More on the Open Access Debate

An interesting article was recently published in US News and World Report about traditional publishing, open access publishing, libraries, and money. “Is the Academic PUblishing Industry on the Verge of Disruption?” looks at the various problems and potentials of open access publishing and it impact on traditional publishing, libraries, funding of research, etc.

The open access debate is very contentious and quite frankly I don’t know enough about both sides of the issue to make an intelligent comment for or against either side.  My only comment is that if this author’s information is true and 80% of publishers’ income is from libraries then something needs to be done quickly because we (libraries) cannot continue buying.  As Jean Shipman mentions in the Comments, library budgets have been shrinking. When will we get to a tipping point when the publishing houses fail to make 30-40% profits because 80% of the market can’t afford them?  We are very close.  I believe I will see this happen in my career.  What becomes of it, I don’t know.

Unfortunately this article is just on open access publishing, but the problem is bigger than that.  Many libraries subscribe to non-traditional resources such as DynaMed, UpToDate, FirstConsult, VisualDx, Primal Pictures, etc. that are not journals.  They are point of care guides, image systems, etc. that are also very expensive to subscribe to and continue to increase in price.  They are in our budget and we can’t afford them just like we can’t afford the online journals.

It is a mess.

2 thoughts on “More on the Open Access Debate”

  1. The difficulty is that if you decide that the value to your organisation is ‘indispensable’, then you’ve ceased to be a proper market. If UTD really is indispensable, then you’ll pay whatever is asked for it. That was the tipping point for journals – it has reached a point where comprehensive big deal subscriptions were both ‘indispensable’ and unfortunately ‘unaffordable’. Librarians can’t act like a market in that situation, you can’t just say that the Lancet is too expensive so you’ll pass this time around.

    But with clinical tools, the question is different – they do have real value, but there are lots of them competing to add similar value, so you have a proper market. So ask yourself, what really is the value of UTD? How much would you pay for it? At what point to you decide to exercise your right not to buy?

    P.S. there a confounding factor in deciding the value – a clinical tool can demonstrate real $ value to healthcare (more efficient patient care and improved outcomes). If it can do this, then it can be funded from HCP monies, but really that needs to be in addition to any existing budget.

    (disclosure, I’m in the publishing biz)

  2. Hi Andy, by adding UTD, FirstConsult, DynaMed and other items into the mix I was trying to kind of explain that libraries are not just focused on the cost of ejournals and their publishers. We have other costs and those are rising as well. It isn’t just UpToDate either. There are image repositories, USMLE test banks, infrastructure products like our OPAC, OpenURL systems, discovery systems, etc. All of these cost money and pull at the needs of the libraries. Some of these other resources are produced/owned by major medical publishers so I always find it interesting as one increases the price they don’t realize that we will cut their other products. Are they that siloed that they are willing to accept increase in profits from one division at the loss of another? Doesn’t the parent company get it all in the end? If company A has a journals division and a database division wouldn’t it be better to increase prices logically across the division rather than the journals increase by 10% and the database increases by 54%. We would end up cutting on of those things and the company would lose out on that revenue from that product. Neither silo is willing to give up their part of our spend so both work against each other for our spend.

    The entire system is messy, library funding and acquisition is more than just open access publishing. Although it will be interesting to see how that model evolves and what effects it has on other products. I don’t mean direct effect but it gets people thinking differently and looking at different ways to negotiate and license those other products.

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