A Closer Look at OncologySTAT: Elsevier's Version of Open Access?

In a prior posting, I discussed Elsevier's release of OncologySTAT. In this one, I'll take a closer look at the system.

It appears that OncologySTAT permits registration by any type of user. As noted previously, it gathers fairly detailed registration information.

Is it an open access system? Let's look at it from the point of view of Peter Suber's' Open Access Overview. The barrier of registration exists, but the system removes price barriers. Since it doesn't change the underlying copyright terms of the included journals, it doesn’t remove permission barriers. However, as Suber states:

While removing price barriers without removing permission barriers is not enough for full OA under the BBB definition [see this explanation], there's no doubt that price barriers constitute the bulk of the problem for which OA is the solution. Removing price barriers alone will give most OA proponents most of what they want and need.

Moreover, some major open access advocates, such as Stevan Harnad, argue that free access is sufficient.

How is OncologySTAT funded? Here's an excerpt from the About OncologySTAT page:

OncologySTAT is commercially supported by online advertising, sponsorship, and educational grants. Individual access to OncologySTAT is free, based on users registering with the site.

The Advertise page offers a more detailed description of advertising options:

OncologySTAT offers an array of online advertising and sponsorship opportunities including:

  • Run-of-Site Online Advertising
  • Targeted Online Advertising: Behavioral, Contextual or Keyword
  • E-Newsletters: OncologySTAT InfoBLAST weekly e-newsletter
  • 27 Cancer-Type Sponsorships (Breast, Lung, Prostate, etc)
  • Banners, Spotlights, Skyscrapers, Keyword Search
  • iPanels – Interactive expandable ad units
  • Section and Content Sponsorship (Video, Chemotherapy Regimens, Article Downloads, etc.)
  • MicroSites: custom branded content/advertorial
  • Interactive live and on-demand Webinars

Here's what Suber says about ways that open access journals can be funded (italics added):

OA journals pay their bills very much the way broadcast television and radio stations do: those with an interest in disseminating the content pay the production costs upfront so that access can be free of charge for everyone with the right equipment. Sometimes this means that journals have a subsidy from the hosting university or professional society. Sometimes it means that journals charge a processing fee on accepted articles, to be paid by the author or the author's sponsor (employer, funding agency). OA journals that charge processing fees usually waive them in cases of economic hardship. OA journals with institutional subsidies tend to charge no processing fees. OA journals can get by on lower subsidies or fees if they have income from other publications, advertising, priced add-ons, or auxiliary services.

OncologySTAT is unusual in that the journals it covers also remain available under free-based, restricted-use licenses and as print subscriptions. However, if anyone can obtain free access though registration, is this a significant issue or an artifact of an older business model?

It appears that OncologySTAT is a limited open access experiment embedded in a larger conventional fee-based, restricted-access publishing model.

It will be interesting to see how OncologySTAT affects library subscriptions to these expensive medical journals. Cancellation decisions will be influenced by how permanent OncologySTAT appears to be: it will be more tempting to cancel subscriptions if the system shifts into a more permanent mode. Since there appears to be no change in underlying digital preservation arrangements, cancellation decisions will also be affected by how strongly libraries are committed to the long-term access to and preservation of these journals vs. short-term access to them. An immediate, massive rush to cancellation doesn't seem highly probable, and consequently OncologySTAT is more likely to add revenue than subtract it.

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