I'll keep this short because this is a long issue. More next time. Thanks to David, Jennifer, and Andrew, and to Jerry Curtis for inspiring me to get back on track with the pricing newsletter. And my apologies to Mike Spinella of Science for misspelling his name in the last issue.
214.2 PIPE DREAM OR PRACTICAL PLAN? ISSUES THE SPARC INITIATIVE
Jennifer Kostelnik, Chemistry Librarian, Yale University, Jennifer.kostelnik@Yale.edu
[Received February 4, 1999]
The arena of Scholarly Publishing is ripe for change. Not only is the pricing structure in need of revision, but research into the electronic dissemination of information is also making it possible to consider alternatives to traditional publishing models. Recently, the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) of the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) put forth an initiative to "foster and expand competition in scholarly communication."(1) SPARC aims to organize "member libraries" who will contribute funds to the project and who pledge to purchase journals produced by SPARC publishing partners. In turn, the publishing partners are provided with startup funds and are guaranteed a subscription base to publish reasonably priced journals that will compete directly with more expensive titles.
To date, SPARC has announced partnerships with three publishers resulting in the publication of three new journals. What is immediately evident is that there are now three new journals to which librarians, with already tight budgets, are asked to subscribe. SPARC is bringing about competition, but have they mapped out the rest of the plan? Will the creation of these new journals bring about a change in scholarly publishing or will SPARC succeed only in creating additional journals? It is difficult to foresee the future in such broad terms, but there are some questions that need to be addressed now.
Whom is this initiative targeting?
SPARC has solicited and gained the support of many librarians, selected publishing partners, and associations of academic administrators, but what is their plan for convincing authors to publish in the new journals and have scholars support them? Those directly associated with libraries and publishing are well aware that there is a problem with the current journal pricing structure and they are anxious to support reasonable plans for constructive change; however, there are other key players in this game. Why do we not see more scholarly societies aligning themselves with SPARC? Is this initiative being marketed to those who will be editing, publishing in, and reading the new journals? What can SPARC supported titles offer that will entice high profile editorial boards to leave their successful positions and align themselves with fledgling publications? Furthermore, does SPARC have a plan to discourage scholars from repopulating the editorial boards of commercial journals therefore diminishing the value of these publications? The quality and innovation of SPARC supported journals should entice all well informed authors to publish in them.
These questions leave one to wonder whether a systematic approach to achieving the goals set forth by the SPARC initiative has been developed or if the coalition is merely hopeful that, in the words of ARL Office of Scholarly and Academic Publishing director Mary Case, "if new SPARC titles can draw papers away from top expensive competitors, there should be a decrease in size or quality and eventually a decrease in price"?(2)
Selling more than a bargain?
Aside from price, what will make the SPARC supported journals unique and superior to the competition? In order to provide serious competition, the publishers with whom SPARC partners must sell more than a bargain. Unless these journals can surpass current publications in quality and innovative electronic access, readers will not take notice or will begin to consult the new publications as a supplement to those currently in existence, thus increasing the demand on library budgets rather than reducing it.
One of the goals stated in the SPARC initiative is "to encourage innovative uses of technology to improve scholarly communication by collaborating in the design and testing of new products."(3) Because SPARC intends to unite publishers and libraries, it is the perfect organization to introduce solutions to the archiving of electronic editions of journals and to address enhanced features that can be provided by electronic publications. Here is the new paradigm of scholarly publishing that is waiting to be explored and exploited. By positioning themselves as innovators in this arena, SPARC members and publishers can generate greater interest in the new publications and build the framework for a successful repositioning of the balance of power between scholarly communities and commercial publishing companies. Unfortunately, we have yet to see SPARC or any of its publishing partners make steps in this direction. The three new journals that have been introduced thus far are merely less expensive versions of traditional publications. What are these publishers offering that will make those with little to no concern for serials pricing take notice?
Idealistically, the SPARC initiative is an admirable first step towards restructuring serials publishing and pricing; however, in order to be successful the PLAN must become more practical and concrete over time. This development has yet to be seen. SPARC has the resources and is gaining the attention necessary to make a difference. Are the organizers of this initiative being held accountable to follow through with their initial goals or will lack of concrete, well-defined vision reduce the chances of success?
I hope that SPARC and its partners will present a more developed plan, based on issues aside from pricing, which will address the concerns set forth here. In order to convince scholars, editors, publishers, and librarians to commit to this initiative it is imperative that SPARC align itself with the proper partners and demonstrate the ability to successfully challenge existing models of information dissemination.
1. Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition. SPARC fact sheet. http://www.arl.org/sparc/factsheet.html (accessed Jan. 1999).
2. Butler, Declan. "The Writing is on the Web for Science Journals in Print." Nature. 1999, 397, 195-200.
3. Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition. Proposed Mission: SPARC. http://www.arl.org/sparc/proposal.html (accessed Jan.1999)
214.3 NEW SECRETARY FOR ASSOCIATION OF SUBSCRIPTION AGENTS
PRESS RELEASE, October 29, 1998
Rollo Turner has been appointed Secretary of the Association of Subscription Agents with effect from October 1998.
Rollo was well known as the Head of Publisher Relations at Blackwell's Information Services. Prior to this Rollo has had an extensive background in academic and professional publishing having worked for a number of journal publishers including, most recently, heading Aslib's publishing operation. Rollo will bring with him the specialist knowledge of the industry and of its recent developments in the areas of electronic distribution, which will be important to the Association as its role expands. Asked to comment on his appointment Rollo said "The rate of change in the journal publishing industry is now so great that the traditional role of agents, publishers and libraries is being called into question. I believe that the key role in the future will concern the distribution of information to organisations -- an area at which agents excel. However in order for the industry to exploit the benefits of the new technology all parties in the distribution chain will need to evolve. I see my future role as helping the Agents meet this challenge so that they can shape the industry of tomorrow, whilst at the same time representing their concerns of today. It is definitely a role which I shall enjoy."
Rollo succeeds John Merriman as Secretary. John has decided to retire from this position but not from the world of journals since he will remain editor of Serials.
Further Information: Rollo Turner, Secretary, Association of Subscription Agents, 10 Lime Avenue, High Wycombe, Bucks. HP11 1DP, United Kingdom. Tel: +44 (0)1494 534778; Fax: +44 (0)1494 534778. Email: email@example.com
214.4 URL FOR PAPER ON LIBRARIES AND PUBLISHERS
Andrew Odlyzko, AT&T Labs - Research, firstname.lastname@example.org
[Received January 19, 1999]
A paper on the changing roles of libraries and publishers is available in several formats (text, .tex, .ps, .pdf) at
An abstract is enclosed below. Comments are invited.
The conversion of scholarly journals to digital format is proceeding rapidly, especially for those from large commercial and learned society publishers. This conversion offers the best hope for survival for such publishers. The infamous "journal crisis" is more of a library cost crisis than a publisher pricing problem, with internal library costs much higher than the amount spent on purchasing books and journals. Therefore publishers may be able to retain or even increase their revenues and profits, while at the same time providing a superior service. To do this, they will have to take over many of the functions of libraries, and they can do that only in the digital domain. This paper examines publishers' strategies, how they are likely to evolve, and how they will affect libraries.
214.5 EPRINT MODERATOR MODEL
David Stern, Director of Science Libraries and Information Services, Yale University, email@example.com
[Received February 4, 1999]
The following URL contains an abstract of this idea plus a graphic:
The intent of this model is to allow the widest range of scientific manuscripts to be archived, searched, and distributed electronically at the lowest possible cost. The primary goal is to significantly reduce the amount of journal material distributed in a commercial manner. This would be accomplished through very minimal filtering and subsequent placement of eprints on a non-commercial archival server by a subject-specific Moderator appointed by a society (or consortium of societies). It would function in the manner of an online ERIC Clearinghouse.
A society-appointed Editorial Board (with double-blind peer review approved by the non-profit Peer Review Inc. organization) would then identify the most important materials from among these archived items, and the stamp of approval for these items would be included in a secondary Virtual Collection. This Virtual Collection, or other spin-offs such as enhanced abstracts, SDI services, and email threads, would be easier to use for browsing and/or having abstracts sent electronically to individual researchers. There are no direct submissions to the Editorial Board; manuscripts would be directed to the Editorial Board in one of three ways:
1. nominated by the eprint Moderator upon receipt for the archival server,
2. notification sent to the Editorial Board when a threshold number of hits are generated by any one manuscript on the archive server, and
3. nominated by readers of material from the archive; this process requires a letter of support outlining the importance of the work to the Editorial Board.
The Virtual Collection could be produced as a variety of products:
email threads (with comments)
virtual reviews of sub-disciplines
SDIs (selective dissemination of information) current awareness Tools
- reduces the load on Editorial Boards, which results in a faster review process,
- differentiates those items worthy of higher recognition from those worthy of archiving, making it easier for a reader to filter material, based upon a society and discipline authority (rather than commercial reasoning);
- provides for search and sdi across all materials from the archive if the user desires speed or comprehensiveness;
- provides for search/browse/sdi from the Virtual Collection for filtered info, reducing this more expensive identification and distribution option for only those items recognized as of the highest quality.
The funding for this archiving server and Virtual Collection infrastructure would come from a blend of Direct (professional societies, and author page charges) and Indirect (government, taxes) sources. This would reduce the cost and guarantee the judicious selection of materials for the Virtual Collection.
The support of the Virtual Collection infrastructure could be provided by a blend of commercial and non-commercial sources, depending upon the resale value of the eventual end products. Some disciplines may be attractive for commercial support of editorial boards while other areas may only have non-commercial support. The sophistication of the end products may be related to the commercial viability of the content.
Promotion and tenure decisions would be based upon both Virtual Collection and archival materials. This step would significantly reduce the need to subsidize the most expensive distribution process as the only means of meeting the publish-or-perish tenure process requirements.
The eprint Moderator Model graphic:
Comments on this model are appreciated.
Statements of fact and opinion appearing in the Newsletter on Serials Pricing Issues are made on the responsibility of the authors alone, and do not imply the endorsement of the editor, the editorial board, or the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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