23 September 2007

The advice to PRISM

The advice of the lobbyist retained by the publishers has been revealed on the Web (Peter Suber has more of the story). The first paragraph of that advice is very telling:

The Coalition faces the daunting task of trying to win support for an issue in which publishers are not sympathetic - continuing to charge fees for access to scientific journals. It's hard to fight an adversary that manages to be both elusive and in possession of a better message: Free information. There's no magical sound bit that will cure this issue, however, at the present time there is little or no "pushback" from the publishing industry. To inject the industry's position into the debate, we recommend bypassing mass "consumer" audiences in favor of reaching a more elite group of decision makers employing strategies that emphasize "high-concept" rhetoric and in-the-trenches political-style communications.

Mmmm, interesting, eh? There's an even more interesting set of Rhetorical campaign points:

  • Develop simple messages (e.g., Public access equals government censorship; Scientific journals preserve the quality/pedigree of science; government seeking to nationalize science and be a publisher) for use by Coalition members

  • Develop analogies that put the public access issue into a context whereby target audiences will understand its pitfalls and perilous implications not to mention the hypocrisy of science leaders getting salaries and honoraria but declaring the publishing industry's need for capital as being somehow immoral

    • Paint a picture of what the world would look like without peer-reviewed articles.

    • In theory this may provide free taxpayer access to research that they fund, but they will pay eventually with substandard articles and their money being used to develop and maintain an electronic article depot rather than to fund new research.

Enough said, I think. It's beginning to dawn on the PRISM Coalition that they have shot themselves in the foot by adopting some of what was proposed and, clearly, for them to adopt some of the other ideas would be even more disastrous. For example, how much of the industry's profits go to investment in capital developments? Well, these companies' reports are on the Web and Reed Elsevier, for example, report that out of an operating profit of £1,210 million in 2006 (up 9% on 2005), capital expenditure was £196 million, while dividends paid to shareholders amounted to £371 million (up 10% on 2005), with a further £271 million being spent on share repurchases. So, 16% on capital developments and a total of 53% on dividends and share repurchasing. I think we can see where the company's priorities lie.

Not that this is a bad thing - companies are in business to pay dividends to shareholders, but I wonder what the profits would be if the publishers had to pay for their raw material and for the peer-review? I suspect that we would see many fewer journals and an even more rapid increase in true OA publishing.

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