Tuesday, July 25, 2006

ALPSP response to British Library Content Strategy

The Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP) (trade association for no profit publishers) has responded to the British Library's Content Strategy.

"We believe that a shift towards the provision of online rather than physical access is appropriate. However, customer expectations of what is possible with online content are limited only by the capabilities of the technology, and not by realistic business considerations; at the extreme, every UK citizen might expect free online access, and unhindered re-use, at home or at work to everything in the Library’s collection, which would obviously destroy the market for publishers....

We welcome the Library’s intention to play a more active role with regard to the collection of primary research data...

We absolutely reject, however, the Library’s view (see footnote 3, Page 3) that digitised full-text resources should be considered in the same light as research data. They are not the same – both authors and publishers may still have rights in these resources, which must be respected...

We remain to be convinced that institutional repositories will ever be significantly populated...To date, publishers’ policies with regard to author self-archiving have been remarkably relaxed. However, some journals have now reached the situation where all or most of their content is available in a single subject-based repository, and this is giving rise to some concern...

Thus we would urge the Library to exercise caution in its involvement with those repositories which replicate the content of journals; we are particularly concerned to hear of its involvement with the UK PubMed repository, since the Wellcome Trust has publicly stated that it expects and indeed welcomes damage to existing subscription journals. We would be deeply concerned if the Library were seen to be promoting the use of free but potentially inferior versions of published content."

I have two initial reactions:

1. It is not 'obvious' to me that online versions of content destroy the market for printed versions. The equation is far more complex and in relation to the music industry, for example, the claim that -

Number of downloads = number of lost sales

- is demonstrably false.

Lessig, in Free Culture, suggested there were four generic categories of those who use P2P -

A/ those who download instead of buying
B/ those who use P2P to sample before buying,
C/ those who get content that is otherwise difficult to buy
D/ and those who get content that is released under a less restrictive licence like creative commons.

This is not an exlusive list and these can be extended and further refined e.g. category A without the disposable income to buy the music, so downloading does not equate to a lost sale, as that person would not otherwise have had access to it.

2. I'm disappointed with the attack on PubMed and the Wellcome Trust support for open access. I wasn't aware that the latter had 'publicly stated that it expects and indeed welcomes damage to existing subscription journals.' Could someone point me at the source for that claim? (There is no citation in the ALPSP report backing this)

Thanks to Peter Suber for the heads up.

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