General cost analysis for scholarly communication in Germany: results of the ‘Houghton Report’ for Germany by John W. Houghton, Berndt Dugall, Steffen Bernius, Julia Krönung, Wolfgang König
Management Summary: Conducted within the project ?Economic Implications of New Models for Information Supply for Science and Research in Germany?, the Houghton Report for Germany provides a general cost and benefit analysis for scientific communication in Germany comparing different scenarios according to their specific costs and explicitly including the German National License Program (NLP).
Basing on the scholarly lifecycle process model outlined by Björk (2007), the study compared the following scenarios according to their accounted costs:
– Traditional subscription publishing,
– Open access publishing (Gold Open Access; refers primarily to journal publishing where access is free of charge to readers, while the authors or funding organisations pay for publication)
– Open Access self-archiving (authors deposit their work in online open access institutional or subject-based repositories, making it freely available to anyone with Internet access; further divided into (i) CGreen Open Access? self-archiving operating in parallel with subscription publishing; and (ii) the ?overlay services? model in which self-archiving provides the foundation for overlay services (e.g. peer review, branding and quality control services))
– the NLP.
Within all scenarios, five core activity elements (Fund research and research communication; perform research and communicate the results; publish scientific and scholarly works; facilitate dissemination, retrieval and preservation; study publications and apply the knowledge) were modeled and priced with all their including activities.
Modelling the impacts of an increase in accessibility and efficiency resulting from more open access on returns to R&D over a 20 year period and then comparing costs and benefits, we find that the benefits of open access publishing models are likely to substantially outweigh the costs and, while smaller, the benefits of the German NLP also exceed the costs.
This analysis of the potential benefits of more open access to research findings suggests that different publishing models can make a material difference to the benefits realised, as well as the costs faced. It seems likely that more Open Access would have substantial net benefits in the longer term and, while net benefits may be lower during a transitional period, they are likely to be positive for both ?author-pays? Open Access publishing and the ?over-lay journals? alternatives (?Gold Open Access?), and for parallel subscription publishing and self-archiving (?Green Open Access?). The NLP returns substantial benefits and savings at a modest cost, returning one of the highest benefit/cost ratios available from unilateral national policies during a transitional period (second to that of ?Green Open Access? self-archiving). Whether ?Green Open Access? self-archiving in parallel with subscriptions is a sustainable model over the longer term is debateable, and what impact the NLP may have on the take up of Open Access alternatives is also an important consideration. So too is the potential for developments in Open Access or other scholarly publishing business models to significantly change the relative cost-benefit of the NLP over time.
The results are comparable to those of previous studies from the UK and Netherlands. Green Open Access in parallel with the traditional model yields the best benefits/cost ratio. Beside its benefits/cost ratio, the meaningfulness of the NLP is given by its enforceability. The true costs of toll access publishing (beside the buyback? of information) is the prohibition of access to research and knowledge for society.
Like previous Houghton Reports, this one has carefully compared unilateral and global cost/benefits for Gold Open Access Publishing and Green Open Access Self-Archiving. In this case, the options also included the German National License Program (NLP), a negotiated national site license providingGerman researchers with access to most of the journals they need.
As it found in other countries, the Report finds that Green OA self-archiving provides the best benefit/cost ratio in Germany too.
It needs to be noted, however, that among the scenarios compared, only subscription publishing (including licensed subscriptions) and Gold OA publishing are publishing models. Green OA self-archiving is not a substitute publishing model but a system of providing OA under the subscription/licensing model — by supplementing it with author self-archiving (and with self-archiving mandates adopted by authors’ institutions and funders).
“Open Access self-archiving? [is] further divided into (i) Green Open Access? self-archiving operating in parallel with subscription publishing; and (ii) the ?overlay services? model in which self-archiving provides the foundation for overlay services (e.g. peer review, branding and quality control services))”
Strictly speaking, the “overlay services model” is just another hypothetical Gold OA publishing model, but one in which the Gold OA fee is only paying for the service of peer-review, branding and quality control rather than for the all the rest of the products and services journals that are currently still being co-bundled in journal subscriptions and their costs (print edition, online edition, access-provision, hosting, archiving).
This hypothetical Gold OA model is predicated, however, on the assumption that there is universal Green OA self-archiving too, in order to perform the access-provision, hosting and archiving functions of what was formerly co-bundled under the subscription model.
Hence for existing journals the “overlay” Gold OA model is really just the second stage of a 2-stage transition that begins with the Green OA self-archiving access-provision system. In such a transition scenario, although Green OA would begin as a supplement to the subscription model, it would become an essential contributor to the sustainability of the overlay Gold OA model.
“comparing costs and benefits? [of] open access on returns to R&D over a 20 year period? we find that the benefits of open access publishing models are likely to substantially outweigh the costs and, while smaller, the benefits of the German NLP also exceed the costs.”
Again, it needs to be kept in mind that what are being compared are not just independent alternative publishing models, but also supplementary means of providing OA; so in some cases there are some very specific sequential contingencies and interdependencies among these models and scenarios.
“The NLP returns substantial benefits and savings at a modest cost, returning one of the highest benefit/cost ratios available from unilateral national policies during a transitional period (second to that of ?Green Open Access? self-archiving).”
I presume that in considering the costs and benefits of German national licensing the Houghton Report considered both the unilateral German national licensing scenario and the scenario if reciprocated globally. In this regard, it should be noted that OA has both user-end benefits [maximized access] and author-end benefits [maximized impact]: Unilateral national licenses provide only the former, not the latter. Both unilateral Green and unilateral Gold, in contrast, provide only the latter but not the former. So what needs to be taken into account is global scalability and sustainability: How likely are other nations (and institutions) to wish — and afford – to reciprocate under the various scenarios?
“Whether ?Green Open Access? self-archiving in parallel with subscriptions is a sustainable model over the longer term is debatable”
First of all, if subscription publishing itself is not a sustainable model, then of course Green OA self-archiving is not a sustainable supplement either.
But in the hypothetical “overlay” Gold OA model it is being assumed that Green OA self-archiving is indeed sustainable — as a practice, not as a substitute form of publishing. (It is naive to think of spawning 28,000 brand-new Gold OA peer-reviewed journals in place of the circa 28,000 journals that exist today: A conversion scenario is much more realistic.)
And probably the most relevant sustainability question is not about the sustainability of the practice of Green OA self-archiving (keystrokes and institutional repositories), nor the sustainability of subscription publishing, but the sustainability of subscription publishing in parallel with universal Green OA self-archiving. One natural possibility is that globally mandated Green OA self-archiving will make journal subscriptions unsustainable, inducing a transition in publishing models, with journals, under cancelation pressure, cutting inessential products and services and their costs, and downsizing to what is being here called the “overlay” Gold OA model (though that’s probably not the aptest term to describe the outcome), while at the same time releasing the subscription cancelation funds to pay the much lower peer review service fees it entails.
“The results are comparable to those of previous studies from the UK and Netherlands. Green Open Access in parallel with the traditional model yields the best benefits/cost ratio.”
And what also need to be taken into account are sequential contingencies and priorities: Green OA self-archiving is not only the cheapest, fastest and surest way to provide OA, but it is also the natural way to induce a subsequent transition to affordable, sustainable Gold OA. But in order to be able to do that, it has to come first.
“Beside its benefits/cost ratio, the meaningfulness of the NLP is given by its enforceability.|
Green OA self-archiving mandates are enforceable too. And global scaleability and sustainability has to be taken into account too, not just local access-provision.
“The true cost of toll access publishing (beside[s] the [cost of the] “buyback? of information) is the prohibition of access to research and knowledge for society.”
But when toll access publishing is globally supplemented by mandatory Green OA self-archiving, the “prohibition” is pre-empted, at next to no extra cost.