The cost of scientific publishing: update and call for action | Open Access Working Group

“Opening knowledge is great. Sharing knowledge is vital. In the past, publishers were the sole mediators for the dissemination of knowledge in printed form. In our, digital age, sharing has become easier thanks to the internet. Yet, although all areas of society have embraced the internet as THE sharing medium, scientific publishing has lagged far behind. Nowhere else are the advantages of sharing knowledge so obvious as in science: but instead of facilitating sharing, scientific publishers desperately try to protect their grip on the access to knowledge. Open access publication systems are a real threat to their lucrative business. That is why finding arguments against open access have become of vital importance. Similarly, countering these arguments is of vital importance for all of us who need [open] access … Tim Gowers’ recently published   blog post on his quest for information on subscription prices for Elsevier journals, using direct approaches (calling, writing publishers and libraries)  and indirect approaches (demanding information based on the FOI),  has caused a major stir. I recommend reading Michelle Brook’s very good overview in her recent blog. Some really astonishing facts have already come to light. It has for instance become apparent that different institutions pay very different prices for almost the ‘same’ deals. Also, universities that did not want to give the information responded often using the argument of commercial interests that had to be protected (full details for all cases in Tim Gowers blog post) The ‘Big deals’ that ELSEVIER and other scientific publishers have made with libraries, form their insurance for long term profits. Making these deals subject to confidentiality actively prevents decrease of prices for publishing which would otherwise occur through market mechanisms. And better still from the publisher’s viewpoint, so-called hybrid journals that allow open-access publishing at a price, only add to the profits. Although publishers say that prices for subscriptions will be lowered when the proportion of paid for open access articles increase, there is as yet no sign of this. APC charges for open access articles in hybrid journals are on the average $900 more expensive than for full open access journals … One of the new items that came to light was the fact that Elsevier and other publishers receive extra fees that allow articles to be re-used for education. One would think that this situation would be covered by fair use policies but this is not the case. Esther Hoorn of Groningen University, NL provided the following link for an overview of worldwide rules on fair use and limitations for educational use: Study for Copyright Limitations and Exceptions for Educational Activities in North America, Europe, Caucasus, Central Asia and Israel (by Raquel Xalabarder, Professor of Law, Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC), Barcelona, Spain) … Three items were heavily discussed on the open access mailing list, apart from the cost of toll access publishing (what customers had to pay), the cost of open access publishing and open access to data which is necessary for text and datamining …”