The Association of American University Presses (AAUP) has issued a statement on the open access, which focuses on the potential harm that could be done to their operations by the open access model. The paper points to the potential for open access to hurt circulation revenues, and emphasizes that university presses are not wealthy institutions. The paper also talks about the many experiments university presses are undertaking with open access or alternative pricing models — and goes one further. While the open access debate has focused on scholarly journals, the presses suggest that models that work for journals may well also work for monographs. And so, the paper says, it’s not surprising that university presses support a range of projects — such as The New Georgia Encyclopedia, Columbia International Affairs Online and Rotunda — that place materials online and are either open access or use nontraditional pricing models.
But while the press report expresses enthusiasm for such models, it then outlines what it sees as severe economic consequences of imposing the “more radical approaches” to open access, which “abandon the market as a viable basis for the recovery of costs in scholarly publishing.”
Among the concerns:
* If publishers lose revenue from selling copies of journals, their support will need to come either from authors or other sources, such as foundations and libraries. The AAUP paper warns that scholars at institutions unable to make such contributions “may experience greater difficulty in publishing.”
* Requirements that journal contents be made available online and free will “undermine existing well regarded services,” such as Project Muse, that sell access to packages of journals to academic institutions.
* If university presses lose significant portions of the $500 million they generate in sales (90 percent of their operating costs), those funds will need to be replaced or the presses will have to cut back on what they do.
* If, as some have threatened to do, some commercial publishers back out of scholarly publishing in the wake of any open access regulations, would university presses be expected to pick up these projects and, if so, who would pay for them?
The paper points proudly to examples of university press publications that are available freely online and suggests a broadening of the open access concept. “Open access need not be limited to journals,” the presses state. And while applying the model to monographs would create another set of issues for university presses (the paper notes that only 17-20 percent of publishing costs for monographs are on manufacturing), there might also be models that mix print and online, open access and fees, the paper suggests. It adds that it would be “unwise not to explore the implications of open access for all fields of knowledge lest an unfortunate new ‘digital divide’ should arise between fields and between different types of publishing.”
Underlying the specific issues raised, the paper says that university presses could function in open access in the “gift economy” model (in which they aren’t expected to generate revenue streams that would disappear), but that policy makers need to recognize the extent to which this represents a shift from the current model, which even if it includes subsidies, is a market economy.
The paper closes by saying that presses are willing to explore “new publishing models, mindful that it is important to protect what is most valuable about the existing system.”
The AAUP statement was drafted by a group led by Sandy Thatcher, director of the Penn State University Press.
Inside Higher Education 2/28/07.
Addendum from K. Newman: For a look at the opposing side, read also the comments by Peter Suber, director of the Public Knowledge Open Access Project.
Posted by P. Kaufman at February 28, 2007 7:41 AM