Re: Savings from Converting to On-Line-Only: 30%- or 70%+ ?

From: Arthur Smith <apsmith_at_APS.ORG> <harnad_at_COGSCI.SOTON.AC.UK>
Date: Thu, 27 Aug 1998 12:44:29 -0400

Economics, Competition, etc.

Stevan Harnad makes a telling comment in his response on archiving:

> the virtue of making xxx the locus of more and more of the
> literature in all disciplines is that many eggs can be
> collectively tended in one basket.

a single basket does introduce simplicity - but the proverb counter to
this has a fundamental rationale - the future is much more uncertain
than we think it is.

Harnad also mentions pejoratively in his opening comments:

> a jerry-rigged agglomeration of toll-ridden proprietary packages

and clearly favors a Utopian simplicity. But wasn't Utopia discredited
with the fall of the Berlin wall? The benefits of a messy,
decentralized market economy are in the huge incentives for rapid
innovation, the pressures of competition, and ultimately the efficiency
imposed by the price mechanism. While scientific journal publishing
does not constitute an ideal market economy as Harnad and Odlyzko have
noted, Utopian ideals seem to me a move in the wrong direction.

The title American Scientist has chosen: "Web pubishing: who pays?" and
Walker's essay on free access get down to the nitty-gritty: Somebody
does have to pay. The real question is who pays, who profits, and where
is there waste and excess, relating to Harnad's question 1:
What IS the true cost of online publication?

There are at least 7 parties in the publication process among
which costs and profits can be partitioned:

1. The author
2. The technical editor and referees
3. The publisher (copy editing, final production)
4. The distributor
5. Indexing/abstracting services (INSPEC, Medline, ISI, etc)
6. The library/institution
7. The reader

Ultimately, payment is made by government research funding agencies and
corporations (or universities) who fund research or benefit from the
latest research.

A cursory review indicates that by far the greatest costs of
publication are people costs, often ignored by those new to the issues.
Technology can cut costs primarily by replacing work people do. The
benefits of electronic publication come from automation as much as from
the communication improvement inherent in replacing paper with bits.

Andrew Odlyzko by Harnad in his essay) has clearly outlined where most of the
cost lies: with the authors. They do the research, prepare the
manuscript, and handle most of the correspondence and alterations
necessary for publication. Walker's proposal is to shift all the
explicit cost on the author as well, through page charges.
Implicit costs remain, particularly to unpaid editors and referees,
libraries that must still keep track of journals and pay for
indexing/abstracting services who themselves have costs that grow with
each published article.

There are implicit technology costs to the reader or library (bemoaned
by Prof. Arunachalam in his essay on developing nations problems)
although I believe these are small and decreasing, comparatively. And
then there are the costs in time and effort expended by the reader.

The xxx model, as it now stands, automates or eliminates roles 2-6,
leaving only author and reader as bearers of costs (aside from a very
minimal cost supported by funding agencies - note also the often
unacknowledged role of the SLAC library in role 5 for some xxx
archives). And of course all explicit costs are eliminated (no money
changes hands). The cost to the author is probably very little changed
from traditional publication, perhaps slightly reduced by the lack of a
formal refereeing process to respond to. The primary implicit cost
increase is to the reader, who must, aside from the technology issues,
spend considerable time wading through basically "raw" literature.
In some fields, particularly where the avenues of development are narrow
and many people may be working on very similar problems, there is great
benefit to immediate access to the work of others, and so the cost to
the reader is well worth it. In other fields the benefits are not as
great, and the xxx model has had more difficulty catching on.

There is clearly some benefit to the work done by roles 2-6 in the
publication process beyond what can be automated with current tools: if
this benefit exceeds the related explicit cost to the reader, then
simple economics tells us readers should pay it. Where these benefits
lie, and to what extend they can be emulated by further automation, are
certainly areas for further discussion. Examples of such benefits are
improved reliability and quality of articles (probably not easily
automated), comprehensive indexing for searches, and inter-linking
forward and backwards between articles through citations.

But to remove the opportunity for the reader to explicitly pay for
improved services (as Walker and Harnad seem to suggest) cuts out a
major incentive for innovation in the areas that implicitly cost the
reader so much.

I agree that journal prices should come down as the electronic
revolution moves forward and automation eliminates many of the people
costs of a journal - but should they go away?
Received on Tue Aug 25 1998 - 19:17:43 BST

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