The Lighthouse in Scholarly Publishing:
Exploring a New Model for Open Access Sustainability
Mark Kurtz, Director of Business Development, BioOne
Excellent philosophical discussion about the nature of "knowledge as a public good." Notes below do not give Mark's erudite presentation justice.
- knowledge if non-rivalrous in consumption (in the abstract sense)
- is it non-excludable (practically impossible to limit consumption to certain person)? In the abstract sense, yes it is; but when it is "encoded" (placed in books, journals, etc.), no it is not.
Most of the people in the room would probably agree that scholarly communication is a public good (if only we could work out the economic model).
"He who lights his taper at mine does not diminish mine" T. Jefferson
But how do we pay for the tapers? So how do we define the problematic? In scholarly communication it is the "Free rider" problem. Why should I pay for something if someone else is?
Solutions that have been tried:
- selective incentives (exclusive benefits), value added services (positive) and nuisance notices (negative)
- Compelling payment (taxation)
- Assurance contracts (members pledge to contribute to a collective good, if the threshold is met, the service is provided, if not, nothing happens). Let's look at the history of subscriptions (which are a form of assurance contracts); 17th century England found the patronage method of publication failing and the solicited subscription began (John Minsheau, Guide into Tongues, 1617 first known subscribed book). Printed subscriber lists add in a form of value added service.
Did 17th century subscriptions provide public goods? No, they provided a "club good"
- non-rivalrous? Yes
- Non-excludable No
- These are termed "club goods" (provide a public good to a small group of people)
Modern nonprofit subscription model is more like a club good than the commercial subscription model.
For commercial publishers, the subscription model is a totally different type of model that is a value-optimized pricing strategy as opposed to a product-cost model.
How can nonprofit publishing achieve something greater than what has been done (e.g. by BioOne) and should they try?
The Lighthouse Model
- archetypal pure public good
- social value
- non-rivalrous and non-excludable
- free-rider not a problem since impossible to monetize
- require government intervention to fund
- only government can truly fund public goods
But what if they're not?
- Economist Ronald Coase gave an alternate example from England where shipping companies, and NGO's formed to build lighthouses
- allowed free riders, but through the pooling of resources by some parties who really needed them
The Lighthouse model for scholarly publishing
- BioOne proposes testing the Coasian solution to BioOne's OA collection
- annually, a group of stakeholders would decide how much content to provide and how much it would cost to provide this information
- the OA sustanability surcharge would equitabily distributed among suscribers to BioOne.1 and BioOne.2, but not to non-subscribeers
How would this work?
- 2% surcharge on invoiced accounts
- add an $85/institution surcharge with a maximum off $500
- revenue would go into a restrcted fund used only for OA publishing
Caveats and Marginalia
- this is not THE solution to OA publishing
- might prove a scalable model for the BioOne community
- even failure of the test would have value
- successful test might have wider implications
- it's an admittedly quirky "third way"
Questions and Feedback
Question: will there be an opt out option?
Answer: No, that would be too complicated
Question: any differences for consortia or country-wide deals?
Answer: Consortia, no, it scales there; but for the large deals, it will have to be done differently
Question: We're seeing a decline in memberships to societies since they can get journal content via libraries; will this model further impact society membership?
Answer: Big question and problem. Most BioOne use still comes through the academe. End-users are increasingly unaware of the concepts of "journal", aggragator (Ebscohost, etc.) or even library. All they know is author and article. This is the bigger issue and problem for societies.
Question: Will this make for more BioOne OA content?
Answer: Yes, there will be some increased content.
Question: What percentage of BioOne subscrptions come from state funded consortia?
Answer: Hard question to answer because of many variables