There is an interesting division in the ranks of publishers in their approach to double dipping. Many are engaging positively with the academic library community and accept that the increase in gold open access article processing charges (APCs) in hybrid journals means that they should adjust their subscription prices accordingly. Others, however, appear to feel that it should be business as usual.

Last year, RLUK published a paper setting out our view of double dipping. We gave a simple definition of double dipping as:

Double dipping arises if a publisher seeks an unwarrantable increase in revenues by levying article processing charges (APCs) for publication in a hybrid journal, while not providing a proportionate decrease in subscription costs.

and made the case that during the current transition period those institutions that spend the most in APCs should see the greatest reduction in their subscription spend.

Recently, Alicia Wise, Elsevier’s Director of Access and Policy, suggested that she was ‘not exactly clear what the term [double dipping] means in conversation any more’. She went further and claimed that double dipping was effectively impossible as subscriptions and APCs were ‘decoupled’ – the gold OA papers in hybrid journals are additional to the total number of papers published as part of the subscription and so not part of that subscription.

As the UK continues to invest in Gold OA it is interesting to look at the numbers and to see if we can identify cases that would fit the RLUK definition of double dipping. Stephen Pinfield, Jennifer Salter and Peter A Bath have published an analysis of scholarly communications spending by 23 UK institutions. Theirs is a fascinating paper describing a rich set of data, but I wish to focus on Table 8 which shows the total spend over 20 of the institutions on subscriptions and APCs across the largest publishers in 2013.

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Let’s take the first publisher listed: Elsevier. In 2013 the 20 institutions surveyed spent in total £14,259,959 on subscriptions and £937,531 on APCs in hybrid journals. It is clear that the UK’s embracing of gold OA brought to Elsevier an increase in their revenues from these institutions of over 6%. The ‘double dipping is impossible’ argument appears to be that these are two completely separate revenue streams. The OA papers are viewed by Elsevier as ‘additional’, over and above what a subscriber gets access to. However, if the UK had not gone for gold, these OA papers would still have been published as subscription-access papers, only available to subscribers. The payment of the APC takes the paper out of subscription-control. If no APC had been paid the total number of papers under subscription access would have been higher. And the subscription income? It would still have been £14,259,959. Without hybrid OA the total from these 20 institutions is £14,259,959. With hybrid OA it is £15,197,490. It is clear that this is additional revenue for the same content – i.e., double dipping!

Perhaps it is unreasonable to expect that an adjustment of the subscription price would happen in 2013. A publisher with an anti-double dipping policy would take the proportion of papers being published as gold OA in one year into account when setting the subscription price in the next year. That appears perfectly reasonable. Unfortunately, it does not reflect the reality of how libraries purchase big deals. For example, the UK is part way through a five-year deal with Elsevier for access to their journal package. The deal started in 2012 and an annual increase in the price was agreed. This was obviously before the Finch Report, RCUK’s provision of block grants and the UK’s commitment to fund gold OA. Despite the almost £1 million of extra revenue Elsevier received from the surveyed institutions in 2013, those institutions saw exactly the same increase in their big deal price in 2014 as if there had been no gold OA spend. And for 2015 the subscription price increase took no account of hybrid OA in 2014.

The effect of this is that the UK is seeing no change in the prices it pays Elsevier for big deals, despite spending ever-increasing sums on their hybrid OA options. That is the very definition of double dipping. Some funders worldwide are now refusing to pay APCs in hybrid journals. Perhaps the UK is not ready for that, but while a minority of publishers refuse to engage seriously with the library community on the issue, perhaps an option would be for funders to refuse to pay APCs for publishers who do not have an acceptable double dipping rebate mechanism in place.

David Prosser, Executive Director, RLUK

 

Pinfield, S., Salter, J., & Bath, P. A. (2015). The “total cost of publication” in a hybrid open-access environment: Institutional approaches to funding journal article-processing charges in combination with subscriptions. Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology, (In press). Retrieved from http://eprints.whiterose.ac.uk/81227/

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  • It is amusing how vehemently Steve takes me to task for not writing the blog post he wants to read. He is interested in an argument against hybrid journals and claims that I have failed to make that argument. But that wasn’t my point. My point – and there is a clue in the title of the blog – was to look at the specifics of the costs associated with double dipping and the claims by some publishers that it doesn’t exist.

    Of course the reluctance of Elsevier and some others to engage with the research community on double dipping is not the only, or even the best, argument against hybrid journals. Many have expanded on those arguments, most notably Steve Shieber from Harvard who does so in much more eloquent fashion. But hybrid journals exist today and while funders continue to support publication in them then I believe we have an obligation to reduce the costs of double dipping. Steve may dismiss, as is his right, worries about the more than £1m a year extra that the UK is now paying Elsevier as nothing more than ‘library indignation’. However, I’m not going to apologise for spending some time focusing on the issues and looking at ways in which we can address them.

    DavidProsser

    12th Feb, 2015 at 10:01am

  • Graham Steel writes: "I find Elsevier's position to be either incredibly naive or downright untrue."

    Really? I find it creditably honest. It boils down to "We're going to go right ahead and double-dip." I like it that now we know where we stand.

    Mike Taylor

    11th Feb, 2015 at 3:58pm

  • David, As I agree with you on the dismal economics of hybrid open access, I am sorry to suggest this does not put the case against very effectively. When an author or institution pays an APC to a hybrid OA journal they are effectively buying out the rights to that article. The publisher performs the same services on all articles; the APC allows the rights to be asserted, and in this case are used to make the article open access. In this sense an additional cost is justified, and optional. It's optional because free, green open access is typically available, but buying the rights provide unembargoed OA to the published, edited, formatted version, if that's what the payer of the APC wants. It is generally understood in media that rights have value and are tradeable, and that's essentially what publishers are doing here (that the authors originally gave away those rights to the publisher may give pause for thought).

    You are right, of course, that hybrid OA adds additional cost to the publishing process, and that has never been the argument for open access; quite the opposite. Lower cost is achievable through the green and gold open access routes, because those routes inject change and dynamism into the publishing market, new publishing models and journals (gold), and new ways to reach users through repositories (green). Hybrid just entrenches the established models and adds additional costs, leaving libraries struggling against the well known problems of those markets.

    This is illustrated by your unhelpful 'definition' of double-dipping: 'unwarrantable' according to who? 'decrease in subscription costs' for who? These terms don't apply in a fierce marketplace. Publishers levy these extra charges because they can get away with it, and those who pay the APCs don't seem to understand what they are paying for and what they are ultimately getting in return - barely consistent and exploited rights to odd open access papers in otherwise in-tact, non-open access journals that publishers continue to milk as they always did.

    Your description of double-dipping to service hybrid open access amounts to library indignation at increased costs rather than a justifiable argument and course of action against those costs. The increased costs of hybrid OA won't go away on this basis. The only bulwark is what price the market will stand for hybrid journals that present a majority of open access papers, but since the rate of progress towards this currently seems slow, unknowable and uncontrollable by those who pay the additional costs, it looks like a costly interjection.

    The simplest and immediate answers are green and gold open access.

    Steve Hitchcock

    11th Feb, 2015 at 3:43pm

  • Thanks for the important post.

    I find Elsevier's position to be either incredibly naive or downright untrue.

    Graham Steel (@McDawg)

    11th Feb, 2015 at 2:56pm

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