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

From: Stevan Harnad <harnad_at_COGSCI.SOTON.AC.UK>
Date: Fri, 28 Aug 1998 15:40:16 -0400

> Arthur Smith ( wrote:
> Then we have no concrete examples of an "overlay" electronic-only
> journal at all. So the thing you are proposing does not yet exist.

That's correct. And your point is...?

> Meanwhile, existing academic journals are moving forward. My argument
> is that a purely electronic "overlay" journal is not economically
> viable, whether paid for by readers or authors. You have no
> counterexample.

Let's wait and see.

> There are of course many other electronic-only journals, but they "own"
> the content in the traditional manner, and do the distribution
> themselves.

Correct. But if free, they have nothing to lose (and a good deal
to gain, and save) by reconfiguring as an xxx overlay.

> It is all well and good to say "of course peer review will be
> available", but peer review is expensive and the model you have
> proposed for a journal based on the xxx archives does not seem to be in
> any way viable as a purely electronic entity.

The model I proposed was (1) author-end page charges to support the
cost of (2) refereed journals free for all with (3) xxx as the public
mode of access. Overlaying (3) looks like the simplest and most
efficient way to achieve (1) and (2). But that is not what you are
questioning; you are questioning whether we could/should achieve (1)
and (2) at all.

 sh> What we need to know is how much it REALLY costs to produce TRULY
 sh> electronic-only journals, and whether S/SL/PPV is the optimal way to
 sh> recover those costs (and a fair profit), or there is a better way
 sh> for us all.

> What's so special about a truly electronic-only journal? It merely
> eliminates one of the production and distribution pieces of the
> process.

Please see the subject header for this thread: You are
presupposing the answer to the 70/30 question, based on the
way you are presupposing that it should all be done! I want
to see the costs of e-only journals that have been implemented
without such presuppositions (or prior modes of operation, or vast
infrastructures committed to it).

> The majority of users of electronic journals print out a copy of
> articles they are interested in - does that make every electronic
> journal not electronic-only?

Do you really think the 70,000 daily hits on xxx are all (or mostly)
printer downloads?

 sh> generic browsers (guided by the all-important +/- REFEREED tag,
 sh> once most of the literature is on-line and free in xxx and
 sh> home-servers) could already do almost as well [as indexing]
 sh> on the cheap...

> Ahh, here is the key sentence: "once most of the literature is on-line
> and free"...

But that's been the premise and the conclusion all along: that
that is the optimal and inevitable condition, and the question is,
how to get there as soon as possible? The status quo (which you
appear to want to modify relatively little) is certainly not the
condition on which conditional statements like the above one are

> Even at its current size, xxx does not cover more than 10%
> of current physics - some fields have reached saturation but for most
> (atomic and molecular, optical, fluids, biological physics, statistical
> physics, plasmas, chemical physics, computational physics,
> accelerators, practically all experimental or applied physics) there is
> very little coverage.

I leave it to the xxx administration to reply to this. It is my
impression that it is not accurate.

> Even if the current linear growth rate continued
> it would be several decades before even 50% coverage of physics was
> reached.

How many papers do you think are published monthly in all of physics?
The slope (45 degrees) and intercept (now over 2000 papers monthly)
from 0 after 7 x 12 months is known for xxx:

> So are we talking about a future 10 or 30 years down the
> road? And even then most archival material will not be available free
> online

Why not? Is there any reason you think authors will (or should)
refrain from archiving their papers publicly, whether in xxx or

> - you of course argue that we are only talking about current
> content, but the smooth interlinking of current and ALL archival
> material is the kind of future we should be thinking about, not a
> haphazard listing of whatever authors have managed to post themselves.

It is an unfortunate fact that scanning costs money (and extant
copyrights may make it cost more). So the retroactively scanned
literature is not likely to be free of fire-walls. But there is
no reason whatever why the current literature should be similarly

> That is where the abstracters and indexers play a crucial role - they
> provide access to essentially ALL the refereed literature through a
> single interface. They provide it now, and will undoubtedly be doing
> a better, faster, even more comprehensive job in the future. And most
> institutions and researchers would rather pay for this now than wait
> several decades for something that might or might not fill their
> needs.

I hope their needs will be fulfilled much earlier. There is
certainly no reason they should not be. All that is needed is
that every current author should archive the full text of all
their work from this day forward, on their home server and xxx.

> >But, for a start, what's the obstacle in the fields/countries where it
> >IS possible, then?
> Competition. We tried to impose page charges on our high-energy physics
> journal (PRD) and the journal almost collapsed, because competing
> journals did not charge anything, and authors fled there. And our page
> charges have always been voluntary! That's why Physical Review is
> actually phasing out all page charges for electronic submissions at
> this time.

But (as I've had occasion to say lately in another thread in this
forum) levying page charges for paper journals already supported by
S/SL/PPV is adding insult to injury! Why should authors pay page
charges under those conditions?

Now, in exchange for a navigable, full-text, free of all
fire-walls, that's another story...

> But I hear a new journal (sponsored by the British IoP, German DPG?) is
> planned for physics that will be supported solely by page charges -
> we'll have to see how that turns out. If it works, we'd be happy to
> adopt this model, but we've just been burned by past experience.

My guess is that the sequence of events will have to be more like
this: (1) widespread free archiving by authors, (2) addiction to
this (free, full-text electronic corpus) by the reader community,
(3) library subscription cancellations, (4) a tide-over subsidy
for the transition from reader-end S/SL/PPV to author-end page
charges, and then, at last, (5) page-charges as the culture for

I doubt that wildcat page charges at this stage will catch on, but
I certainly have my fingers crossed.

Stevan Harnad
Received on Tue Aug 25 1998 - 19:17:43 BST

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