Tuesday, 26 February 2013

ASA 2013: Lorraine Estelle on Be Careful What You Wish For

Lorraine Estelle address the ASA conference audience
Lorraine Estelle, CEO of JISC Collections gave us a clear reminder: this isn't about quality, this is about cost. We have to consider potential unintended consequences of new models so we don't end up recalling the 'golden age of the big deal.'

In the beginning, we had the 'big deal' and this is still the predominant model for journals. It is not without its critics, notably, a number of mild-mannered people are very critical of it. The big deal causes so much inflexibility in library budgets it impacts particularly on arts and humanities for collections.

The major problem with the big deal is the underlying pricing model. It was based on print concept and subscribed and non-subscribed model. When introduced, university libraries were required to to maintain payments to print journal subscriptions and pay an extra charge for e-access to gain access to all the non-subscribed titles. It is hard to believe that the base cost of subscribed journal perpetuates in many big deals today - almost 20 years later. This forced maintenance of the base cost (historic print spend) is what makes the big deal so inflexible. To compound the issue, she has yet to find a publisher that can provide the metadata that upholds the value.

What are the alternatives?
  1. value based pricing: you pay for what you use
  2. gold open access: you pay for what you publish (at article level)
Value based pricing is a new digital pricing model directly linked to usage. This model is supposed to enable the move away from the historic print spend. Estelle cites the American Chemical Society who have had a good go at implementing value based pricing. They show a price-per-article on their website of 26 cent compared to $3-4 from Elsevier, Wiley and other commercial publishers. But what happens on an institutional basis when implemented? The Benedictine University (Source: Inside Higher Ed 2011) reported a whopping 1,816 percent price jump for 2011 due to increased usage.

While they probably had a really good deal to begin with, this highlights the real problem of winners and losers: the more an institution reads the more it pays. In essence, the best customers are the ones that will have to pay much more.

With gold open access, it's a model where you pay for what you publish. It avoids the difficulties of top slicing (where librarians aren't involved in purchasing decisions). In June 2012, the Finch Group estimated that the additional cost per annum for the UK to move to gold open access is £38 million per year. In April 2013, RCUK is introducing block payments to pay for APCs for universities and eligible research institutions.

There is an interesting dilemma about winners and losers. UK institutions will be expected to pay for the processing charge so that papers by authors in their instituions are freely available around the world. However, those same institutions will still be required (for the time being) to pay for subscriptions to papers published by authors in the rest of the world (c. 94% of all other articles). Funds for APCs are most likely to come from existing research budgets - not library budgets that will need to be maintained at current levels.

Essentially, the more the institutions within the UK publishes, the more it pays! They are looking for recognition from UK publishers that there is a need to consider the issue at a local (UK) or instituional level. It is certainly not sustainable in the future.

The unintended consequences and part of the problem is that an increase in article downloads is associated with an increase in articles authored. This is associated with increases in PHDs granted and an increase in grants won. Value based pricing and gold open access are both models directly linked to usage. To control costs an institution may need to control use by:
  • restricting the number of articles downloaded
  • restricting the  number of articles published.
The argument that those research intensive universities can afford it no longer stands up to scrutiny. University capital budgets have been impacted by cuts and this impacts on what is available for research. Estelle closed with a stark statistics: the total BIS grant for 2012/2013 is £5,311 million, compared to £6,507 million for 2011.12 - an 18.4% cut.

Be careful what you wish for: the 'big deal' may be remembered as the golden age.

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