Re: Self-Archiving and Journal Subscriptions: Critique of PRC Study

From: Chris Beckett <>
Date: Thu, 16 Nov 2006 20:03:37 -0500

Stevan Harnad, in his posting of 13th November to the American Scientist
Open Access Forum list and copied to several others, raised a number of
issues with our recently published, aforenamed research, which we felt
should be addressed and clarified.

Stevan focuses his criticism on five main points:

1. The methodology deployed and the entire point of conducting a
conjoint survey at all
2. Whether or not OA can be considered a product in any meaningful
3. The issue of bias
4. The statement of apparently obvious or banal findings
5. The validity of inferring cancellation behaviour from the findings

Let's discuss these in order:

1. We decided to undertake a conjoint survey because we felt that other
attitudinal surveys of what future intentions might be were highly prone to
being bogged down exactly because surveyees were asked in absolute terms to
what extent they would like one scenario, and then another, without ever
asking them to choose between them. A survey that asks people if they like
steak to eat, and then asks if they like chicken to eat, is not as powerful
as a survey that asks them to choose between steak and chicken. Bring in
another variable, such as, "how well done do you like your meat?" and you
get a very different answer depending on whether the surveyee preferred
steak or chicken in the first place. By combining these factors with others
through a conjoint survey, you might just find out how bad the steak has to
be before chicken tartare starts to command a market share! We hope this
illustrates the whole purpose of the conjoint in applying it to the
situation that publishing currently faces; it forces people to reveal the
true underlying factors in their decision-making in a way that hasn't been
done before.

2. Can articles in Open Access repositories be considered a product and
one that librarians may select instead of journals? Absolutely they can. Is
the issue here that they are free via OA, or that they are not organised and
packaged? If we were to stand on a street corner and give away mobile
phones, they would be every bit as much as a product as one you paid for in
a shop. Would we cause some people not to go into the shop and buy a mobile
- sure we would. Would some people not trust the mobile we gave them and buy
one anyway - yes they would. Would some people use our mobiles as a spare
and buy another anyway - yes they would do that too. A survey might tell you
in what proportions people would undertake these actions. But you can be
certain that at least some of the people would use the mobile we gave them
and postpone or cancel the acquisition of a paid-for phone. So we believe
that articles via OA, even though they are free, are still very much a
product. So perhaps they should not be considered as a product because they
are not organised into product-shaped offerings, like journals are. That may
be so, for now, but at the same time we are aware of organisations that are
building products which combine the power of OAIPMH (and the crawling power
of Google); existing abstracting & indexing databases; publisher operated
link servers; and library operated link servers: to build an organised route
to OA materials - a route that would allow a non-subscriber of a journal
article to be directed to the free OA repository version instead. Once these
products exist we are sure our research indicates that *some* librarians at
least will actually switch to OA versions for *some* of their information
needs, while others will continue to purchase the journal product for a
whole raft of reasons and others will provide, i.e. acquire, both options.

3. The whole Open Access debate evokes an emotional response from
publishers, librarians and researchers on both sides of the debate. At the
same time, so does the word "cancellation". For that matter, so does the
phrase "serials crisis". We wanted to avoid using all of these phrases in
the research so as not to cloud people's judgement in favour of their
beliefs alone. This is one way of avoiding one type of bias. Specifically
the type of bias we sought to eliminate was an emotional bias, not a bias
for or against OA per se. It can be equally well argued that another survey
should be done with these words actually mentioned. The results may well be
different. But no more or less valid than ours - such a survey would be
measuring a different thing. It is up to each individual reader of the
report to decide which kind of response and hence survey they would prefer.

4. The critique states that some of the findings are obvious and banal.
"The fact that everyone would like something for free rather than paying for
it", for example. In fact the survey shows that not everyone would prefer
that. Even in a completely like for like situation. Possibly because people
are suspicious of free things. Much more important, however, is how the
decision becomes qualified by other factors - *and to what extent* they are
qualified. (Would you like free raw chicken for dinner or paid-for cooked
chicken?) Look closely and the results show that the lure of "free" has only
so much pulling power, and a combination of other factors pull more potently
against it. So in themselves the importance of each of the attributes has
limited value - it is in combination that their true meaning comes through.

5. So, can we infer cancellation behaviour from the results? Yes, we
can. Because it is unrealistic to expect that everyone that expresses a
preference for acquiring a product that looks very much like content on OA
repositories would still continue to acquire a paid-for version. Some will,
of that we have very little doubt. But likewise some won't. To that end I
think we *can infer cancellation will occur*. It may be after someone has
provided an organisational layer on top of the repositories. It may be after
improved librarian awareness of the alternative has occurred. And it may
require way more than 15% of the material to be available on OA.

Chris Beckett and Simon Inger
Scholarly Information Strategies Limited Oxford Centre for Innovation Mill
St Oxford
Received on Fri Nov 17 2006 - 02:36:13 GMT

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