Friday, January 14, 2011

Interview with Springer’s Derk Haank

My interview with Derk Haank, CEO of Springer Science+Business Media has been published in the January issue of Information Today, and can be read here:

Below are a few quotes from Haank taken from the interview.

On the Big Deal:

“The Big Deal is the best invention since sliced bread. I agree that there was once a serial pricing problem; I have never denied there was a problem. But it was the Big Deal that solved it.

“The truth is that it is in the interests of everyone—publishers and librarians—to keep the Big Deal going.”

On the serials crisis:

“The serials crisis refers to a situation that existed at the end of the 1990s, when we saw big increases well above inflation. Those days are long gone, and I strongly feel that our products now offer value for money. In fact, the cost per unit has fallen, and in the last 10 years, libraries have gotten more and more for the same money.”

On future price increases:

“Look, the reality is that our journals are growing in volume by 6% to 7% per year. We have been doing all that is possible over the last couple of years, and will continue to do so to ensure that our price increases are lower than the volume increases. But not increasing our prices is not an option in the long term.

“Librarians need to accept that if they want access to a continually growing database, then costs will need to go up a little bit but not like in the days of the serials crisis. We try to accommodate our customers, but at a certain point, we will hit a wall.”

On whether there is a structural problem in the scholarly publishing market, and the likelihood that the research community might at some point no longer be able to afford to keep paying publishers’ prices:

“I don't believe there is a structural problem, and things will not fall apart. There are always countervailing forces. I don't believe that our pricing is a big problem, and I am sure that this market can carry on indefinitely. As I say, I accept that there was once a problem. But today, we can't give libraries access to any more journals because they already have access to all they could ever want.

“Of course, if you predict that the whole world is about to collapse, it is possible that it may do so. However, over time, I expect people will realize that scientists have to have sufficient funding to keep abreast of new developments.”

On why Haank believes Open Access will remain a niche activity:

“I expect it to remain between 5% and 10% at a maximum … Because there simply isn't enough incentive to change the system. Most people who need access to research information are much better off today than they were 10 to 15 years ago. Things might not be perfect, and some believe we ought to take the ultimate step and publish everything open access, but the reality is that—outside the biomedical field—most people just don't see a sufficient problem for OA to become a big movement.”

On whether OA publishing is cheaper than subscription publishing:

“OA makes no material difference to pricing because most of the functions remain exactly the same. You could argue that OA allows you to dispense with print costs, but even under the subscription model, there is hardly any print anymore.

“Likewise, you could argue that you don't have to sell subscriptions with OA publishing. But OA requires selling institutional memberships. So whether the library pays for the system through subscriptions, or the institution pays author charges via membership schemes, it makes not a jot of difference to the overall costs in the end.”

On why Springer lobbies against self-archiving mandates (Green OA):

“[B]ecause OA mandates institutionalise the process of author archiving, and if the delay between publication and archiving is only a couple of months, then there is a real danger of destroying the equilibrium that we have achieved over OA.

“The compromise that we have reached is to keep the traditional subscription system while combining it with pure OA, plus a little bit of Green. In my view, that model is good enough, and it is really not worth risking it by introducing mandatory OA policies requiring papers to be made freely available within 6 months.”

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Vitek Tracz interview re-published with update

The interview I published on Open & Shut? in 2006 with BioMed Central (BMC) founder Vitek Tracz has been re-published in the journal Logos.

Since the Open Access (OA) environment has changed somewhat since 2006 – not least as a result of the sale of BMC to Springer in 2008 – the interview includes an update.

In that update I sketch out how I believe the OA movement has developed, and add some further commentary from Tracz.

The interview is OA. Unfortunately, while the Logos issue in which it appears was published at the end of last year, the text has been imprisoned and placed behind a paywall. As a result, readers are being asked to pay the princely sum of $35 to download it.

I am told that this is due to a technical hitch that it is hoped will be resolved soon. In the meantime, the publisher of Logos (Brill) has kindly sent me the final PDF, which can be downloaded by clicking on the link at the bottom of this post.

[Update: The Logos link now works, and the interview is available on an OA-basis via Ingenta here].

Below are a few quotes from Tracz taken from the update.

  • On his motivation to embrace OA:

“I took horrendous risks, and I was not at all sure that it would ever make financial sense. It was an ethical issue, and I was intrigued by the complexities of it.”

  • On whether OA publishing will prove more or less expensive than subscription publishing:

“I always assumed that OA publishing would be cheaper, but OA publishing is more complicated than we had initially envisaged. The logistics of it all quickly becomes very complicated, so it turns out not to be much cheaper than traditional publishing. This in turn means that the mount of money publishers can make is similar.”

  • On the argument that publishers charge too much for their services, and the research community might at some point no longer be able to afford to pay the bill:

“I have never participated in the economic argument. I haven’t got the faintest idea how that works, who says it is too much, on what basis they say it, or where it will all end. But it doesn’t matter that I don’t know.”

  • On why it does not matter that he does not know:

“It’s no different to when you walk into a market to buy a picture: If the buyer is not prepared to pay the asking price then the seller has to reduce the price. The price will always find its natural level. It’s as simple as that. So in the end it will depend on what the whole system is prepared to pay.”

  • On the future of scholarly publishing:

“What will be needed is not clear to me. But what is clear is that unrestricted access to primary research in the life sciences is essential. It’s got to the point where research can’t work without it. That means we will never return to a day in which access is restricted.”

To read the interview click here.