• October 2, 2014

U. of California Tries Just Saying No to Rising Journal Costs

U. of California Tries Just Saying No to Rising Journal Costs 1

The Nature Publishing Group produces "Nature" and dozens of other scientific publications.

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The Nature Publishing Group produces "Nature" and dozens of other scientific publications.

The University of California system has said "enough" to the Nature Publishing Group, one of the leading commercial scientific publishers, over a big proposed jump in the cost of the group's journals.

On Tuesday, a letter went out to all of the university's faculty members from the California Digital Library, which negotiates the system's deals with publishers, and the University Committee on Library and Scholarly Communication. The letter said that Nature proposed to raise the cost of California's license for its journals by 400 percent next year. If the publisher won't negotiate, the letter said, the system may have to take "more drastic actions" with the help of the faculty. Those actions could include suspending subscriptions to all of the Nature Group journals the California system buys access to—67 in all, including Nature.

The pressure does not stop there. The letter said that faculty would also organize "a systemwide boycott" of Nature's journals if the publisher does not relent. The voluntary boycott would "strongly encourage" researchers not to contribute papers to those journals or review manuscripts for them. It would urge them to resign from Nature's editorial boards and to encourage similar "sympathy actions" among colleagues outside the University of California system.

Along with its letter, the California Digital Library included a fact sheet with systemwide statistics for 2010 about the university's online journal subscriptions. The system subscribes to almost 8,000 journals online, at an average cost of between $3,000 and $7,000 per journal, depending on the publication and the field. The current average cost for the Nature group's journals is $4,465; under the 2011 pricing scheme, that would rise to more than $17,000 per journal, according to the California Digital Library.

The letter described how much University of California faculty members collectively have contributed to Nature's journals over the past six years: approximately 5,300 articles, 638 of those to Nature. "UC faculty and researchers author a significant percentage of all articles published in NPG journals and are a major force in shaping the prestige of its publications," the letter said.

The system hopes to use that research clout to get Nature to reconsider a price increase of "unprecedented magnitude"—more than the California system can take, given its dismal budget situation, the letter said. "NPG has made their ultimatum with full knowledge that our libraries are under economic distress," it stated. Nature's proposed price jump would "wipe out all of the recent cost-saving measures" the system has taken to reduce its online journal expenditures, according to the letter.

There has been no word yet from Nature on how or whether it will respond to the possibility of subscription cancellations and a boycott. Representatives for the publisher did not respond to The Chronicle's requests for comment on Tuesday.

The letter was signed by Laine Farley, executive director of the California Digital Library; Richard A. Schneider, an associate professor of orthopedic surgery at the University of California at San Francisco and chairman of the systemwide University Committee on Library and Scholarly Communication; and Brian E.C. Schottlaender, the university librarian at the University of California at San Diego.

'Nowhere Left to Go'

In an interview, Ms. Farley said it had been especially hard to meet budget targets this year but that the California Digital Library had been able to negotiate mutually agreeable pricing arrangements with many publishers. "In this case, we just found ourselves with nowhere left to go," she said. "We weren't making any progress. As the letter states, the price increase was just something we couldn't agree to."

The faculty library committees on individual campuses have been keener to hear about negotiations with publishers lately because they have begun to realize what's at stake, according to Ms. Farley. That growing interest helped guide the decision to send out the letter, she said.

"I hope it will accomplish restarting a productive dialogue about how to find a solution," Ms. Farley said. "Again, we've been able to do that with most publishers."

Asked if sending out the letter was a risk, Ms. Farley said it would be riskier not to do anything. "We have this fiduciary responsibility to make the best choices we can," she said. "We can't just say, 'Oh, OK, we'll pay that.'"

Mr. Schneider, at UC-San Francisco, called the standoff and the letter a chance to educate faculty members about the real costs of access to scholarship. "Most people are pretty amazed at how much we spend on online subscriptions," he said.

The members of his committee have been talking about the situation with faculty members on their home campuses, according to Mr. Schneider. "We really got a good sense that the faculty will be behind this," he said, even if it comes to a boycott.

"I think people are starting to recognize that the system, the model that we have, is fundamentally flawed and has to be re-evaluated," Mr. Schneider said. "We're really trying to balance the system so UC authors have greater control over and greater access to the materials. We also want these materials to have as wide a dissemination as possible."

He acknowledged that publishers like the Nature Group contribute some valuable services. "They provide a brand, they provide distribution, they provide a high profile for the work," he said. "But the fact that the faculty who create that work have to pay so much for access to that work doesn't make any sense to us."

Support for a Boycott

Keith Yamamoto is a professor of molecular biology and executive vice dean of the School of Medicine at UC-San Francisco. He stands ready to help organize a boycott, if necessary, a tactic he and other researchers used successfully in 2003 when another big commercial publisher, Elsevier, bought Cell Press and tried to raise its journal prices.

After the letter went out on Tuesday, Mr. Yamamoto received an "overwhelmingly positive" response from other university researchers. He said he's confident that there will be broad support for a boycott among the faculty if the Nature Group doesn't negotiate, even if it means some hardships for individual researchers.

"There's a strong feeling that this is an irresponsible action on the part of NPG," he told The Chronicle. That feeling is fueled by what he called "a broad awareness in the scientific community that the world is changing rather rapidly with respect to scholarly publication."

Although researchers still have "a very strong tie to traditional journals" like Nature, he said, scientific publishing has evolved in the seven years since the Elsevier boycott. "In many ways it doesn't matter where the work's published, because scientists will be able to find it," Mr. Yamamoto said.

Comments

1. mbelvadi - June 09, 2010 at 06:43 am

Clash of the Titans, academic library edition! One of the most prestigious research university systems takes on one of the most prestigious journal publishers! There are, I'm sure, thousands of librarians like myself hoping UC wins this one, and excited that someone with enough clout to succeed is taking Nature on. That publisher has been near the top of librarians' list of most egregious price gouging ever since scholarly journals starting offering site licenses for online access, and is a poster child for how copyright law creates the potential for abusive monopolistic pricing practices.

2. pjkobulnicky - June 09, 2010 at 07:16 am

It's a value proposition and at some point egregious price increases dramitically shift value to the negative. Just say "Yes" to Open Access. It's time for other models of scholarly information preservation and access. Seems to me that this is another example of a crisis that is too good and timely to waste.

3. physicsprof - June 09, 2010 at 09:01 am

There is only one reason people send papers to for-profit scientific journals (better word "magazines') of the Nature group as oppossed to non-profit journals of scientific societies (i.e. Physical Review of the American Physical Society). It is prestige. Not exactly a concept the scientific community would die without. Time for a change?

4. docakron - June 09, 2010 at 09:36 am

Tenure plays a major role in the equation because researchers need to have their papers accepted into top-tier journals. Open access is a model that can work in certain situations, but would also cause some publications that rely on subscription income to go belly up. What needs to happen is for universities to have a publication policy that is developed by many constituents including libraries, university presses, faculty members, etc. All information distribution methods, including OA, have costs. Reducing or controlling the costs can only be achieved through a total university solution.

5. shiksha - June 09, 2010 at 09:49 am

The proposed action would seems to violate anti-trust laws.

6. drgunn - June 09, 2010 at 11:23 am

docakron - It seems more likely to me that a publication would convert to OA author side fees than simply go belly up. Not sure what you mean when you say "total university solution" but if you're thinking repository, I tend to agree, because you can plan for the costs associated with a repository. It's not going to jump 4x overnight on you (unless, of course, you use a third-party to provide the repository, in which case you've not really solved anything).

7. jpruf12 - June 09, 2010 at 11:31 am

A 400% increase does seem outlandish at first, but after doing the math I am struck by the fact that even at more than 17k per title, 17k divided by the 10 or so UC campuses doesn't seem unreasonable to me. On an average cost per title per UC campus, the proposed price in many cases is dramatically less than what a print subscription would cost, and I would assume their usage of the online content is much higher than it would be if they merely received print subscriptions.

8. bigfruitbasket - June 09, 2010 at 11:57 am

jpruf12: you assume that the cost of subsciptions is spread out among the UC system. That is a false assumption. The average price per title is about right for a single campus. Sounds like Nature is raising the rate for one title from $4K to $17K for a single campus. I know--I negotiated the Nature license for our university and the numbers jibe with my experience. In short--this is unabashed highway robbery. I have no idea what drug the people at Nature are taking that caused some senior exec to think that a 400% increase sounded good. Elsevier learned. Now's the time for Nature (NPG) to learn the same lesson.

9. jpruf12 - June 09, 2010 at 02:46 pm

bigfruitbasket: no, this deal is for all 10 or so UC campuses. CDL pays for all journal packages for all UC campuses from centrally-pooled money. If I could get 67 NPG titles for an average cost of 17k per title for 10 major research universities, I'd be thrilled. In fact, I'll be surprised if all the university libraries paying dramatically more than $1700 per NPG title per university (my campus is, for sure) don't go back to NPG and beg them for the terms they must have just proposed CDL.

10. researchvault - June 09, 2010 at 03:28 pm

This is not the first library that has had to cut journal subscriptions due to the current economic stressors and the high cost of scientific literature. Raises the question as to whether resources such as www.researchvaultonline that allow free publication and sharing of research should be the wave of the future. No academic institution can afford to have access to the over 16,000 journals that are currently in publication.

11. brambeus - June 09, 2010 at 04:05 pm

I have long been baffled that university serials librarians have not banded together and worked to persuade their colleagues at other universities and the administrations of their home institutions to use the lobbyists many universities maintain and the senators and congresspersons who represent the states and districts in which all college and universities that are concerned about the costs of journal subscriptions to get the copyright law changed (it needs to be revised in any event) to permit on-line sharing of journals, perhaps through an on-line inter-library loan system.

What a dear friend said many years ago (in this I doubt that she was original): when you can't outfight them, you have to out-think them. Surely university librarians, if they put their own and their allies minds to the task, can out-think the publishers.

I have seen far too many lists of journals to be ranked in order of importance so that those receiving the least number of votes could be eliminated.

I have heard of researchers who depend on the kindness of strangers who have been willing to send them reproductions from journals their libraries can no longer afford. Ah, the marvels of the Minox and portable scanners! But that a scholar-researcher should be reduced to such tactics. Horribile dictu!

12. johndoe100 - June 09, 2010 at 04:26 pm


Well, researchers will be free to order Nature articles via interlibrary loan. Considering those costs, subscribing to the journal may turn out to be cheaper. Now, this may work better in a few years when it has been 5-7 years for the NIH Pubmed open access policy, and most of hte articles are available online, at the most 1 year after publication.

13. engineer_adrift - June 09, 2010 at 04:38 pm

Another approach is to lobby the US Government to require, as an explicit condition of its grants to scholars and institutions, that research products that the US funds either be placed in the public domain or be published in open source journals.

14. 11159995 - June 09, 2010 at 05:32 pm

For #13's information, the Association of American Publishers supports the system used at the NSF, which mandates the submission of reports of research undertaken with government funds that are then made available free to the public. What the NSF does NOT mandate, as NIH does, is that the articles based on the research that are published in journals after the publishers have "added value" to them through peer review, copyediting, etc. must be deposited. The public has a right to benefit from research supported by tax dollars; it does not necessarily have any right to articles that have cost publishers their own private funds to process.---Sandy Thatcher

15. evanb - June 09, 2010 at 06:42 pm

@14 You are being rather misleading by mentioning peer review as "added value" from the journals. Peer review of course adds a great deal of value but it is done by other professors in the field and they aren't paid for it (it's just a part of the job). At most journals, the editors are likewise volunteers from the field. (Nature is an exception here in that it instead employes full-time editors of its own; it's not clear whether this actually results in better editing though.)

Copyediting is important, but it isn't as monumental a task as in the days before personal computers, and newer non-profit open-access journals seem to be producing perfectly acceptable copyediting (and editing, and any other "value added") without charging exhorbitant prices for licenses.

The fact is, publishers are extracting significant monopoly rents from the prestige of their journals, and that needs to change, whether because boycotts among top scientists lead to a precipitous drop in the prestige of those journals or because the NSF follows the NIH's lead (or both!).

16. johnburningham - June 09, 2010 at 07:12 pm

If the system is really serious, let them not allow publications in those journals to count towards tenure and promotion for existing faculty and not to be considered when hiring new faculty.

17. laemmle - June 09, 2010 at 09:40 pm

@#9: jpruf12, the 17k is the avg for each campus. There are ten UC campuses. Assuming that this figure is accurate and average, do you _really_ think that any Nature journal is worth 170k for any university, particularly a public one?

18. kermitrick - June 09, 2010 at 10:15 pm

I'm rather insular and not familiar with the UC structure - how independent are the 10 campuses? And are all 10 campuses as reknown as UCLA (or for the computer geeks, UCBerkley?) Do all 10 campuses contribute equally to NPG publications (or even in proportion to some measure, such as student enrollment?)

In any event, what does a 400% increase say about NPG's affairs? Did the UC system get excessively generous terms in the past? Or is NPG about to go bust because of the decline of traditional print media? Or has NPG mismanaged a print media to online transition?

19. phikaw - June 09, 2010 at 10:21 pm

The markets for scholarly works have been changing for some time. Scholars, researchers and librarians -- and the institutions in which they work -- need to take control of how their works are published and distributed and become much more actively involved in setting the terms for the digital publishing world. Individual attempts to negotiate with publishers are not likely to make a dent in the current publishing practices particularly among for-profit publishers. Moreover, individuals have an interest in publication for self-interested reasons -- getting their ideas disseminated, tenure, and promotion. All the more reason, then, for scholarly organizations and universities to get into the act if scholars and institutions are really going to reorient themselves to the technology and new economics of digital publishing. Even in the sciences, which have been ahead of the humanities and social sciences, in beginning to grapple with digital publishing, a huge amount of scientific scholarship still lives behind a subscription wall, which is earning publishers huge amounts of money. (http://www.scienceprogress.org/2008/04/marketing-ideas/) If the University of California is starting to take a step toward coordinated and collaborative effort, that is a very good thing. It is to be hoped that other universities and researchers join in.

20. thx1138 - June 10, 2010 at 02:31 am

My former university (private, located in the Chicago area) payed an average of $3,200 per NPG title in 2006-2007.

It seems like UC is complaining about getting off welfare!

In reality, they enabled the explosion of NPG journals by subscribing to everything available, while using their clout to negotiate lower prices. They forced other universities to subscribe (at elevated prices) just to keep up, and now Nature has them by the gonads because they have the market. What did UC expect?

21. fangly - June 10, 2010 at 03:07 am

If UC wins, we (the scientific community) loose. If Nature wins, we loose too. This is the time to push and support open-access journals.

Universities should pay to defray the costs of publishing in an open-access journal, which provide their content for free, instead of paying subscription costs for "proprietary" journals, which make it harder to access the scientific information we need.

This paper is insightful: http://www.plosbiology.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pbio.1000375

22. bpencek - June 10, 2010 at 07:11 am

It's not as if this price jolt were a new practice by NPG nor that California were singled out. Three years ago, NPG proposed a ten-fold price increase on a package of journals to VIVA, the consortium of academic libraries in Virginia. VIVA kept the main _Nature_ and immediately cancelled the Nature Review and Research journals; individual universities picked up some of those on their own. I expect that other purchasing groups may have had similar experiences. See also CHE story on NPG raising the price on _Scientific American_ last year.

The cynic in me says NPG's business model is simply rent-seeking in the opportunistic tradition of Henry Morgan, but the scholar in me wants to a detailed analysis about how NPG -- not generic or hypothetical STM publishers -- has intrepreted and responded to the incentive and cost structures that make theirs a sustainable way of doing business.

23. jpruf12 - June 10, 2010 at 09:45 am

@17, no, 17k is the average total cost per journal for all 10 UC institutions. Reading NPG's response (it's on their web site now), the average cost per article for the UC system, even under the new pricing, will be $0.56 per article. That's a fantastic cost-per-use figure, and I'd like to see how that figure compares to their cost-per-use for other journal packages. Again, I don't see why the UC's are complaining; they are bemoaning that their impossibly good deal is only now going to become a ridiculously good deal.

24. amandarr - June 10, 2010 at 10:13 am

This discussion on whether UC is getting a good deal or a bad deal, whether other libraries are picking up the slack or not, made me think of this blog discussion on fantasy pricing. Publishers offer vastly different prices -- order of magnitude different -- on their journals to different institutions.

While some variance based on FTE and research intensity, as indicators of expected system load, do make sense, it is almost impossible to find out what the true cost of producing a journal really is. In my mind, the issue is not which library is getting the "better deal". It is the incredibly opaque way the journals set prices. Typically there are no clear metrics, there is no clear range of prices, and libraries are discouraged (sometimes contractually) from even discussing pricing with other libraries.

Fantasy pricing.

25. phikaw - June 10, 2010 at 10:59 am

The article (http://www.plosbiology.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pbio.1000375) mentioned by #22 is insightful. It calls for universities and researchers to work together to reshape the publication model, which just about everyone agrees is pretty dysfunctional. The solutions proposed would, however, work for large, research universities, but are less likely to work for other institutions or for scholars and researchers in areas outside of the sciences. For example, the OA model supported by author article fees is really only feasible where researchers (typically, in the sciences) have grant money (often taxpayer money) out of which they can pay article fees to commercial publishers. But, there are many scholars and researchers, particularly those not in the sciences who would not have the wherewithal to pay such fees -- for example, $3000/article that one major publisher charges -- and their institutions are so cash strapped that they can not provide the funds either. While some OA model is desirable, there needs to be widespread consideration by universities and researchers alike in all fields to coordinate and figure out models that will work for a variety of types of institutions and for different disciplines with very different funding resources.

26. phikaw - June 10, 2010 at 11:00 am

Oops, sorry the article was mentioned by #21.

27. bigfruitbasket - June 10, 2010 at 12:45 pm

jpruf12: you just don't get it. Last year each UC campus was charged around $4K for Nature; this year it is $17K--per campus. I helped negotiate our pricing and the average per journal was $4K for our state institution. Unless you have worked with the contracts and price negotiations--your assumptions are not valid. I used the benchmark of an increase of 5-10% per year as the usual, standard and customary increase for electronic resources. Print journals usually average 5-15% depending on a host of variables. If I saw a 400% increase coming from anyone, I'd be in my director's office in a New York minute. It doesn't take a rocket scientist or a Harvard economist to figure out that such an increase is not warranted. NPG is getting greedy and in these tough economic times; they've had too much of their own Koolaid to know that this media mess won't go down well.

28. 11215378 - June 10, 2010 at 03:57 pm

So what is the story, Chronicle reporters? Is the fee for the average Nature $4,465 for the entire California Digital Library, or for each campus? A lot hinges on the answer.

29. bckaemper - June 11, 2010 at 12:07 pm

I manage a consortium of 100+ libraries throughout Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, so I know what I am talking about. The figures quoted in the UC letter (amount spend for, current number of online journals) are quoted as systemwide, therefore also the NPG figures are to be understood as systemwide, not per campus. Bigfruitbasket is clearly wrong, possibly due to his narrower perspective of a single university. Even the most expensive title, Nature, would cost the 5 largest UC campuses just about $17k each, if they got no discount at all. Averaged over all 10 campuses, the average site license price for Nature for 2010 would be about around $14k each. But the other NPG titles are less expensive. For the 24 other Nature branded journals, it would be around $5.2k per title for each campus, including a 10% volume discount. For the 42 academic and specialist journals (these are all medical journals), each site would have to pay around $1.7k per title. Overall, for the portfolio of 67 titles, each site would have to pay about $3.2k per title on average, if there were no discounts and each site were regarded as an independent university and priced accordingly (for the largest campus it would be around $4k per title). This price estimate takes into account the different sizes of the 10 UC campuses, in terms of both Total FTE and Sciences FTE. For all 10 campuses together we therefore arrive at $32k as the combined system wide site licensing price per title for 2010.

This seems roughly consistent with NPG's claim that a proposed 2011 system wide $17k price per title for UC would represent a 50% discount.

However, 50% of the journals in the UC portfolio are medical journals, but only 5 of 10 UC campuses have medical faculties (if I do not count Berkeley's small health sciences program), and 2 campuses are rather small. Also, actual usage for the journals in the portfolio will show large disparities, depending on the academic programme of each campus.

Because of NPG's rigid policies (no highly discounted package offers available, no cross access granted in a consortium), under normal circumstances, a consortium could hardly afford to license a complete (or nearly complete) NPG portfolio at 10 sites. This is only possible for a multi-site institution where the members are treated as sites of a single organisation rather than independent institutions. Such multi-sites might be priced based on their combined FTE, possibly with an extra site fee (multiplied by the number of sites) added ontop, or freely negotiated, perhaps based on previous print spend plus some surcharge as it seems to have been the case at UC.

If UC can legitimately be treated as a multisite, then I see no reason why they should not be priced as such and be given the chance to license a large portfolio. It is not UC's fault if NPG originally entered into a contract on this basis. If NPG insists they should be treated as a normal consortium, it means that the “all you can eat” buffet is no longer offered, and this is now an a la carte restaurant. UC will have to select based on past usage statistics what to license at what site and access will have to be reduced in order to fit the budget. The occasional needs for what is not available will have to be filled by ILL, or users help themselves and ask colleagues at another site to help them out.

However, NPG should ask itself whether it is not time to think about strategies to broaden access rather than to reduce it. With other big publishers (Elsevier, Wiley-Blackwell, etc.), there are package deals that offer discounts of 95% and more, if calculated at face value. In this light, the calculated 88% for UC for the package of their 67 journals does not seem unusual. I a time when more and more scientists push to open access in order to lower barriers for the use of research results, NPG's very rigid business model seems no longer fit for purpose. It's time that the folks at NPG learn this lesson.

With respect to NPG being "shocked" at the open discussion of their 4fold price increase proposal for UC in the "Chronicle", I can only say, that it was NPG that went supersonic and caused these shock waves that now hit them in reflection. And UC had a reason to be surprised. 2008, NPG's Steve Inchcoombe announced in his September "letter to our customers" (you can read it on the librarian gateway@npg): "Business models continue to evolve, and most publishers continue to experiment. We realize a key priority for our customers is the ability to forecast costs and budget accurately. Therefore, I am now committing NPG to price increases capped at 7% in all four major currencies (GB£, US$, Euro, Yen) for three years. This applies to all NPG owned journals and begins with 2009 list prices." Clearly, for UC this "self-commitment" was not worth the paper it was written on, and a company that asks for a 4fold price increase in times of unprecedented economic distress, despite their recognition of the constraints libraries are operating under, will loose all credibility, regardless of the particular circumstances of the case in question.

I remember that NPG was also "taken by surprise", when in 2001 librarians worldwide protested their new site license terms, under which libraries were asked to pay $10k for a subscription to Nature and accept to get access to the news, comments and other editorial material only after an embargo of 3 months, an uproar that made it to the pages of LJ Academic newswire. NPG replied they had "no current plans to substantially alter those terms". 60 days later, when the boycott movement clearly had gained full momentum, NPG gave in and changed their terms.

30. opendoor - June 11, 2010 at 04:20 pm

Dramatic price increases are nothing new to NPG. Last year NPG increased our institutional rate for a single print subscription to Scientific American from $50 to $300. We cancelled. The individual subscription remains about $25. This is a huge price increase for any SLAC. Scientific American is a magazine and not a peer reviewed journal.

31. ucprof - June 12, 2010 at 12:25 am

Another way to fight this might be to organize a counter journal called "UC Nature" and put all the UC academicians (NAS, NAE, etc) on the editorial board and have it run with the same standards as the regular Nature. Make it open access or something like that.

32. geraldus - June 12, 2010 at 01:04 am

Rising publishing costs add to the high price of knowledge. Is the internet endangering specialist journals as well as mass circulation newspapers? Should academic journals and popular special area magazines like Nature try harder to attract advertising? Some journals have a longstanding, snobbish attitude towards advertising, but if they are selective they can maintain their perceived impartiality in the knowledge industry.

Some comments allude to the matter of tenure, the need to get articles published, and the prestige of getting published in titles that have a wider readership than the academy. All too true. Academia has its publish-or-perish ethos, which unfortunately rates teachers according to how many items they publish and how many citations their articles get, not enough according to their performances in classes and seminars This competition colours the nature of knowledge and the language of its discourse. Let's face it, much academic writing fails to impart knowledge to members of the wider society, nationally and internationally.

33. pvd_nz - June 12, 2010 at 05:18 am

NPG have now issued their own press release at
http://www.nature.com/press_releases/cdl.html
This confirms the interpretations by some previous posters that the UC system has been getting an impossibly good deal which will now become just a really good deal. There is no free lunch - good academics prize getting their work into Nature rather than into low-profile open-access journals. It is mainly the publisher's activities that add the extra value, since both types of journals have many services provided by volunteers. If UDL does not pay their fair share, then other universities have to pay extra. Since I am not part of the UC system, the fact that inept California legislators and administrators have almost bankrupted their once-reputable university system is not of great concern to me; in any event, it is not NPG's fault.

34. bmerker - June 12, 2010 at 10:06 am

That serious scientists should deliver their manuscripts (and referee opinions) free of charge to commercial, for-profit science publishers who then take the lead in inflating the prices at which other scientists gain access to those manuscripts through their institution's library subscription is an anomaly of human market transactions so glaring that one marvels at how it ever came to be in the first place, given the long and venerable tradition of not-for-profit scientific publishing. The self-esteem of scientists should be enough to "just say no" in a general boycott of for-profit science publishers, long overdue.

35. bmerker - June 12, 2010 at 10:25 am

PS: Or let for-profit publishers bid for their manuscripts.

36. jdbishop5 - June 12, 2010 at 07:21 pm

IMHO A condition of ANY public funding of research and/or publication, including the salary of the writer, should be that ALL work products are provided free of charge, excepting actual publication costs (paper, ink, mailing) to the public.

37. chroniclereader0 - June 12, 2010 at 08:15 pm

Also posted at TheScientist.com:

Contemplate these numbers:
From UC's posting:
Average cost for all journals: $3103
Number of journals UC wide: 7846
Total cost: 7846 X 3103 = 24.3 million

NPG cost to UC-
Number of NPG journals X Cost (current): 67 X $4465 = $299 000.

Number of NPG journals X Cost (new): 67 X $17, 479 = $1.17 million.

(but something is not right because the new cost is supposed to raise UC cost by more than $1 million. The numbers do not quite add up based on the info.... but this is not the main point. Read on...)

So UC is encouraging OA publishing, and many posters are saying OA is the way to go. UC's letter indicates they contribute 5300 articles to NPG in the last 6 years (i.e. 883/year). Average OA journal charges author about $3000 (it's no secret that OA journals like PLoS and JCI have shown this ballpark number is not sustainable. Also, journals like Nature cost a lot more). So the cost to UC is 883 X 3000 = $2.65 million. Think about that.

OK, caveat 1)once it's out it's free to all. But who is this system penalizing? Caveat 2) UC is not paying, funders are paying - c'mon, do you think this point makes sense?

38. uclaprof - June 12, 2010 at 11:28 pm

The UC system, more than any other academic group, is in an excellent position to create online, open-access-after-a-year, peer-reviewed UC-sited scholarly journals to compete with or replace prestige-exploiting monopolists.

In almost any discipline, a multicampus intramural editorial board could be created virtually overnight, and if the principle that a board must be equally composed of intramural and extramural members were adopted, I foresee no difficulties in assembling world-class editorial boards.

UC being a publicly accountable institution, the cost profiles of such journals would not be trade secrets. Perhaps the costed-out preferred-access institutional price of a UC-sited competitor to Nature would have to be $17K, but if the editorial board were very widely inclusive, perhaps the price could be kept closer to $4K.

And if we here were to begin to discuss this alternative (and others) seriously, the discussion itself might give the masters of Nature reason to reconsider their pricing polcies. So shall we begin?

39. credi - June 13, 2010 at 04:40 am

wit your predisposed censure you're ignoring the fact that, if at all UC does imploringly establish an in-house publishing body, te professors wouldn't get the same incentives. He wouldn't attract an academic entourage. UC's own journal wouldn't have an established player's outreach which could lead to his work being marginalized.

40. flabmeister - June 13, 2010 at 07:11 pm

I await with bated breath for someone else to realise this is all due to Halliburton.

41. lonald - June 14, 2010 at 07:31 am

The value that NPG is supposed to bring is the selection of high quality articles to its subscribers. Over many years, this value was established. Also, the value is not just in what is published, but in what is rejected - establishing a known standard. Open access journals may or may not have the ability to effectively filter and weed out low value articles. If not, then their audience will not be maintained. I doubt that UC would be able to establish value in the near term, especially with peer review itself under scrutiny.

What if these journals did pay an award to authors for successfully bringing an article to print? That money could go either to the authors or to the university and could defray the subscription costs. The ramifications of competition would be highly significant and potentially disruptive.

The statistics in the article are highly selective and not placed in context. For example, how many articles are published annually in the NPG universe and what percent does the UC system contribute? Is UC counting letters and replies? Are news items counted? What is the actual cost of their NPG subscription, and what is the total budget for subscriptions? If the system cancels, then faculty are likely to subscribe or purchase individual articles - what is the projected cost on that basis?

Finally, does anyone know whether NPG is making money? My guess is that they face the same severe economic pressure that all publishing houses face due to the transition to electronic publishing with the overhead of paper production.

42. fffrobenius - June 14, 2010 at 08:03 am

What's the deal? Is everyone spelling "lose" as "loose" now? Who decided that?

43. richardtaborgreene - June 14, 2010 at 08:20 am

Aw shucks, the elite after decades of journals being beyond affordability by non-elite persons (who vote against science as a partial consequence), are now finding the same journals too expensive for elites themselves. And, who, pray tell, are the persons raising prices 400% beyond affordability by elites?--why it is some MBA managers created by, guess whom, the elites now unable to afford what they progeny have priced up? Delicious irony one might say. Some one should write a journal article on it and publish it where no one in the world will ever be able to afford to read it.

and then there was the web and everyone in the world, even, poor people in poor nations, could afford MIT's open courseware contents and the like---what a difference a technology makes.

44. bertnb - June 14, 2010 at 08:55 am

Have we all forgotten that these journals use the works of academics FOR FREE? And now they are raising their rates 400% on a product that they largely don't PAY FOR? Yes, the tenure system requires academics to publish -- but it shouldn't be for free. I just got done dealing with abuse from a very arrogant editor of a publication who clearly forgot that she was using my work at no cost to her. THAT is the part of the process that academics should say "no" to. People donate things to Goodwill for free; they should not be donating academic work to journals who will jack their costs by 400% -- regardless of what that breaks down to per article.

45. ainshi - June 15, 2010 at 12:06 pm

One thing missing from the discussion is that currently submissions to no journals (including open access journals like PLoS) is not free. The average can be somewhere around $1000. So not only is the UC system generating revenue from NPG by subscribing to the journals, the provide the content that sells the journals, and they PAY to provide that content. The *only* incentive for anyone to ever be in Nature is prestige, and the only way to combat that is for another journal to elevate itself. To be perfectly honest, the quality of many published Nature research articles in recent years has been questionable.

46. elmart - June 20, 2010 at 12:55 pm

The UC's would know all about gouging . . .

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