OA: Just Another Business Model

Steven Bell kindly pointed me toward an interview published in InformationToday with Derk Haank, former Elsevier executive who now is CEO of Springer. I wrote about it earlier at Library Journal’s Academic Newswire, but now that it’s available online, I thought I’d share it here, in case you’re having trouble staying awake or suffer from low blood pressure.

Haank helped organize Springer’s acquisition of BioMedCentral and has introduced some open access options for authors publishing in Springer journals. But even though these moves have made Springer one of the largest OA publishers, he thinks it’s a tiny tributary to the glory that is STM publishing, a minor revenue stream, a sop to the cranks who oddly enough care about access to research. These are mostly in the biosciences, and won’t have much effect on the future, which in his crystal ball looks very much like the present. Scientists will continue to produce more and more publications (and Springer is happy to oblige by increasing their publishing program); scientists will need to access the literature to do their work, and libraries will simply have to find ways to fund access. Subscriptions will continue to power scholarly publishing because … well, the system we have now works just fine. Publishers have recognized that libraries are strapped, so they have given up highway robbery are no longer insisting on double-digit increases annually. But since they’re publishing more, libraries will have to pay more; that’s just the reality. And all that fuss we make – that’s just a negotiation strategy.

Some choice quotes:

“e-products are much less expensive to handle [than print]: They have no storage costs, the data comes with a catalogue, and our books come with MARC records.” (No muss, no fuss … hey, can’t we just have the business office run this thing? Think of the money we’d save.)

“The Big Deal is the best invention since sliced bread. I agree that there was once a serial pricing problem; I have never denied there was a problem. But it was the Big Deal that solved it . . . it corrected everything that went wrong in the serials crisis in one go: people were able to get back all the journals that they had had to cancel, and they gained access to even more journals in the process.” (All the journals that we don’t need that you can shake a stick at! Too bad it hasn’t worked out for anything the library used to buy that isn’t in the Deal.)

“Librarians need to accept that if they want access to a continually growing database, then costs will need to go up a little bit but not like in the days of the serials crisis. We try to accommodate our customers, but at a certain point, we will hit a wall.” (Hey, at least you’ll have company. Welcome to Flatland!)

“I am absolutely convinced that the traditional subscription model delivered through the intermediary services of the library or information department will remain the dominant model. You might be forgiven for thinking that the OA movement is a lot bigger than it is. That is because those people who want to change something are always more vocal than those who are happy with the way things are.” (Happy … like us? Oh, that’s right, our opinion doesn’t matter. We are but handmaidens.)

“Our first priority is to continue as we are.” (We’ve noticed.)

What’s interesting – and worth thinking about – is that he feels mandates are a genuine threat to business as usual, particularly those imposed by funders who provide billions of dollars for basic research. One more reason to agitate for FRPAA and to urge our colleagues in other departments to consider mandates, even those of us who are not at research-centric institutions.

More discussion is happening at the Library Society of the World’s online water cooler.
Image courtesy of Bob Fornal.

Author: Barbara Fister

I'm an academic librarian at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota. Like all librarians at our small, liberal arts institution I am involved in reference, collection development, and shared management of the library. My area of specialization is instruction, with research interests also in media literacy, popular literacy, publishing, and assessment.

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