I met a scientist today – I shall not reveal details. S/he was from a company, working abroad but visiting Cambridge. For technical reasons she was not able to access her company scientific information service and so was reliant on some syndicated PayPerView (PPV) system. This is what journals offer to those (most of the world) who don’t have an institutional library subscription (see /pmr/2011/10/04/pay-per-view-pricing-for-oup-journals-and-thoughts-on-foi/ ). It’s indicated on most journals by a shopping basket and a “BUY” button. For most of these you are then given a price and you can buy your papers. I did not realise viscerally till today how awful the system was.
BUY is a marketing lie.
You cannot buy the paper like you buy a book. You RENT the paper. You have this option for ONE day. And once only.
You cannot save the paper to disk. I don’t know how universally true this is but I expect that there are Rights collectors who will provide software to prevent copying.
If you fail to read the paper completely in 1 day (or if your connection crashes or whatever) you have to BUY (sorry, RENT) the paper again.
You ARE allowed to PRINT it. And pay for the paper, and the electricity and the toner… And waste planetary resources.
So what PPV does is force scientists to PRINT papers which are designed for electronic use. Any clickable diagrams, and rotatable molecules are destroyed.
This scientist was spending their valuable time printing about 3 cm thick of paper as that was the only way they could read the papers. S/he told me that s/he now reads many fewer papers because of the hassle. That is encouraging bad science.
Why this absurdity? Mainly because the publisher assumes that the reader is a potential thief (their language – “stealing content”). So we have anti-theft measures for anyone outside the scientific community.
And what about the charges?
I found a journal today which charges 60 USD for 1 paper. How is this justified? I only know about OUP (charges at least 32 USD) who answered an FoI request with:
The pricing has been based on market levels (which means, for example, that our pricing for articles from
humanities journals is generally lower than that for articles from scientific or medical
journals) and also takes into account the risk that too low pricing could undermine
So the pricing is what the market will bear. Chemists can be tapped for more money than historians. OUP is a non-profit and it might be thought that they have an element of public service. Who are the people who have to use PPV? The scholarly poor. Individuals our countries outside rich academia. People who are personally concerned about disease, or climate change, or anything. People like Open Source Drug Discovery in India who worry more about curing TB than their h-index. People like Graham Steel who is a Patient Advocate for CJD in his spare time. You might think that a publisher considered these people. But no, the holy cow of profit runs everything.
(This is not a specific criticism of OUP – other publishers are almost certainly even worse. But they won’t reply to me).
PayPerView is iniquitous. Not because the material isn’t free – though we have to work on that. But because it degrades the reader, regarding them as a thief. Makes no concession to their need to read the literature (and usually assumes by default that anyone outside academia isn’t worth bothering about). And sets a rate of pricing which must be one of the most inexcusable in the whole of materialist capitalism.
And, in case you had forgotten, the publishers DO NOT CREATE THE CONTENT. Scientists GIVE IT TO THE PUBLISHERS FOR FREE.
I’ve got myself quite angry now.
I might even have got some of you angry.
The whole scholarly publishing system is rotten, but PPV is one of its worst aspects.