Access to Research: What’s in it for the publishers? [INTERVIEW]

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by @jack_millner

To get a better understanding of why a publisher like Nature that relies on subscriptions would get involved with a scheme that disseminates their content for free, I interviewed Jonathan Griffin, deputy CEO and head of business development for PLS (Publishers Licensing Society) and Jessica Rutt, Rights and Licensing Manager at Nature Publishing Group.

Jonathan Griffin deputy CEO and head of business development for PLS.

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Is Access to Research going to threaten the business models of the publishers?

It won’t threaten the business models for the publishers because most publishers sell subscriptions to institutions. So it’s unlikely that the general public have subscriptions to big databases, so it’s about creating a new audience for information.

What was your role in the deal?

PLS, the Publishers Licensing Society, are a trade association. Our membership is made up of the country’s publishers. So we’ve coordinated the actions of the country’s publishers in pulling together all the information.

How much will this cost in total?

Quite a lot, but not as much as it might seem because it has relied on the generosity of ProQuest who provided the indexing service, and the publishers who have already made the investment in making the content available online, so the costs are really just coordination costs, which haven’t been that substantial.

So there’s no extra licensing costs?

No. For the public libraries it’s free. They are incurring no costs whatsoever.

Are the big journals not worried about losing out on revenue from individual purchases of articles?

I think the view is that it’s about a new market. So it’s about the general public. I would guess most of Nature’s subscriptions are among the academic community .

Jessica Rutt, Rights and Licensing Manager at Nature.

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Why are Nature involved in a scheme like this seeing as they aren’t making any money from it?

Well my role at Nature is involved with channels to market, so we think about traditional subscriptions, but also all the other ways people access Nature content. So whoever they are, people who might have a relative that’s ill and they want to read a paper about it, or they’re working in some start-up and they need to read a very niche paper, or something like that. So this is a really excellent way to give people access to our content that probably wouldn’t have come across it otherwise.

What’s the benefit of people having access to your content if you’re not able to licence it to them?

The mission of our company is to disseminate science as widely as possible. We recognise that most people who get practical use out of our content are university researchers working at a high level, but it would be arrogant to assume that they are the only ones that can benefit from it.

Is your participation in Access to Research solely for the public benefit, or is it about brand awareness for Nature?

I would say it’s part of our commitment as a company to open access and moving with the times. The subscription model isn’t for everyone, it’s certainly not the only way we make content available anymore at Nature, so this is just another channel to the market for our content.

Criticisms of the scheme

It would seem that the motivations of the publishers is to increase access to their content, but this is not how everyone sees the scheme. If this were really the case, points out Advocacy Director for open access journal PLOS Cameron Neylon in a recent blogpost, they would implement full open access:

Access to Research is an initiative from a 20th Century industry attempting to stave off progress towards the 21st Century by applying a 19th Century infrastructure. Depending on how generous you are feeling it can either be described as a misguided waste of effort or as a cynical attempt to divert the community from tackling the real issues of implementing full Open Access.

Open access advocate Graham Steel shared his concerns in the comment section of the post:

Hmm, so for example, being based in Glasgow, this would be a 302 mile round trip to Newcastle. Once I get to the library, if I manage to get access the such material, I can’t download/save anything. Think I’ll just stick to reading Open Access papers from right here. I had concerns about Access To Research in 2012 and in light of this post, my concerns were totally justified:- http://steelgraham.wordpress.c…Also see Mike Taylor’s post “Walk-in access? Seriously?” at SV_POW!:…

You can find out more about Access to research by watching this video, reading this news story or trying out the service for yourself. Let me know what you think of the scheme by tweeting to @jack_millner or @peerrevwatch, or in the comments below.

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