I think it is very important for people who are interested in defending Open Access as a concept and perhaps PLoS in particular to avoid getting into a fight over the specific arguments asserted by Butler. Keep the high ground. Fight about and for the concept, not the nit picking.
Part of the reason for this is that Butler’s argument, and the arguments that follow being made by other individuals with direct connections to Nature Publishing Group are irrelevant and meant to be distractions. For instance, Butler made a “financial analysis” of PLoS, but it turns out that he was using records avialble in June 2006 (from Open Access News). It is now July 2008. In case you didn’t notice.
From one major publisher with experience in author-pays and paid subscription models:
Based on our experience as a publisher of both subscription-based journals and author-pays open access journals, I would not only argue that the author-pays publishing model is sustainable, but also that it has many economic advantages over the subscription model. Even though our open access journal collection is only a few years old, we have already achieved profitability for the collection as a whole. Moreover, using a business model based on publication charges has enabled us to expand our publishing program in a much more sustainable way than we were able to using a subscription model.
Also, apparently, lost on Nature Publishing Group and it’s hit men (Butler and his defenders who are affiliated with Nature) the community as a whole likes Open Access and wants to see it succeed. Good wishes may not pay the bill, but good wishes backed by involvement and support can help. From the same source as the above quote, but a different commenter:
As scientists we want our research results to be widely read and used. For breakthrough results, that is best accomplished by publishing in top journals with a huge subscription base and media relations activities, such as Nature or NEJM. Considering their young age, PLoS Biology and PLoS Medicine is moving amazingly fast towards this top tier of journals. For more narrowly focused research, I see no reason to publish it in a traditional journal with a limited subscription base rather than in an open access journal that anyone can read. Why hide the research behind a subscription wall? Most open access journals do not charge author fees. When we do have to pay this fee from our grants, the charge is conceptually no different from the reprint charges that we used to pay during the old pre-electronic days, in order to send paper copies to colleagues without subscription access. I just wish there were open access journals in all scientific fields and their sub-specialties so that open access was always an option.
And, as I believe I said somewhere in relation to this issue, PLoS is new. Do we expect a new publishing enterprise to be on its feet at this stage? No. Another commenter in this debate puts it well:
The fact that the PLoS is not breaking even at this stage is not surprising. There seems to be a consensus in the publishing world that new journals – at least in the traditional subscription model – take about seven years to reach break-even. I personally think it’s more like 10 years; if ever. And here we are talking not just of new journals, but of new journals published in a new publishing model. The PLoS has done remarkably well, given all that.
It is also annoying that Butler as well as Nature Publishing Group Blogger Timo Hannay directly state or insinuate that PLoS is of low quality. But there is evidence that this is a case of the pot calling the kettle black.
There has also been discussion as to who is working with whom, who is linked to what entity, and why certain individuals (mainly bloggers) have lined up one way or another on this issue. Let me tell you the truth on this:
A diversity of bloggers, from all over the science blogosphere, read Butler’s piece as a cheap shot at best, or something worse. One blogger that I know of does not like PLoS and is making claims that Scienceblogs.com bloggers are affiliated with Nature and PLoS and sees it all as very confusing. That individual’s post is interesting but highly enigmatic (Sb is not affiliated with PLoS or Nature). And then there is a very small minority of bloggers who are defending Butler and throwing in kicks against PLoS. They all write for Nature Publishing Group though this is in at least one case being denied. Denied!
For your edification, I supply all of the links here:
On the Nature of PLoS….
Nature News looks at PLoS’ finances
Nature offers a completely objective and unbiased review of PLoS
Only Nature could turn the success of PLoS One into a model of failure
Nature versus nurturing open-access
Nature vs. everyone else?
Nature Versus Open Access
Nature targets financial weakness of PLoS journals
Sadly substandard reporting at Nature
Nature takes a look at PLoS finances & business model
Open source model in scientific research publising: A revisit to the financial future
Lie down with pit bulls, wake up with a blogospheric flea in your ear.
Harvard University headed for financial disaster!
Didn’t they learn anything from Encyclopdeia Britannica vs Wikipedia?
When Journals Pounce
Clash of the business models
Why I support open access
Nature: PLoS a threatening success
Nature vs. PLoS
Bitter, snarling, flamewar catfight breaks out over science publishing
NATURE Takes On PLoS
PLoS ONE: Take Two
Open-access journal hits rocky times
Is PLoS Coming of Age?
The Nature of PLoS
Nature Re-Attacks Open Access and PLoS
Put Down The Fucking Crack Pipe
Commentary: Open access equals bulk publishing?