05 March 2007

Brussels Declaration Stinks

It's always a sign that you're winning when the opposition start getting seriously desperate in their tactics. Here's a fine example:

Many declarations have been made about the need for particular business models in the STM information community. STM publishers have largely remained silent on these matters as the majority are agnostic about business models: what works, works. However, despite very significant investment and a massive rise in access to scientific information, our community continues to be beset by propositions and manifestos on the practice of scholarly publishing. Unfortunately the measures proposed have largely not been investigated or tested in any evidence-based manner that would pass rigorous peer review. In the light of this, and based on over ten years experience in the economics of online publishing and our longstanding collaboration with researchers and librarians, we have decided to publish a declaration of principles which we believe to be self-evident.

This so-called Brussels Declaration on STM Publishing is supported by the usual suspects - hello, Elsevier - but it's disappointing to see major university presses like those from Cambridge and Oxford putting their names to this arrant, self-interested nonsense.

The emphasis is squarely on business models, and gives little space to larger issues like the public's right to see the research that they pay for, or of researchers' rights to maximise the credit they gain from their work. Instead it consists of risible claims such as:

Publishers launch, sustain, promote and develop journals for the benefit of the scholarly community

Yeah, right, I can just imagine all the fraught meetings where publishers with furrowed brows mull over ways they can help the scholarly community. Yeah, I bet every waking thought is devoted to the subject. That's why the prices of journals have been rising at multiples of inflation for many years; that's why libraries are being bullied into buying group subscriptions, including titles they're not interested in. Purely for the benefit of the scholarly community, you understand.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

"Yeah, right, I can just imagine all the fraught meetings where publishers with furrowed brows mull over ways they can help the scholarly community. Yeah, I bet every waking thought is devoted to the subject."

As someone who works for a learned society publisher, yes this is pretty much what we spend most of our time doing.

glyn moody said...

Well, that being the case, it's sad that the STM industry comes over as so adversarial towards initiatives that generally emanate from the scholarly community, like open access.

Open access for STM publishers is the same as dropping DRM for the music industry: it's a change - an inevitable change - but not the end of the road. Learned society publishers can survive in this new world, but it will involve them thinking about publishing in a new way, where the basic content is freely available.

Things like the Brussels Declaration merely confirm a reluctance to confront the changed nature of the world - one that is connected and digital - and to fight a rearguard action that is as counter-productive as it is doomed.

Anonymous said...

"Open access for STM publishers is the same as dropping DRM for the music industry"

pithy but I'm not sure its accurate. I suspect most author would like professional production, peer review and editing (and in the case of learned societies - community organisation, meeting and workshop sponsorship etc.) to continue so its an important question as to how this is funded.

Certain sections of our authors (people who write the papers) are very much against it while other takes the opposite view the opinions varying on how they themselves of funded.

As a reader on the other hand its very limiting to hit the susbcribers only barrier.

We currently do both open access and subscription based publishing and there are good arguments on both sides.

The idea of open access is one I have a lot of sympathy with but there are down sides.

What provoked me to comment was the sarcasm with which you dismiss what a lot of publishers spend they entire time doing, i.e. try to facilitate and promote the interests of their scholarly communities. Communities with which a lot of these publisher work very closely.

glyn moody said...

Bloggerific exaggeration aside, I don't have a problem disbelieving that some, maybe most, learned societies do indeed labour for the scholarly community (although I'd add - speaking from my personal viewpoint - that they may be erroneous in the way they do it).

I suppose part of the problem - especially of the Brussels Declaration - is that these same learned societies have thrown their lot in with the mega-publishing houses. And forgive my cynicism, but I just don't believe that *they* care about the scholarly community.

They care about shareholders: I should know, I worked for one of them for a while, and I well remember the roasting we managers received from a Top Man that if we didn't do better at giving money back to the shareholders, we would all be out on our ear.

Maybe it comes down to a matter of choosing which side you are on: if you are indeed with the scholars (and the readers, perhaps, many of whom have paid for this stuff), maybe it's time to try to work with the open access movement, rather than be nuzzle up to the big STM publishers and be tainted as a result.

And I do find this a little disingenuous:

"I suspect most author would like professional production, peer review and editing (and in the case of learned societies - community organisation, meeting and workshop sponsorship etc.) to continue so its an important question as to how this is funded."

Let's not forget that most of the production, most of the peer review and editing is done by the scholarly community, usually for no payment. So it's hard to justify the costs of traditional publishing on that basis.

Now the community organisation, meeting and workshop sponsorship is another matter, in the sense that maybe this is where your role lies: it is something that only you can do really well. Mixing it up with publishing that can be offered in more efficient ways is perhaps part of the problem.