Access to Research Funded by Governmental Agencies

“Publishers do add value, so I think it’s fair that they recoup their costs. We give them six months of exclusivity where they should be able to recoup those costs,” Doyle said. “We are not trying to put publishers out of business. We are just saying that they don’t have exclusive rights to research funded by taxpayers.” Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.)

The battle over publically-funded research is heating up again. On one side are legislators and information organizations like libraries and on the other side are publishers of all variety. The issue in all of this is truly how much should publishers get for adding value—editing, page-make-up reliable retrieval, etc. —to research that is funded by the NSF, NIH, and other governmental institutions. The bill’s main sponsor, Representative Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), does admit that publishers should recoup their costs and can do so within a six-month window of exclusivity.

Part of the problem is that when research is funded, other than some modest instructions to make research available, an amount is not allocated for open access publication. If all researchers were good writers, a panacea that never will exist, publishers would not have to get involved. Doyle notes that high subscription costs have indeed limited access to information, but he doesn’t call for more funding to institutions of higher learning. Universities with a rich tradition of graduating the best and the brightest, in other words institutions that can charge substantial fees and tuition, have the best resources. This is a typical example of supply and demand economics.

A much too simplistic approach would be to provide a $1500-$2000 stipend to hire an organization to edit and format an article of a researcher’s findings for upload to a digital site. Then again, while Doyle contends that releasing data doesn’t impact publishers’ bottom lines currently, the realization that results would come without costs within a reasonable amount of time would definitely impact the purchasing habits of public information entities.

The other issue that Doyle does not in fact understand is that the researchers raw data is only in very rare cases the same as the finalized article. What Doyle is asking then, is for a publisher to provide a different version to the government for free. This is hardly fair. The government doesn’t require graduates of public high schools to pay royalties on their future discoveries.

Finally, while Doyle’s plan might work for scientific research, it would not work for research that is funded in the humanities. This type of research has a much longer revenue tail and can still provide publishers income decades from initial publication. When the unfortunate 9/11 incident occurred, previously-published books and articles on Osama bin Laden became vital reading.

University presses act as deterrents to commercial publishing monopolies. University press monograph average list prices are @$20 less than commercial presses like Elsevier and John Wiley. The sad part about today’s environment is that small subsidies to university presses are coming under attack, see the Missouri Press story. As universities find ways to gather their faculty’s work and instruction in more effective ways, institutions with university presses will be far ahead of their colleagues in framing that work in ways that are easily distributable and digestible by the worlds’ scholars.


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