Societies and open access

T. Scott had a post about OA advocates seeming to be in “unyielding opposition” to professional societies that are also publishers. I wanted to say something about that post, and might yet do so in a future Cites & Insights.

In the meantime, however, Dorothea Salo has written a response that probably says it better than I could, even though some of the themes–particularly the point that professional societies are not inherently entitled to subsidize their activities out of library budgets–are ones I’ve been making, over and over again.

Realistically, it’s going to be a long time (if ever) before OA affects those societies that publish journals at a fair price, where “fair” can certainly include a positive yield in excess of direct expenses. (Not “profit”–nonprofits don’t earn “profits,” although the dollars look very similar.) That might be wrong: Some such societies may find it in their interest to become OA publishers or at least strongly support OA archiving. But professional societies tend to publish fairly significant journals (at least in my narrow experience); if those journals are priced fairly, they’re not going to be high on cancellation lists.

There’s a big if there: Fair pricing. Some society-based journals are priced too high, either because they’ve been turned over to the big commercial houses or because the societies are using them as cash cows for other society purposes. The latter is simply not workable for the long term, particularly in those cases where the bulk of non-member subscriptions come from libraries. As I’ve said before: If a society can make the case that academia should subsidize its activities in addition to membership dues, that subsidy should come directly from the appropriate department. It should not, and in the long run cannot, be hidden in journal prices and paid for by the library.

It would help if spokespeople from scholarly societies weren’t prone to repeating the same, uh, “untruths” about OA that publishers tend to spout–you know, death of proper review, Every Paper Costs Big Bucks Directly for the Author, higher overall costs for big universities, all that good stuff.

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