivity on my part, but I simply cannot do that. The government and other funders shouldn’t be able to or, as they are now, actively incentivized, to engage in a similar bill-dodging manner.

One could just as easily say “making one’s publication freely available to all is nice, but sometimes we cannot afford the nice things we want.” It sounds like we fundamentally agree on one very important thing: a budgeted dollar that is spent on Thing A is no longer available to spend on Thing B, so we have to make careful and strategic decisions about how we allocate our budgets.

Can I ask why you are prioritizing the creation of more research, apparently of any kind, over ensuring existing research is accessible? Existing research should inform current and future research and published research is a discourse over time and space. Placing paywalls limits both the reach of that discussion and the people who can participate in it, often further disenfranchising historically decentered communities whose have struggled to achieve economic parity due to both historic and contemporary white supremacy, patriarchy, Christian bias, etc. We also know it can lead to poor quality research, as we increasingly discover that a significant amount of medical research has and continues to fail to include bodies that are not white, male, cis-gendered, heterosexual, etc. because people with those identities were not included and, therefore, forgotten. By refusing to prioritize equal access (and that of course doesn’t even begin to touch the sides of equitable access!) over “more research,” we run the risk of continuing to make the mistakes our forefathers have made in ignoring the expertise, skillsets, and brilliance of those who may not be able to afford access to articles either individually or through a tertiary institution with significant collections budgets. You countered that “One could just as easily say “making one’s publication freely available to all is nice, but sometimes we cannot afford the nice things we want.”” I argue that a unceasing churn of the existing (and quite robust) research machine is a luxury, whereas ensuring equal access is a core and vital need. They are not, in my view, remotely comparable and suggesting they are runs the risk of accidentally assuming or intimating that “more research” can only be produced by a very small, very privileged subgroup of people.

Can I ask why you are prioritizing the creation of more research, apparently of any kind, over ensuring existing research is accessible?

I’m not. I’m pointing out that this is the tradeoff we make when we use research funds to pay APCs. I don’t object to people arguing that the tradeoff is a good one; I only object when people refuse to acknowledge that the tradeoff is real or meaningful.

Except where it doesn’t happen this way. Most researchers—even in the US—may have problems getting APC funds and most don’t budget for APC costs. The excpetions—the UCal & Ivies powered by big budgets and researchers with big-time funding—are not the rule. See AAAS. 2022. Exploring the Hidden Impacts of Open Access Financing Mechanisms: AAAS Survey on Scholarly Publication Experiences & Perspectives. American Association for the Advancement of Science.

I think the second part of that statement, “most don’t budget for APC costs” is key here. OA (or at least immediate public access) has not been required, so many aren’t thinking about publication at the time of grant writing. That may change. However, given that no additional funds are available to support these policies, any money offered will come out of research funding (either for that particular author or from someone else’s grant). As Rick notes, someone has to pay, and unless there’s more money in the pot, that means less research gets done.

I don’t wish to challenge anything Rick says, but rather add a kind of footnote as it applies to OA monograph publishing rather than OA journal publishing, which continue to pose significantly different challenges. My point can be made by something we discovered early at Penn State Press when in cooperation with the Library we launched our Office of Digital Scholarly Publishing in the spring of 2005 and began the Romance Studies Series as an OA monograph initiative. Although everyone throughout the world was able to access and read every monograph on a computer screen, we allowed downloading of only half of each monograph so as to incentivize purchase of a POD copy by anyone who wanted the whole monograph in print. (The National Academies Press earlier had taken a somewhat different approach, making each monograph fully downloadle and printable, but in a form that looked like very poor newsprint. We allowed download and print in PDF form but only half of the content.) We found out that many authors wanted the POD option because they had a desire to give their grandparents copies of their monographs in a form that looked like a real book. It seems to me entirely appropriate that this option be made available but also paid for by the end users who prefer to read a lengthy work in book form rather than on screen. This turned out to be a nice combination of nonprofit and commercial motives working harmoniously together. The income from POD sales of course went to help defray the costs of running the ODSP program.

There is no transparency from publishers about their revenue streams. As a industry librarian I know that we pay significant fees to use even OA articles for “commercial” activities. I have seen figures that show that for some journals reprints and other permission fees account for a significant percent of the profits for certain journal. Yet these revenues are never accounted for when publishers talk about what it costs to publish and article. I don’t see APC charges lower for journals that derive significant profits from other revenue sources. Yes, someone has to pay for quality publishing. The profits shown by large publishers at least seem to indicate that they are able to make money. I have faith that they will figure out how to remain profitable and I applaud the Ivies Plus libraries for voicing their concerns about the ulimate source of those revenue streams.

unfortunately, this is super mis-informed. I am a former author who works at a commercial publisher; I have seen revenue streams that you are attempting to reference.

The entire last portion of this article actually describes how quick we are to critique APCs like they are the problem. The reality is that GOOD publishing is extremely expensive. Just look at the Hindawi mess currently.

Library reading subscriptions pay an extremely small portion of the ‘research pie’. They, plus those fees for CCC (I believe you are referring to the copyright clearance center fees?), plus our partners beyond academia, help to all subsidize the true costs of reading. because you are paying to read does not mean that its the only value in the system.

What the OA movement has shown us so far is that, its expensive to pull off quickly, and its nearly impossible to do it rapidly while maintaining quality.

I disagree with your conflation of costly and good. There is little to move the relationship of good and costly beyond a correlation that commercial interests perpetuate. There is no evidence of causation between good and costly in publishing. We all currently “subsidize the true costs of reading” to the tune of billions of dollars, most of which ends up as profit rather than the ‘cost of good’ as you put it. This is not the case for all publishers but it is true across the big five (40% net margin even after the huge VP salaries) who extract the crude resources from the system most efficiently. The danger is to small to mid-sized publishers and societies who do excellent publishing on much tighter margins. Cost only equals good when you apply very costly metrics like JIF or when you want a really good free bar at ALA or Frankfurt. As for your mention of Hindawi, didn’t Wiley pay $300million for the pleasure of proving that cost does not necessarily mean good publishing?

Could you provide a source for the 40% net margin after salaries for the big five publishers? Thanks.

Here is the latest of one of many: today in Tidsskriftet (
“The academic publishing industry has a large financial turnover. Its worldwide sales amount to more than USD 19 billion, which positions it between the music industry and the film industry. The market is largely dominated by five large publishing houses: Elsevier, Black & Wiley, Taylor & Francis, Springer Nature and SAGE, which control more than 50% of the market between them. Elsevier is the largest, with approximately 16% of the total market and more than 3000 academic journals. As an industry, these publishing houses are unique in terms of their profitability, generating large net profits. Elsevier has a profit margin approaching 40%, which is higher than that of companies such as Microsoft, Google and Coca Cola, and the curve is pointing upwards. These huge profits are not altogether surprising.”

Okay, a few serious errors in all this. First, they seem to be confusing the entire academic publishing industry with journal publishing. The entire industry (textbooks, monographs, journals, etc.) is a $19B industry. Journals are around $10B of that. Second, I’d be curious to know. where they get the “big five” from and a breakdown of the numbers. At least in journals, this 2015 paper (
only had four of those listed as producing more than 50% of the total papers in the market (ACS was in the top 5 for science and Sage for social sciences). Since then, MDPI has moved into the number 4 spot I believe (if not the #3 spot) (also, there is no company named “Black & Wiley”, one assumes they mean “Wiley”, which purchased “Blackwell” many years back).

The first source they quote for the “profit margin” for Elsevier “approaching 40%” (not 40%) is a Guardian article quoting 2010 numbers showing that Elsevier’s “scientific publishing arm” (not their journals in total, and not just journals) made a gross (not net) margin of 36%. The second source has numbers for RELX as a whole (not just their journals, and from what I’ve heard, their risk analysis business has far higher margins than their journals) earning an operating profit of 37% in 2018. Closer, but still far from the claim of 40% net profit earned by each of the five companies listed.

I completely agree that there is real danger in the market to small and mid-sized publishers (and independent societies) that make smaller margins, but I’d also point out that their prices aren’t particularly lower than those of the big publishers simply because their costs are higher. Scale is increasingly important in the market and smaller publishers simply don’t get the benefits of scale in paying lower prices amortized across a big portfolio. So even though their margins are lower, their costs are generally higher than those of the big publishers.

I am not just talking about CCC fees but also reprint fees and fees to reuse content in advertising and at conferences. Reprints are purchased to support the efficiacy of products to healthcare providers and customers. Most academics use the Fair Use exemption when reusing a chart or graph during a academic conference. If a corporate is involved in any sponsorship of that presentation, we pay substantial copyright fees to the publisher. For a lot of publishers these fees are substantial and one of the reasons why some big publishers require that authors’ license their OA content as CC-BY-NC instead of CC-BY. As a corporate entity we should pay these fees. This is not my issue, but rather that publishers don’t seem to be transparent about costs in a way the APC model requires. While at the same time academic stakeholders seem more concerned than they should be about the economic viability of the model for publishers whose profits seem quite healthy despite OA mandates.

What this demonstrates to me is the way that the library community continues to be complicit in supporting and nurturing the prevalent economic model. They ignored their role in accelerating the proliferaton of the big deal and its central part in the subsequent serials crisis, and now they’re complicit in the rapid growth of the bigger big deals in OA. There appear to be a number of solutions to this continual pouring of funds into the profit margins of the big players, not just the big 5. We make scapegoats of the OA community as being unrealistic and continue to perpetrate this idea that publishing is expensive and complicated and only if you pay a lot for it is it any good. Meanwhile librarians at wealthy institutions just seem to be stuck in this mud. They can get out with a bit of effort, but they choose not to as they are comfortable in the financial system in which they operate. I think many have painted themselves into a corner and look around for others to blame for a role they are complicit in perpetuating.

It appears to me that all these comments happen because OA is perceived as a threat to jobs and careers. Economic fragility really brings the boys to the yard. It’s an increasingly polarized debate and that itself draws people to the circle. I like that the Ivies are doing this. They can afford to. And that is part of the fragility argument, we cannot expect people who can’t afford to resolve the issues they face to solve it themselves, we need wealthy institutions like the Ivies (and BYU BTW) to lead the change.

Whose jobs are you talking about? The reality is that universities dropped the ball a long time ago when they handed the job of academic journal publishing over to the likes of Robert Maxwell after WWII. Many universities had presses themselves that could have taken on this task since they had been doing it since the first press was founded in the late 19th century at Johns Hopkins, which began by publishing scholarly journals. Universities should never have outsourced this massive business to profit-making companies. That was the original sin.

As for monographs, the reality is that the market has steadily decreased since the 1960s when it was common to sell 3,000 copies down to the present when it is barely possible to sell 200 copies, and mainly to US libraries. OA was the only option that made any sense at that point if university presses were to fulfill their mission of distributing knowledge “far and wide,” in the words of Daniel Coin Gilman who presided over the founding of the Johns Hopkins Press. No jobs have been lost because of the resort to OA in monograph publishing as far as I know.

I agree with this comment and suggest that every library at a university that has a press cooperate with that press in dealing with the challenge of OA publishing, as Nancy Eaton did at Penn State in working with the Press I directed to set up our joint Office of Digital Scholarly Publishing. It is ridiculous to think that publishing a journal article should cost $3,000 or more. That cost reflects the fact that many of these commercial publishers reside in high-priced real estate in cities like New York.

Excellent as always, Rick. And I love it when the comments are even more informative than the already awesome blog post. Thank you for doing this hard work for the professionals like me who care so deeply yet can’t solve these problems on our own.

I really disagree with the sentiments in this article. As Sam Moore said on Twitter, about it,

Samuel Moore
“The issue has never been whether there is such a thing as a free lunch, but whether the price and conditions of that lunch should be entirely set by the publishing industry.”

The answer is no.

Secondly, we [Diamond academic led journals] operate in a way that keeps real money costs negligible. The inspiring reference points are Illich’s work on conviviality, and Kropotkin / Proudhon on mutual aid. We help each other out, share, and work together. The shadow costs of our work are web space, electricity, the labor costs historically embedded in our OA free software, and the non-remunerated hours we spend as people variously paid to do other work, not paid, retired, voluntary. The material items could be accounted for, but annually, are unlikely to climb into a 4-figure dollar amount. With minuscule $ budgets we do as well as, or better, than commercial publishers who charge $3,000 APCs. Evidence is this list I curate.

“And make no mistake: for an actual journal, one that is run well and edited with professional care, the cost is going to be significant.” Absolutely not. I say that as someone with 600 articles edited and 20 years behind me, with an indexed journal with no $ budget at all. All done on on a laptop at the weekend.

Simon, just to be clear — are you saying that you run a journal that has published 600 articles over the course of 20 years, on no budget?

If so, can you tell us more about it?

Thanks, Simon. According to the page there, the work of this journal is done by “volunteer editors and referees” — which of course is also the case at many other journals, both for-profit and not-for-profit. I clicked on one article and noticed that the author thanked two “managing editors” — you and Casey Walsh. How many people (including you) donate their time to the maintenance of your journal, and can you give us a rough estimate of the monthly person-hours involved? (Obviously, these hours represent cost. When work is done, either the worker absorbs the cost or someone else pays the worker.)

It has come up before on the site but I cannot remember under which post. Time spent can vary among the editors, who are now 4 and therefore sharing the labour. But in different countries and totaling 5-9 hrs a week. Could also argue we accrue some professional recognition or esteem, which is not factored into hourly cost calculations. But this is a distraction from the enormous profits made by the big five publishers, which is my focus. If we can do it @ 60 articles & reviews a year, why can’t they? Even if they pay fair wages to their workforce. We are part of the Free Journal Network which is also on social media and has a site. They have obtained a very small amount of money from libraries, but we have chosen not to take any of it.

Felt a need to do the math:
Dimensions lists 5,582,573 publications (articles or proceedings) in 2022.
At 60 articles per journal, that works out to needing 93,043 journals to cover the market.
The latest figures I can find for number of journals currently in the market are from 2020 ( which states that there are currently around 25,000 English language journals and 48,000 journals listed in all languages.
So this approach would mean roughly doubling the number of journals that exist, and 372,172 editors would be required.

Felt a need to do the math:
Dimensions lists 5,582,573 publications (articles or proceedings) in 2022.
At 60 articles per journal, that works out to needing 93,043 journals to cover the market.
The latest figures I can find for number of journals currently in the market are from 2020 ( which states that there are currently around 25,000 English language journals and 48,000 journals listed in all languages.
So this approach would mean roughly doubling the number of journals that exist, and 372,172 editors would be required.

That presumably includes a lot of STEMM journals. Take them out of the numbers, and for the SocSci&Hums, I reckon it would be do-able. So, so many people in SSH are entirely fed up with high APCs [or like me, also ethically opposed] and others simply cannot afford them. STEMM beats to a very different drum [there are more grants to pay for publication, almost the norm in UK/Australia where I work], and adds in additional tasks like generating machine-readable data and xtml, and handling figures, that are much slower to arrive or less burdensome in SSH. Not saying academics can’t handle all of that, especially if training in publishing is offered, but for the time being it is unlikely quickly in the various disciplines.
I have certainly proved you can run a journal in SSH with no budget I think, or an extremely small one, outside the capitalist way of working and thinking.
Two small additions on funding: hardware has moved from a 11inch laptop to a 14 inch one, courtesy of my employer. But is it also used for teaching and research. And DOIs are kindly provided by University of Arizona Library, who deserve a mention. I would be happy to pay for those myself if required but it counts as ‘in kind’ support I think.
Our ‘Labour of Love’ followup on MIT Commonplace for those interested :

I have certainly proved you can run a journal in SSH with no budget I think, or an extremely small one, outside the capitalist way of working and thinking.

Well, sort of. It looks to me like what you’ve proved is that it’s possible to run a small journal in an HSS discipline (which means, among other things, a minimum of expensive illustration) with no budget when you have enough people willing to work for free. You can do just about anything with a minimal budget if others are providing your capital equipment and you don’t have to pay the people doing the work. Again: that doesn’t mean the work isn’t expensive; it means the workers are absorbing the cost of their own labor — and someone else is covering the overhead. But if the key to a low-cost journal publishing ecosystem is volunteer labor at scale and overhead provided for free from outside the system, then I’m not sure it’s a sustainable solution.

I am not convinced. But if the key to a low-cost journal publishing ecosystem is volunteer labor at scale and overhead provided for free from outside the system, then I’m not sure it’s a sustainable solution.
How is operating for almost thirty years, not sustainable? And if I am gone tomorrow, others will continue. That’s sustainability. And the ‘overhead provided for free’ is small assistance from staff at an R1 library in the US, which budgets for it and also regards hosting and publishing journals as part of its core mission [as so many library systems now do].
We as writers and researchers don’t need to pay the huge APCs of the big publishers. Maybe if they reduced them to under $500 I personally would reconsider that point of view, but it quite possible to avoid those publishers, as I have chosen to do for some of them.
I don’t work in STEMM but I know many journals in the Free Journal Network listed at simply do not charge authors or readers and some work at high volume.

Sorry, Simon, you’re right — I was imprecise. When I said “I’m not sure it’s a sustainable solution,” what I meant was “not a sustainable solution at scale.” David’s math is pretty compelling, I think — in part because the universe of journals does, in fact, contain lots of STEM journals, because it needs them. None of this is to defend any particular publisher’s APCs, of course. (Sorry, let me be more precise: none of this is to defend the particular APC of any specific publisher, which may or may not be reasonable.)

I’m a bit surprised no one has touched on what seems to me to be the obvious reason why this letter exists. The APC, author-pays, gold open access model has been dogmatically pushed as the one true way to solve every problem in scholarly communications since Vitek Tracz introduced APCs in BioMed Central back in 2002. By design, the model concentrates costs on a small number of productive (“publish”) institutions rather than spreading the costs broadly among less productive (“read”) institutions. This is a feature, not a bug, and the majority of subscribing institutions will see huge windfalls in terms of savings should the subscription model die out. However, all of those costs are now going to have to be paid by the publish institutions.

If you’re MIT (part of Ivy Plus), and you published roughly 8300 papers in 2022, that’s a hefty bill to pay (if the average APC for these high end papers = $3,000, then costs per year are close to $25M). If you’re Harvard and you publish 32,000 articles in 2022, then your costs are closer to $96M per year (mind you, this is Harvard who said in 2012 that they couldn’t afford to pay $3.5M for subscriptions annually).

That’s the complaint here. OA is arriving, and those who are going to see massively increased costs are unhappy about it.

Hi Rick, thank you for the post on the IPLC Statement. I affirm your superpower.😊

Libraries pay for content and will continue to do so. Our preference is to fund open publishing instead of paying to get past paywalls. We know there is a lack of market forces in scholarly publishing with years of price increases well in excess of inflation rates and some corporate players in the market generating extremely high profit margins. Federal policy, while welcomed is incomplete, it needs to be coupled with market regulation in the form of price controls.

See you will also be at next week’s NAS Journal Summit. Look forward to seeing you there.

Me too, Daniel!

Just out of curiosity, though: I realize that you yourself weren’t a signatory to this letter, but do you know why it doesn’t call more clearly for regulation and price controls?

Hi Rick,

Barbara laid it out well. We are raising awareness and putting libraries into to the conversation. As Barbara noted there is a lack of transparency with publishing costs and resistance to industry pricing standards. The Nelson Memo mentions ‘reasonable publishing costs’ but how is “reasonable” defined. While we at Yale continue to negotiate an array traditional and open access agreements, including formulating our principles for APC-based OA models,, the current state of scholarly communication is leading me toward seeking greater federal regulation.

Hi Rick, first let me say how thrilled I am at the amount of engagement your article has garnered. I’m grateful for all the discourse the Ivies Plus letter and your response to it is receiving. To answer your question, the letter was not meant to be prescriptive or demand a specific course of action from the OSTP, just to ensure that our libraries established ourselves as a part of the conversation. We know that publishers are reaching out to OSTP to protect their own interests and our goal was publicly affirm our concerns as well and to do so while the conversation is still new and ongoing. Our ask is that not that publishers or publishing costs cease to exist, but that the APC model does not become the standard or only open access publishing model in this new policy landscape. As Dawn said in a previous comment, a major issue we have is that there is no transparency in what publishing actually costs, and many of the larger, wealthier publishers have refused to share with us how pricing is determined. The same publishers have also resisted any moves toward industry pricing standards which would make pricing more consistent and equitable among all academic institutions.

We have found the APC-based models further inequities in scholarly publishing. While our institutions are privileged to be in a position to fund some of these costs for our authors, we understand that this model leaves out authors from less wealthy institutions and nations and contributes to less diversity in the production and dissemination of research. We want to ensure that the value of other types of publishing (ex. green deposit in an institutional repository) are protected and acknowledged as legitimate research outputs, and that the gold APC model is not perceived at the only path to open. We are also discouraged by the way some APC models have defined “open,” by making articles free to read but not attaching a generous reuse license to those articles. By both denying authors the right to build upon existing research without permissions fees and securing additional revenue streams through these same fees, marginalized author communities are further limited in their ability to participate in the global scholarly conversation. We do not consider read only access “open.”

This won’t be the last statement Ivies Plus makes around the OSTP memo. We are carefully monitoring all information being released, working with peers, and having conversations with the academic communities we serve. We want to ensure that the library perspective remains part of the conversation and welcome input from all stakeholders as well.

My colleague Daniel will also follow up with ideas we have been discussing.

Thanks again for getting us all talking!

Thanks very much for this additional background info, Barbara. I enthusiastically share your group’s hope that APCs will not become either the standard or (worse) the only OA model in the publishing landscape. In fact, I don’t even hope that OA will become the only model or complex of models — my hope is that we’ll continue to have a healthy diversity of publishing models into the future, the better to accommodate the different needs of all stakeholders in the scholcomm ecosystem.

I 100% agree with Rick’s conclusion, that into the future we need a healthy diversity of publishing models , many of which will be Open, some of which may not be, as different stakeholder needs are met in different contexts. Rick’s exchanges with Simon B about scale show why the impressive COPIM project is ending with a ‘Scaling Small’ conference moment – which is very much directed towards a non-STEM audience. There is also, of course, a strong left critique of any Open models which are almost entirely dependent upon volunteer labour – see e.g. Betsy Yoon
a perspective with which, wearing my old union hat, I have some sympathy…

Comments are closed.