Culture

by Glyn Moody


Filed Under:
academic journals, boycott, journals, open access

Companies:
elsevier



New Boycott In Support Of Open Access: Third Time Lucky?

from the idea-whose-time-has-come dept

Over three years ago, we wrote about a fast-growing boycott of the academic publisher Elsevier, organised in protest at that company's high prices, its "bundling" of journals into larger collections, and its support for SOPA. Even though over 15,000 people eventually pledged not to work with Elsevier, the company is still going strong, making huge profits from the work of academics, and putting paywalls between the public and knowledge. Perhaps we should have guessed it would end like that. As we noted then, this was not the first or biggest boycott in the history of open access. In 2000, 34,000 scientists from 180 nations signed up to the following:

we pledge that, beginning in September 2001, we will publish in, edit or review for, and personally subscribe to only those scholarly and scientific journals that have agreed to grant unrestricted free distribution rights to any and all original research reports that they have published, through PubMed Central and similar online public resources, within 6 months of their initial publication date.
The failure by many of them to follow through on that promise did have one positive effect: it led to the creation of what remains perhaps the most influential open access publisher, the Public Library of Science, which is still around today, and flourishing. Both of these unsuccessful attempts to use boycotts to push forward open access are mentioned in a post by Dr Danny Kingsley on the Unlocking Research blog, which reports on yet another attempt to use this approach:
A long running dispute between Dutch universities and Elsevier has taken an interesting turn. Yesterday Koen Becking, chairman of the Executive Board of Tilburg University who has been negotiating with scientific publishers about an open access policy on behalf of Dutch universities with his colleague Gerard Meijer, announced a plan to start boycotting Elsevier.

As a first step in boycotting the publisher, the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU) has asked all scientists that are editor in chief of a journal published by Elsevier to give up their post. If this way of putting pressure on the publishers does not work, the next step would be to ask reviewers to stop working for Elsevier. After that, scientists could be asked to stop publishing in Elsevier journals.
And here's why Kingsley thinks this time the boycott might work:
Typically negotiations with publishers occur at an institutional level and with representatives from the university libraries. This makes sense as libraries have long standing relationships with publishers and understand the minutiae of the licencing processes . However the Dutch negotiations have been led by the Vice Chancellors of the universities. It is a country-wide negotiation at the highest level. And Vice Chancellors have the ability to request behaviour change of their research communities.
That exposes what went wrong with the previous boycotts: they were carried out by the researchers, who have very little clout individually or even collectively when it comes to putting pressure on huge companies like Elsevier. But the Vice Chancellors have real power, based on the ability to instruct their respective institutions how they should -- or shouldn't -- act, including, presumably, how they spend their money on journal subscriptions.

The Dutch seem to be serious about making open access the norm in their country. A recent amendment to the country's copyright act means that authors are now entitled by law to make the results of their research available under open access licenses. As a short notice on the University of Utrecht site explains:

This means that university staff no longer have to lay down the right to publish open access in agreements with publishers. After the amendment of the law they have and keep this right automatically. With the publisher they only have to reach an agreement on the length of 'a reasonable period of time'.
Even without the boycott, then, Elsevier will be obliged to agree to release research that is completely or partly paid for by the Dutch government as open access after that "reasonable period of time." All-in-all, now might be a good moment for the company to take a more accommodating approach to open access than it has in the past.

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  • identicon
    Stevan Harnad, 10 Jul 2015 @ 8:23am

    Boycotting To Sustain Bloat

    Sander Dekker, Netherlands’ State Secretary for the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science wants Open Access and has set some deadlines for how soon he wants it for Netherlands. That’s fine.

    But the Netherlands' Sander Dekker, like the UK's Finch Committee, wants Gold Open Access.

    That means Universities must pay Elsevier’s asking price for Gold OA.

    Elsevier’s asking price is a price per article that will maintain Elsevier's current total net subscription revenue.

    Elsevier’s current total net subscription revenue is enormously bloated — not only by huge profit margins (c. 40%) but by obsolete product and service costs forcibly co-bundled into the price (print edition, online edition, access-provision, archiving).

    The Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU) has a consortial Big Deal subscription with Elsevier, and they have said they will continue to pay it if Netherlands authors can have Gold OA for their articles at no extra charge.

    This is basically trying to transform a bloated subscription deal into a bloated Gold OA membership deal, rather like SCOAP3.

    The reasons this transformation cannot work globally are many, but locally it can be made to work, for a while, by fiat, if VSNU collaborate and Elsevier agrees.

    And on the surface it is not obvious why Elsevier would not agree, since it looks as if the deal would give Elsevier exactly what it wants: current revenue levels per Elsevier article will be maintained, but with the Netherlands paying its share not as subscriptions but as memberships, in exchange for Gold OA for Elsevier articles by Netherlands authors.

    But what about the rest of the world? They continue paying subscriptions — not just to Elsevier, but to all other publishers. And VSNU, too, must continue paying subscriptions to all other publishers whose journals Netherlands users need.

    Would this local Netherlands solution be stable, sustainable and scalable?

    The answer is that it would be none of these -- and Elsevier knows that perfectly well. And that explains why they are not eager to make this local Gold membership deal with VSNU (even though Springer has been trying to encourage the consortial Gold membership model for its subscribers) -- and why VSNU is contemplating asking Elsevier editors at Netherlands institutions (and eventually all Elsevier authors in Netherlands) to boycott Elsevier unless Elsevier makes this transition to Gold

    A Gold consortial membership model is unstable, unsustainable and unscalable because memberships, like subscriptions, are locally cancellable -- by an institution or a country -- and because there are other (competing) publishers in the world.

    And membership would be unstable and unsustainable even if the scalability problem could be magically surmounted by a global “flip” in which all institutions on the planet and all publishers on the planet solemnly agree jointly to go from their current subscriptions to Gold OA memberships for all their journals with all their publishers at their current subscription price all on the same day.

    The very next day the system would destabilize, with cash-strapped institutions cancelling their “memberships” to journals that their users needed to use but in which their authors published little, preferring instead to pay for publishing by the piece for the few articles they publish in them.

    This would in turn destabilize the sustainability of yesterday’s subscription revenue streams via memberships, which would mean that membership fees would have to increase for the non-defecting institutions to sustain all publishers' net revenue, which would in turn mean that institutions would be paying more for memberships than they had been paying for subscriptions.

    And the Global Consortial Gold Membership Deal (which is in reality a global producer oligopoly sustained by a global consumer consortium) would begin unravelling the moment it was “flipped.”

    Trying instead to get there more gradually, institution by institution, publisher by publisher, journal by journal rather than via a miraculous global “flip” instead destabilizes the scalability of the Gold membership model rather than just its sustainability. Institutions as well as publishers would be participating in a multi-player prisoner's dilemma, with defection always being the optimal choice.

    But this is also the relevant point to recall that there is another way to give and get OA, namely, Green OA self-archiving:

    For institutions struggling with bloated, unaffordable journal subscription prices, the far more natural route is to reduce subscriptions to just their users' must-have journals and to mandate Green OA for their own publication output, rather than to lock themselves into increasingly unaffordable subscriptions in the form of membership fees in exchange for Gold OA for their own institutional publication output.

    This, of course, is exactly why publishers are trying so hard to embargo Green OA: Not because the survival of refereed journals is at stake but in order to hold publication hostage to either current bloated subscriptions or bloated Gold OA fees that sustain the same net revenue either way they are paid.

    That way the bloated asking price price will never go down and the costs of the obsolete products and services can continue to be forcibly co-bundled into the asking price.

    But publishers know perfectly well that they are fighting a battle that they will ultimately lose, and that all they are doing now is whatever they can to sustain their current revenue levels as long as possible, with the vague hope that piece-wise Gold OA fees might continue to sustain the bloat as unstable, unscalable and unsustainable consortial "memberships" could not.

    So publishers continue conning the likes of Sander Dekker into believing that today's bloated Fool's Gold OA is the only way to have OA, and that Green OA would destroy journals altogether, so it must be embargoed.

    And VSNU thinks it is fighting the good fight by threatening another embargo against Elsevier unless they agree to Fool's Gold consortial OA membership for the Netherlands.

    A stable, scalable, sustainable solution, of course, is within reach, through a transition to affordable, unbloated Fair Gold induced by first universally mandating and providing Green OA (there is even an antidote for publishers' embargoes on Green OA) -- but neither Sander Dekker nor VSNU are grasping it.

    Harnad, S. (2007) The Green Road to Open Access: A Leveraged Transition. In: Anna Gacs. The Culture of Periodicals from the Perspective of the Electronic Age. L'Harmattan. 99-106.

    ________ (2010) No-Fault Peer Review Charges: The Price of Selectivity Need Not Be Access Denied or Delayed. D-Lib Magazine 16 (7/8).

    ________ (2013) The Postgutenberg Open Access Journal (revised). In, Cope, B and Phillips, A (eds.) The Future of the Academic Journal (2nd edition). 2nd edition of book Chandos.

    ________ (2014) The only way to make inflated journal subscriptions unsustainable: Mandate Green Open Access. LSE Impact of Social Sciences Blog 4/28

    Houghton, J. & Swan, A. (2013) Planting the Green Seeds for a Golden Harvest: Comments and Clarifications on "Going for Gold". D-Lib Magazine 19 (1/2).

    Sale, A., Couture, M., Rodrigues, E., Carr, L. and Harnad, S. (2014) Open Access Mandates and the "Fair Dealing" Button. In: Dynamic Fair Dealing: Creating Canadian Culture Online (Rosemary J. Coombe & Darren Wershler, Eds.)

    Swan, Alma; Gargouri, Yassine; Hunt, Megan; & Harnad, Stevan (2015) Open Access Policy: Numbers, Analysis, Effectiveness. Pasteur4OA Workpackage 3 Report.

    Vincent-Lamarre, Philippe, Boivin, Jade, Gargouri, Yassine, Larivière, Vincent and Harnad, Stevan (2015) Estimating Open Access Mandate Effectiveness: I. The MELIBEA Score JASIST, in press.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Jeffrey Beall, 12 Jul 2015 @ 4:36am

    Be careful what you ask for

    It sometimes seems like the open-access movement is really just a collective fetish to topple Elsevier. Anyone who thinks that toppling Elsevier is going to magically make research free and open-access is naive. There are hundreds of other subscription publishers out there. Because the focus is only on Elsevier when there there are many others like it, it's fair to make the fetish comparison.

    The Netherlands decision will only hurt honest researchers there and will greatly advantage the predatory publishers. In fact, I am sure that the predatory publishers are planning right now to fill the gap when Elsevier is restricted in its home country.

    Everyone wants to be the hero who topples Elsevier. The Netherlands decision is bad for researchers and bad for scholarly communication. The decision will increase the market share of predatory and low-quality publishers more than it will hurt Elsevier.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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