Saturday, June 19, 2010

The People vs. NPG

Science publishing is a curious business. Content is provided for free by working scientists. That content is then peer-reviewed, also for free. Publication and dissemination costs are dropping, as paper publishing gives way to electronic distribution. So of course it only makes sense to increase prices. That's what's happening at the University of California. Nature publishing group are pushing for an increase in subscription costs for UC from an average of $4500 per journal to a whopping $17500 each. A 400% increase. Across the 67 Nature group journals, that's a substantial sum. This is prompting UC to drop subscriptions to NPG journals and to boycott their products altogether.

Nature protests, of course, claiming price increases are capped at 7% per year and the large UC increase is due to deep discounts they receive that are no longer tenable. This may be the case, but given the profitability of science publishing and the fact that the consumers of the product also do most of the heavy lifting (writing and reviewing manuscripts) it's a PR battle that Nature can't win.

One great metaphor for the state of science publishing is Fight Club soap: “We were selling their own fat asses back to them.” Considering UC has contributed around 5300 articles to Nature journals over the past 6 years, the phrase that comes to mind is "biting the hand that feeds."

For a good round-up of news and blog posts relating to the UC-Nature dispute (and open access in general) check out Jim Till's blog: "Be openly accessible or be obscure"