Friday 13 February 2009

Discussion on JISC report on economic implications of alternative business models

Following items in the February 2009 issue of ALPSP Alert on the JISC-sponsored report, Economic Implications of Alternative Scholarly Publishing Models: Exploring the costs and benefits (Houghton et al), we have received some correspondence from one of the report's co-authors Professor Charles Oppenheim. I am reproducing the exchange below with permission. Charles has asked me to emphasise the following:

"I would like to add to the blog a reminder that if any third party wishes to challenge the model itself, or the assumptions within in, they should do so - but they then should publish their results."

Here's the exchange...

Charles Oppenheim (Comments from Ian Russell in blue, comments from ALPSP Alert Editor Pippa Smart in green):
As one of the joint authors of the JISC report on the economics of alternative scholarly publishing models, I feel I must reply to the comments made in the latest ALPSP Alert.

To cover some of your points:

1. The model's assumptions and the modelling software are available for use. The Alert report says the results are based on the authors' assumptions, which is correct, but the whole point is that if others want to try alternative assumptions, they can do and can see how the figures stack up.
>> Fine, but this doesn’t change or invalidate my comments.

2. On industry consultation, we approached several publishers for data. Most refused on the grounds that such data were confidential. However, we DID get data from a few well known scholarly publishers, but this was passed to us on the understanding that their names would not be disclosed. So the claim that not a single one of the major publishers was consulted is incorrect - indeed, how could you possibly know that?
>> I have personally checked with each of the major scholarly publishing trade associations active in the UK and a couple overseas; none had been approached. I also personally checked with a number of the major journal publishers; none of these admitted to being approached either. I also checked this point with Neil Jacobs at JISC. He replied with 5 points, my comments in brackets after each one: 1. There is vast amount of information about journal publishing that is in the literature and well known. (true but irrelevant. I was questioning specifically those assumptions claimed to be based on ‘industry consultation’); 2. When asked, publishers rarely actually divulge details about costs (understandably, as this is commercially sensitive information). I understand that even in the RIN / CEPA report, only one publisher responded to their requests for information. (this is supposition and the expectation that no information will be forthcoming is not an excuse for failing even to ask. Many of the assumptions made on the basis of ‘industry consultation’ are not regarding commercially sensitive information and – in my experience – look way off beam. A phone call to any of the trade associations could have cleared them up); 3. In informal conversations I had toward the start of the project, with a senior publisher representative, it was made very clear to me that there would almost certainly be no cooperation from publishers with this project. (I think this is a very poor response for a major study of this type – based on informal conversations with one publisher representative? Come on!); 4. The project consulted (informally) widely in areas where information was needed and it was not readily available, incl. two book publishers, from which detailed cost data were obtained, library purchasers specialising in book purchasing, individual library and consortial purchasers, as well as several repository managers giving repository stats. (but no journal publishers? On a report that is, let’s face it, primarily about journal publishing?); 5. Matt Cockerill was on the steering/review group. (OK, but so what? He doesn’t say that BMC provided any information and anyway talking to one journal publisher with an obvious bias not balanced by other houses is hardly objective is it? And besides, I doubt that Matt could give much up-to-date information on toll-based publishing costs. This is why I was careful to say journal publishers. Charles, I ask you do you really think this is acceptable for a study of this type?)

3. The model is out there for others to test by inputting their own hard data or assumptions. It was always intended as a scenario exercise and not as a prediction of the future. The one thing I would ask is that if others input their own hard data or assumptions, that they publish the results for all to see; and that if anyone wishes to challenge the actual model, then they should publish details of what they think the model should look like.
>> Fair enough, I don’t think I have suggested otherwise. Nonetheless, the press release for this report DID paint the report as a prediction of the future.

4. In another piece on the topic, you make the comment "The report, unsurprisingly, comes out in favour of open access". This implies that John Houghton and I got the answer we were looking for. Both of us started this research genuinely open minded. I am philosophically in favour of OA, but am genuinely uncertain whether it makes economic sense, and that was John Houghton's approach as well. We would have published if the results had come out in some other direction.
>> Regarding my comment about the fact that the report "unsurprisingly" comes out in favour of OA, it was made in light of where the report originated (i.e. that JISC and other organisations from the research/institution side are likely to be more in favour of OA as a philosophy) - if a similar report had come from STM and concluded against OA, I have commented that this was also unsurprising! However I take your point that it was an emotive word and possibly sounded snide in this context.

5. The claim that we only look at costs and not at benefits is incorrect; much of the report is focused on long term benefits to the UK economy. Possibly the Executive Summary does not make that clear enough though.

6. the criticism that we did not focus on non-economic costs is accurate, but that side of things was not part of our remit. Similarly, it is true we only looked at the UK. JISC's interests are the UK only, so it's not surprisingly they restricted us in such a way, and I acknowledge it is a deficiency in the study.

I hope you feel able to report my comments to the ALPSP membership.


Ian Russell:
I am sorry Charles, but I stand by my comments. I think that – with the information I have received so far – the lack of consultation with the journal publishing industry is really inexcusable and dramatically reduces the credibility of the report, especially since many of the assumptions regarding ‘industry consultation’ look to me to be highly dubious. If you are now telling me that Neil Jacobs was wrong then I’d be very interested to hear the type and number (not the names) of the journal publishers consulted and the nature of the interaction.

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