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Besides all the raging enthusiasm and world-wide adoption of open access principles there is also one or the other skeptical voice out there (to put it mildly). One voice that has been growing louder the last few years have been scholarly societies. The reason they become troubled is that many of these learned societies derive a large proportion of their revenue from subscription-based journal publishing: many libraries subscribe to these journals, allowing the money from many non-members (funding the libraries) to pay for the activities of the members of these societies. A recent article in the Times Higher Education quotes Dame Finch (from the Finch report):
"Different learned societies will take different views of where their interests lie and whether it is appropriate to modify their [journals'] business models. For the foreseeable future, they could decide to remain subscription journals,"
Apparently, some society members of her committee have voiced concerns about traditional revenue streams. These concerns are surely well-founded: if funders require open access publications, who will want to read journals which do not contain any publicly funded research? Clearly, societies will have to embrace open access publishing if the strive to stay in the publishing business.

With regards to the societies' resulting revenue stream, however, a few things can be said. For one, one can question the practice of charging non-members for member-activities without their consent. Moreover, open access does not necessarily entail a loss of revenue. Some open access publishers are indeed profitable. Perhaps more importantly, however, is the question how much the concerns of learned societies really are to be taken all that seriously in the long term: would such concerns be taken equally seriously if these societies were deriving revenue from the Pony Express or the telegraph or some other outdated technology, instead of subscription publishing? The world is moving on and so will learned societies. After all, their members are scientists - they'll find a solution to their problem.

See also: part I: illusions, part II: visions.
Posted on Thursday 17 January 2013 - 11:02:24 comment: 0

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