Friday, June 11, 2010

Nature Opens Mouth—Inserts Foot

 
Nature Publishing Group has responded to the potential boycott of its products by the Universities of California [Nature vs. The University of California]. Here's what they have to say for themselves ... [Public statement from Nature Publishing Group regarding subscription renewals at California Digital Library (CDL)].
The implication that NPG is increasing its list prices by massive amounts is entirely untrue. We have been publishing our academic site licence pricing for several years on our librarian gateway. Dollar list price increases have been reasonable (averaging roughly 7 % over 4 years), and publicly available throughout. A 7% cap on annual list price increases is currently in place.

The complication with CDL is that they have been on a very large, unsustainable discount for many years, to the point where other subscribers, both in the US and around the world, are subsidising them. The origins of this discount can be found in the lack of clear definitions around consortia and 'single institute, multisite' subscribers, as well as previous accommodations of CDL's budget limitations.

If we regard CDL as a consortium of multiple libraries (not least suggested by CDL's membership of International Coalition of Library Consortia (ICOLC), and the libraries' ARL listings), the CDL discount on list price is 88%. By their own figures, CDL receives average discounts of 55% from publishers. After several attempts, we are now trying to bring them close to a 50% discount (although this leaves CDL on better terms than many other consortia). We do recognise the situation can be viewed from different perspectives, and we remained committed to ongoing discussions.
Translation: It's completely untrue that NPG is increasing its prices. It's only massively increasing prices for the Universities of California. Price increases for other schools are "only" 7%.

Question: Is it true that the prices to other universities have increased because CDL has been getting a bargain? That's the only way to interpret the statement that, "... other subscribers, both in the US and around the world, are subsidising them"? If so, then if the new contract with CDL results in a huge price increase, doesn't it follow that the prices for all other subscribers should go down? That means the University of Toronto will get a price reduction when CDL and NPG reach agreement, right? Or am I missing something?
Our own projections show CDL will be paying roughly $0.56 per download under the new prices. This represents incredible value for money across any publisher's range of titles. We now call on CDL to reveal how much it spends with all the major publishers, and how this translates into cost per use, and/or other indicators of value. If NPG represents poor value for money, we will work with CDL to readjust their pricing. If, as we expect, NPG represents good value for money compared with other publishers, even at the new proposed pricing, we want to work with CDL to have this reflected in our agreement. We sincerely hope that no boycotts will occur, not least because it is detrimental to the advance of science, but we will not be bullied into continuing CDL's subsidy by our other customers.
Translation: We're embarrassed and we probably will be bullied into making a much lower offer to CDL. Furthermore, we equate the advance of science with the business of publishing. It's it reduces our profits then it must be bad for science.

The one good thing that will come of this is that it will stimulate many universities to get together and form bargaining groups. That will give them a lot more clout. I'm sure all the other publishers will be thanking NGP for making this such a prominent issue.


12 comments :

  1. So if we take $4,465 / .12, we get the full price of $37,208 per journal. WOW.

    To bring the "discounts" into perspective, the proposed price of $17,479 is a 53% discount wrt $37,208.

    A 50% discount off of $37,208 = $18,604.

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  2. I like that they are limiting their annual increases to 7%. By what I'm sure is total coincidence, that is almost exactly what we have been limiting our annual tuition increases to for the last 5 or so years.

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  3. Nice to see someone reporting on this most crucial and serious matter. All we hear from PZ are crickets... Meow, meow...did I just hear a P...y?

    Free access is the future of Science. The way of reducing nature's monopolic impact is diversification, and that fully deends on the scientists, who I call to submit to open-acces publications.

    It will be a good thing to end this ridiculous situation of a couple of heavily overrated journals, which in the end leaves in just a couple of editorial borads a lot of money-related decisions. For instance, impact of a cientists must be measured by the paper, not by the journal it was published in. The impact of individual papers is actually quite measurable.

    How much of science is just bending back to an industry?

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  4. It will be a good thing to end this ridiculous situation of a couple of heavily overrated journals, which in the end leaves in just a couple of editorial borads a lot of money-related decisions. For instance, impact of a cientists must be measured by the paper, not by the journal it was published in. The impact of individual papers is actually quite measurable.

    Open access by itself does not affect any of the above. Case in point: PLoS journals and their editors are in every way as bad as Nature's. (IMHO, of course).

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  5. A. Vargas All we hear from PZ are crickets..

    That is not quite accurate: http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2010/06/boycotting_nature.php

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  6. That was before 45 min after my comment here. I'm glad I got that slob to move his ass and comment about this (hehe)

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  7. "Case in point: PLoS journals and their editors are in every way as bad as Nature's. (IMHO, of course)."

    Would you care to elaborate?

    I have no opinion on the matter. I'm asking from genuine curiosity.

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  8. They're limiting price increases to 7% in a recession that has seen average consumer prices drop--a disinflationary environment.

    Why aren't they *dropping* prices in the economic climate, especially for a good that has a near zero marginal cost?

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  9. The impact of individual papers is actually quite measurable.

    Unfortunately, this impact is only measurable years after publication. That's not much help for important things that need to happen right now like grant renewals and tenure decisions.

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  10. To Anonymous:
    "Case in point: PLoS journals and their editors are in every way as bad as Nature's. (IMHO, of course)."

    Would you care to elaborate?


    When I spoke of PLoS journals, I had PLoS Biology in mind. Now I realize that other PLoS journals are not run the same way as PLoS Biology. So, limiting myself only to PLoS Biology and Nature:

    In both places most of the filtering occurs without any review by scientist experts. As a result, peer review plays only minor role. Instead, suitability of the manuscripts for publishing is decided by [typically] clueless editors who base their decisions much more on vanity, fashion, name and place recognitions than on scientific merit.

    In one way PLos Biology is even worse: their "strong encouragement" of presubmission enquiry (unofficial requirement of it is more like it) is a total perversion of the review process.

    One of the most off-putting experiences of my career was observing a bunch of Big Shots (NAS members, HHMI investigators, people who get mega$$ from NIH annually) competing in kissing ass of a Nature editor who was attending the same conference. This is what happens when we let failed postdocs to effectively determine the course of scientific progress.

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  11. Geez, A. Vargas, it's not All About You.

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  12. Why aren't they *dropping* prices in the economic climate, especially for a good that has a near zero marginal cost?

    You're kidding right? They are raising prices because the can. It's the American way.

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