Three huge scientific Publishers make million after million with content that belongs to the public who paid for it with their taxes. Why that is, where all those millions go and how we at PaperC might help set a new approach is going to be my topic of the week.
Some years ago, when I studied publishing and book trade in Leipzig, there was another tiny faculty on my campus, a faculty called “Library and Information Science” (it did not even have an english name back then), and from several boards in students representatives I knew some of these folks, actually for their somehow weird humor. The librarians. Some wore bags, stickers and t-shirts like this..
.. and all the fancy economy students, the brainiacs from computer studies and scientists all over university shook their heads at them – if they noticed the pale bookworms at all. And those very same pale bookworms now delight me unprecedentedly. This is why:
„60 percent of our budget“, says Wolfgang Zick, Head of Libraries at Technical University here in Berlin, “is spent on magazines and papers – the costs explode.” And adds: “In the last 10 years our budget increased by only 4% – while (more interesting) at the same time the publishers charged us 30 to 50% extra”. So far no deal, money has always been short for education and publishers these days face huge challenges, of course, everything gets more and more expensive.. but … but:
Wait! A short research reveals, that e.g. Elsevier, target of boycotts for many years now, has done it again! While, better say: because of the fact that!, authors and editors are not participating in the revenues, Elsevier announced another growth in their operating margin: 31% in 2005, 40% in 2011 and a total profit of 1,1 billion USD with only 3,27 billion business volume. Proudly presented by their spokesperson earlier this year.
How is that again? Very easy again:
University X has certain departments and therefor needs titles a,b and f in their library. Now guess what, of course they are happily welcomed by the publishers of scientific media but hey – if they really want a, b and f, they are likely to take c,d, and e with it, right? Sure they are and that’s why they will not get a contract for the titles they need but for the bundle. And considering the fact, that for example the magazine Tetrahedron is 20.000 USD per year you can easily sum up to the fact, that each of those unnecessary subscriptions eats up money that could be used way better! And who paid the people examining, writing, reviewing that content?
To cut it really really short: our taxes pay science and scientists.
The state, which is basically all of us, already paid for those research and knowledge - to cut it really really short: our taxes pay science and scientists, access to campus libraries, librarians and universities with their research centers itself. This is awesome and I love to pay taxes for that - but now how come, publishers make libraries pay for the access to the very results of that science again? And why do dozens of libraries nation- and worldwide fight for fair contracts without any chance of being heard? Because the publishing lobby was not challenged so far and why is that? Because a) libraries did not have the connections and the technique to track down their costumers needs and therefor could never prove what gets read and what is crap and b) there was no such thing as the internet before, bringing people all over the planet together, connecting them for the means of transparency and education!
Taking a stand for the freedom of knowledge and education – Open Access for the taxes!
Authors, other contributors and editors have started a long time ago to connect and publicly protest, 12.636 so far!!, now libraries follow. After several time-limited boycotts in Stuttgart and Karlsruhe, finally the Technical University of Munich has resigned from all contracts with Elsevier for 2013 and encourages others to follow. But the underestimated librarians want more and there goes the debate: Why is aid money and funding for scientific work and research not bound to Open Access Publications only? Why do Springer, Wiley and others not offer bundles that equal the needs of their costumers? Why do those multimillion Dollar revenues have no impact on the situation in libraries and research centers? Why is there still no payment for thousands of contributors in the so calles Peer Review? Why does Elsevier not tell me publicly, how much a license would be if we at PaperC would, let’s say start some brain research? (USD35 per article) and so on and on and on.
Can a bookseller work with Elsevier?
We’re in a hassle here, because of course we need to sell Elsevier and other ebooks to our users if you need them – you’d go get them at Amazons otherwise or grab them for free anywhere else. Yet I go berserk when talking to a professor about putting his scripts to the platform and he tells me “no way, I have a contract” or, worse: “no way, I boycott companies you work for.” So while at the same time I am happy people finally stand strong for their rights and TheCostOfKnowledge takes a stand for them, it makes me sleepless and a little helpless. Here is what we do: we’re negotiating with all our publishers day in and day out so they finally might give us their (our, to be exact!) content, allow us to stream it into the flat rate and allow users to pay for what they need and that only. That’s one form of access everyone could live with and it is the first step we’re taking to provide fully Open Access to scientific research one day. Legally, crisp and useful, books first, scripts, papers and magazines second, third and fourth.
My inquiry at the management kept unanswered so far (well, I was told that my message was handed forward to the next management level) but we’ll meet some Elseviers at the bookfair in Frankfurt so there will be room for questions.. Give us a crossed finger, folks, there is room for change. And need.