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Knowledgespeak Exclusive -- An interview with Martin Richardson, Managing Director, Oxford Journals - 16 Oct 2006

Q

As the largest and one of the most successful university presses, can you briefly summarize how the needs of information-consumers have evolved in the recent few years? What according to you, are the main access problems faced by researchers?

A

There is a conflict between the needs of researchers as authors and as readers. Authors want to publish as much as possible, but the problem facing researchers as readers is that there is more and more information being published, yet researchers have no more time to read. We strive to make our content as accessible as possible, with complete search and browsing across all journals, and the ability to link between articles so researchers can get to the content they need quickly. You could argue that readers have too much access, and the challenge for publishers and libraries is how to help them filter out as efficiently as possible material which they do need to access.


Q

What are the key insights that you have gained from your experimentations on publishing models and open access? Will the findings from these experimentations have any impact on your current business model? If yes, in what ways?

A

With our open access experiments, we set out to provide data for a robust analysis of the consequences of adopting open access business models. We’ve launched a number of different models, including full open access with Nucleic Acids Research, sponsored open access (Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine), and optional open access for 49 journals through Oxford Open. (http://www.oxfordjournals.org/oxfordopen/).

Three recent studies looking at the impact of open access on our authors, usage, and citations (see report at http://www.oxfordjournals.org/news/oa_report.pdf), have shown that immediate open access does seem to help increase usage, but also that the increase is not as high as may have been expected. In fact, there may be several factors driving up online usage, including the impact of search engines, so open access may be just a small factor. It’s still far too early to see the long term effects of open access on usage from these experiments, and much more data need to be collected. We will continue to report our findings in 2007.

We also published results from the first full year of Oxford Open in July. The journals taking part in the initiative represent a wide range of subject areas, and the level of interest in ‘author-pays’ open access models varies tremendously between disciplines, from ~10% of authors selecting the open access option in the Life Sciences, compared with ~5% in medicine and public health, and ~3% in the humanities and social sciences. A few life science titles in the areas of molecular and computational biology have seen up to 20% uptake, and in recognition of this, the 2007 subscription prices for these titles have been adjusted to reflect the expected proportion of open access content in the future.

These results show that while open access is beginning to be embraced in some subject areas, the level of uptake is generally quite low, and it is therefore likely that open access will be only one of a range of models that will be necessary to support the requirements of different research communities. We will continue to monitor uptake in 2007, and to share the results of our experiments with the community to help develop a better understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of open access and subscription-based business models.


Q

Can you elaborate on OUP’s plans for the developing countries? Do you have any statistics that you can share on the total number of waivers or other incentives that OUP has granted to authors from the developing countries, in 2005/06?

A

In 2006 more than 3000 organizations are currently receiving free or greatly discounted access to our online collections via our developing countries programs, providing crucial education and health information in the developing world. We work in conjunction with the International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications (INASP)/PERI program, providing the Oxford Journals Online Collection to established not-for-profit educational institutions in over 100 qualifying countries.

We are also involved with other developing country partner projects, including HINARI, AGORA, and eIFL, and this year we have committed to these programs even further, with a pledge to continue our collaboration with partner organizations HINARI and AGORA until at least 2015.

We also provide reduced rate print subscriptions for selected titles to qualifying organizations, based on country incomes as established by the World Bank Reports. A full list of qualifying countries is listed at http://www.oxfordjournals.org/access_purchase/developing_countries_list.html.


Q

Who are the major online providers that OUP is currently partnering with? Are there any other new online initiatives that you plan to offer, in the near term?

A

All Oxford Journals content is hosted online by HighWire Press, and we work closely with them to provide our users with a wide range of services, including quick and comprehensive article searching; access to the latest research as it becomes available online through various ‘publish ahead of print’ models, a variety of electronic alerting services such as email tables of contents, citation tracking, and RSS feeds; links to related content; and more.

The biggest addition to our online offering this year has been the Oxford Journals digital archive, which went live in April. The archive contains the back content of each journal from Volume 1 Issue 1 of each title to the end of 1995. Dating back to 1849, the archive contains over 140 years of research in the Humanities; Law; Social Sciences; Medicine; and Sciences.


Q

Briefly explain how OUP handles complex projects that involve re-packaging of your e-content. Can you briefly describe any new initiatives by OUP that involves large scale re-packaging of legacy research text collections, databases and backfiles?

A

The digitization of our archives was one of the largest publishing projects that the Press had ever undertaken, lasting over a year, and involving operations across three continents.

We undertook this mammoth project to increase the availability of important knowledge, previously hard to access, and in danger of becoming lost. Making articles dating back as far as 1849 available gives librarians and readers a much more comprehensive provision of historical content than was previously possible with printed archive collections, and, once digitized, this content can be made permanently accessible.

This process was by no means simple. A print copy of every issue of the journal from Volume 1, Issue 1, firstly had to be sourced, before they could be scanned and converted to digital pdfs. It took the help of societies, backstock agents, and libraries, to assemble print copies of every issue to be digitized. To complicate this process further, we also had to obtain print copies that were effectively going to be destroyed in the production process. In order to be able to scan millions of pages at an acceptable speed, each issue had to be “de-spined” to feed pages into scanning machines. We’re particularly grateful to the British Library and the Bodleian who generously helped out in this process by loaning and scanning some of the harder-to-find journals from their own collections.

A complex set of cleaning, checking, and conversion steps were then completed in order to turn the scanned printed pages into articles (as PDF documents) and header information (as XML files).

We’ve not only published text either: covers, introductory notes, editorial boards, and advertisements have also been published online as additional PDF documents, to retain the historical context of the journals.

There is now complete search and browsing across both our current content and our complete digital archive. It’s never been easier to discover important research from the past, and, unlike with print archives, this information will remain available without the worry of deterioration, or taking up library shelf space, for the future.


Q

Highlight the initiatives undertaken by OUP to preserve its archives.

A

With both our archive, and our current journal content, we have put strategies in place to ensure continued access for perpetuity. Library customers need guarantees from publishers that they will still be able to access the journals they paid for – even if they cancel a subscription, if a journal moves to another publisher, or in the extreme scenario that a publisher ceases to function or is affected by some unforeseen catastrophe.

For that purpose, in March, we concluded a major agreement with Portico, an electronic archiving service launched in 2005 with funding from JSTOR, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Ithaka, and The Library of Congress. This is the third major archiving agreement that Oxford Journals has so far participated in, following agreements with the Koninklijke Bibliotheek (KB), the National Library of the Netherlands in 2004, and the LOCKSS preservation initiative from Stanford University in 2005, and reflects our commitment as a scholarly publisher to offer responsible archiving solutions to our library partners.

We’re also participating in a further three initiatives, all at developmental stages: CLOCKSS (Controlled LOCKSS) is a two year pilot from the LOCKSS initiative, investigating a failsafe repository to ensure delivery of content in the event of a disaster; The British Library Legal Deposit E-Journal Pilot Project is currently testing the feasibility and technical requirements needed to store e-journal content on a legal deposit basis; and Oxford Journals is also participating in the Library of Congress Pilot Testing of Voluntary Copyright Deposits project.


Q

What will be the key opportunities and challenges for your company for 2006/07?

A

Changes to technology will continue to drive how we operate in 2007, as will continued investigation into different business models, including open access.

As part of the world’s largest and most international university press, our core remit is to disseminate the highest quality content to the widest possible audience. We’re constantly looking at ways to improve the efficiency and speed of our publication, without making any compromises on quality.

The Oxford Journals collection contains some of the world's most prestigious titles, many at the cutting edge of their research fields. Over 20% of the science and medical journals that we publish are in the top 10% of their ISI category. In 2005, five papers from three Oxford titles were also included in Thomson Scientific’s Top 40 “Red-Hot Research Papers” list. Of these a paper from Bioinformatics was the fifth most highly cited research article of the year, while Nucleic Acids Research attained fifth place overall in terms of numbers of papers in the “Red-hot” list.

Ultimately maintaining this quality, and ensuring our customers have easy and efficient access to this content, remains our key priority.


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