By now most of you are aware that the librarians of the University of California system are unhappy with negotiations with Nature Publishing Group over access to NPG's titles. The letter, found here, details the complaint. More importantly, the letter requests that the UC faculty get ready to boycott NPG with the following specifics.
- Decline to peer review manuscripts for journals from the Nature Publishing Group.
- Resign from Nature Publishing Group editorial and advisory boards.
- Cease to submit papers to the Nature Publishing Group.
- Refrain from advertising any open or new UC positions in Nature Publishing Group journals.
- Talk widely about Nature Publishing Group pricing tactics and business strategies with colleagues outside UC, and encourage sympathy actions such as those listed above.
NPG is unamused.
This has been a shock to us at NPG, in terms of the sensationalist use of data out of context, misrepresentation of NPG pricing policies, and the fact that we were under the impression we were in an ongoing confidential discussion. It is with great regret we therefore have to publicly address, in detail, all the allegations contained in the letter.
Oh brother. The old "incivil" and "not quite cricket old chap" gambit. Please, spare us the martyrdom, NPG. It gets old really, really fast.
The implication that NPG is increasing its list prices by massive amounts is entirely untrue. We have been publishing our academic site licence pricing for several years on our librarian gateway. Dollar list price increases have been reasonable (averaging roughly 7 % over 4 years), and publicly available throughout. A 7% cap on annual list price increases is currently in place.
The complication with CDL is that they have been on a very large, unsustainable discount for many years, to the point where other subscribers, both in the US and around the world, are subsidising them.
Okay, so I'm understanding the basic ploy here. Not buying it.
Look, NPG and other academic publishers produce a product with a large fraction of fixed production costs per issue. This is media, not manufacturing. The only thing that scales with the user base is the number of print subscriptions and maybe to some extent bandwidth. Pulling this completely out of my behind, I'm going to speculate those scalable costs are a relatively small part of the picture.
Which means that what we are really talking about is who is paying what fraction of the fixed cost to generate the actual content. Well that, and the profit. Let us not forget the profit.
In short, crying over what is a "fair" share is nonsense. Which we know because clearly NPG found it in their interest to negotiate the "unsustainable discount for many years" in the past. Obviously they thought they were getting some sort of value out of having the premier research University system in the world have ready access to their titles. Their choice. That they are now trying to alter their prior decision makes no nevermind when it comes to what is "fair" or not.
Getting back to the UC librarians, it is equally clear that they were able to negotiate NPG into this discount (if it really is) by providing some sort of value, one would assume the citations, submissions and service work of the UC faculty, trainees and other staff. They balanced the benefit to their faculty, students and staff against the costs being negotiated and found an acceptable balance. Now, they claim, the new NPG offer puts that balance over to the unacceptable side. Big deal.
A simple solution arises. This was recently proposed to me by a close colleague with whom I collaborate on my most important low-N developmental biology project.
Don't pay the new rate, UC! Stop with this boycott charade. Just don't renew the contract at this time. Don't have print copies in the libraries, don't have electronic journal access and, importantly, don't foot the bill for one-off ILL type requests. Let the market do its work, so to speak.
If the UC faculty find that they simply cannot get along without access to NPG titles, they can buy their own access for now and lobby the hell out of the UC system to come up with the increased subscription fees at some time in the future.
If the UC faculty find that they can get along quite fine without NPG access, then NPG can decide at some point in the future to offer the UC libraries a fee structure more amenable to their budgets.
So ov the hell up, UC librarians. Stop trying to threaten NPG with some nebulous boycott you don't even know if you can sustain. Just pull the plug and see what happens.
Updated: I forgot to mention that Janet Stemwedel put up a point that is critical to this situation:
hiring, retention, tenure, and promotion decisions within the UC system should not unfairly penalize those who have opted to publish their scholarly work elsewhere, including in peer-reviewed journals that may not currently have the impact factor (or whatever other metric that evaluators lean on so as not to have to evaluate the quality of scholarly output themselves) that the NPG journals do. Otherwise, there's a serious career incentive for faculty to knuckle under to NPG rather than honoring the boycott.
Update 2: The UC Librarians respond to the NPG response.