I am in the midst of obtaining more information from Nature regarding questions raised by my recent post and from commenters, which I hope to share soon.
While the economics of publishing are hard to ignore, the economics of marketing play just as large a role in scholarly communications. Where and to whom are publishers directing their marketing efforts? Are they marketing to me (the librarian), the scientist/researcher who submits articles, or their readers (who may be neither)?
One message is the marketing tone and expectations set at conferences and in professional practice. Publishers at library conferences gave (or used to give away, before the economy tanked) a LOT of swag, gifts, parties, and the like. I can go into more detail but trust me - its like a Mardi Gras parade with the office supplies and tchotckes. This "culture of swag" is a pervasive and omnipresent part of the conference experience. It's almost impossible to attend a conference and not receive any swag. Is this a good thing?
In the past swag was a way to entice and retain customers for loyalty to a product or vendor. Most of the library content we buy today, after many rounds of budget cuts, fits into several categories. The first category are new products that we'd like to buy but can't afford. Swag can't change my mind in this scenario. The second category contains products which are only available from one source or required for a program accreditation, like Scifinder Scholar, so swag is wasted effort there as well. The last major category, vendors who provide similar services or products who might need swag to show their competitive advantage, is getting smaller all the time. The last two years have experienced many mergers by a select number of vendors (Proquest, OCLC, and EBSCO in most cases). In some casess swag might be effective, but these major players have all created fiefdoms of overpriced content and have bought out many competitors which might innovate within the market. Some of my peers have written in great detail about these three vendors and some of their business practices in their blogs, so I'll skip the details.
Scientists and researchers buy a lot of content and equipment too, at least in the field of chemistry. What's interesting is that the marketing effort, or culture of swag, takes on a different tone. Prestige, visibility, and influence is the swag of choice. Publishing/refereering/editorial services will make you more influential among your peers, provide greater visibility for your work, and make sure your articles get published in the best journals. This kind of swag is less visible but no less tangible than a mousepad or T-shirt. And deep down I think many scientists know they are being given the swag to provide free refereeing, editing, or journal content if they get an article accepted. Just like in libraryland its hard to attend a professional science conference meeting and not see this swag too. Scientific professional societies practice this form of swag as well, although the message is more easily disguised as service to the profession and enhancing the prestige of the profession rather than the individual. And in my opinion its as pervasive and omnipresent there as in library culture.
The problem is that this newer culture of sharing, disseminating, and distributing information (open access, open data, open source, open notebook science) doesn't rely on the culture of swag, at least as a traditional purchasing or behavorial tool. How can a publisher persuade me with swag if there's no subscription costs or the journal costs are underwritten from other sources than the library? How can this same publisher use the prestige/visibility/influence argument on a researcher when you can write a blog post that more peers can read than a peer-reviewed journal article? What if I can see how many people have read my article or blog post, accessed the data I've collected for a series of experiments, shared their data with mine, and I can then collaborate with them pre and post publication to correct mistakes, share additional insights, and improve upon the original concept or methodology? What if I can have my work openly reviewed by my peers, eliminating the fear of being scooped on an idea or denied credit for a major breakthrough or discovery, and have this approach considered valid for promotion and tenure in the academy? This environment strips away the artifice and destroys the culture of swag.
So keep the swag in mind when you make decisions on supporting a product or publishing and sharing your research results with peers. You might not be able to say no every time, or influence the giver that it's a waste of time. But its a start.