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

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Mon, 31 Aug 1998 23:39:24 +0100

Arthur Smith <apsmith_at_APS.ORG wrote:

as> Stevan Harnad wrote:

 sh> If we agree that we are talking about the same much-reduced
 sh> costs, then I am just saying S/SL/PPV is simply the wrong way to
 sh> recover them in this new medium, because, by definition,
 sh> toll-gates mean access blockage, and this special category of
 sh> authors (unlike trade authors) does not share the toll receipts,
 sh> condone them, or in any way benefit from them. In paper, they
 sh> had no choice, because costs were so high that there was no way
 sh> to make the literature free.

 sh> But in this new medium there is a way. It's not the way the
 sh> trade literature will or should take; but it is certainly the
 sh> optimal and inevitable way for this anomalous little subset
 sh> (relatively speaking) of the human written corpus, one in which,
 sh> perversely, authors have been giving away their texts, wanting
 sh> nothing but readers in return, all along.

as> are scholarly authors really so different from "trade authors"?

I will try to show the fallacy in each of Arthur's examples, below. It
is easy to state in advance what he keeps doing, inadvertently: He
keeps presupposing the reader-end, trade-model as an unquestioned,
silent premise, and then he (unsurprisingly) keeps deriving it as a


as> Let's look at a few examples of trade authors:

as> 1. Book authors (fiction or non-fiction). Some are paid up-front
as> with minimal or no royalties, and some do get substantial royalty
as> payments. This is the clearest-cut case for Harnad's argument, but
as> even here the royalties are not usually the driving force for an
as> author's actions. Any author not yet highly successful is really
as> looking for critical acclaim, wide distribution, and a fat contract
as> for a next book. These things can be enhanced through the editorial
as> and marketing skills of a reputable publisher. Ignoring royalties,
as> compare what a self-published author can hope to achieve (say
as> posting their book on the web) relative to one who relies on a
as> traditional publisher. This really isn't all that different from
as> what scholarly authors seek.

Let me abbreviate this (because I've made this very comparison before):

An unknown, beginning trade author is the closest approximation to the
refereed-journal author, because he too would willingly give away his
work for free. But there the resemblance ends abruptly, because
although the trade author would give away his work initially, and would
even pay a prestigious publisher to publish it, his reason is certainly
not that he wants or expects to keep doing that for life! On the

In contrast, for the refereed journal author, it is not about any
"fat contract" around the corner. Not now, not ever.

(I hope no one will raise the other point often made in this
connection: that refereed authors are sometimes trade authors too:
irrelevant to their doings and motivation as refereed authors --
they're sometimes Deans too, and talk-show hosts.)

The analogy, in other words, is extremely superficial, the
differences vastly outweighing the similarities.

as> 2. Journalists. Generally salaried, they receive no particular
as> royalty on each copy. Rather, their jobs and careers depend on their
as> own reputation and the success of their publisher, to both of which
as> they contribute by providing quality articles. Wouldn't any
as> journalist "pay" to see his work on the front page of the New York
as> Times, just as Harnad has suggested a scholarly author would "pay"
as> to get into "Science" magazine? But the value of the reputation of
as> the publications is what precludes this kind of payment system.

This is the start-up analogy again: The only reason a journalist
would pay to have his words appear in the NY Times is the
expectation of higher revenue for further words. The words are
written for the fee, ultimately; the free words are just an

Of course great journalists also write for posterity; they may even be
scholars (even refereed ones, when wearing other hats); that too is
irrelevant, because what they sell for a living is their words. Hence
it is in their interest to be paid for those words, and, secondarily,
that the words draw revenue; i.e., these authors make common cause with
the tollsmen [S/SL/PPV]. Not so the refereed author, whose interest is
only in being read, cited, and having his work built upon. Revenue for
the words is never a goal, and, inasmuch as it entails access blockage
and tolls, it is in fact at odds with his goals.

The prestige of the journalist's employer is a red herring here too.
The magazine's prestige would not mean anything if it did not translate
into revenues for the journalist's words, because those words are his

(Now here comes a more complicated one; if I succeed in making
the fallacy evident here, it should advance us considerably:)

The prestige of the refereed journal is a red herring too, at least in
the analogy with the prestige of the trade journalist's employer: The
real meaning of the refereed journal's prestige is that the work has
earned certification as being of the quality that merits closer
attention -- in terms of being read, cited and built upon!

Now there ARE financial rewards for the refereed author. (No one
claimed they were still monkish renunciates.) But salaries,
promotion, tenure and awards follow from having work
read/cited/built-upon. They are not a fee paid for one's words, by
either the subscriber or the publisher! That's the difference
between trade journalism and "refereed journalism."

So the analogy is just riddled with holes and incoherencies.

I have used the notion of "buying" into Science magazine before, but
only in order to illustrate the importance of high-profile
certification in achieving a scholarly impact. For all the resemblance
of publication-counts and citation-factors to Nielsen ratings, they are
NOT ends in themselves in learned inquiry, as Arthur Smith surely
knows. And if Science did start awarding its space to the highest
bidder -- and on Arthur's undiscriminating model, why shouldn't it? --
all that would follow would be that that particular MEANS to the
refereed author's genuine END (having his work read/cited/built upon)
would simply cease to be a means.

I certainly hope that no one misconstrues this as a reductio of page
charges! They are only a reductio of page charges on the trade
model latent in it. If, in reality, prestigious refereed journals
are what they are DESPITE S/SL/PPV and not because of it, then
they will continue to be so even if the costs are scaled-down to
the online-only ones and recovered as page-charges instead.

To put it really starkly: Ultimately the prestige of refereed journals
depends on the referees, and they are in the pay of neither the
publisher nor the author in EITHER model.

as> 3. Free-lance journalists. Paid by the piece, and not tied to a
as> particular publication, but otherwise much the same as regular
as> journalists. Their main motivation is to get wide recognition for
as> their work, so they can ask a higher price in future.

Is my intercession really needed here? Does the last phrase not
tell it all?

as> 4. Advertisers. Harnad has claimed that scholarly authors are
as> closest to advertisers in motivation, but that cannot be generally
as> true. An advertiser does not particularly care about peer
as> recognition or future fame or fortune through the content of the ads
as> - the goal of an advertiser is to catch people's attention and
as> direct it to thinking about the product being sold. If academics
as> were like advertisers, they would bulk e-mail their thoughts to all
as> and sundry - this doesn't happen.

This reminds one of nothing more than the dismissal of the truth in
"All the World's a Stage" with "oh yeah? so where's the stage

It's precisely in that they want their work to be certifiable
as refereed (quality-controlled) that refereed authors are not
literally advertisers (and it is also why I reject the unrefereed
self-publication that some are advocating in place of peer
review on the Net).


as> In my view, scholarly authors have much in common with all "trade"
as> authors - all authors want their work presented in a manner that
as> will ensure a wide readership and particularly recognition from
as> their peers.

Correct. And what ensures peer recognition among refereed authors is
refereeing: Do all trade authors want that too? Why not? And what
ensures the widest readership is free access for all on the Web: Do all
trade authors want that too? Why not?

The virtue of apt analogies is that both the analogies and the
disanalogies are instructive...

as> Whether or not they receive royalties for their work,
as> the reputation and authority of a given publisher are what promote
as> its success.

Would the trade author be content, then, with a high-prestige publisher
who paid nothing for his words (not the debutant again, mind, but the
steady-state veteran, writing as a means of making a living). Why not?

There is a stark dissociation here, between the two types of author and
the revenue paid for their words, a dissociation that the superficial
similarities -- there had to be SOME, after all, they are both authors,
both publish, etc. -- invoked here cannot obscure.

as> The toll-gates do not directly benefit journalists at
as> all

You mean the for-fee journalists? Would they then be happier if
their words were given away? But then where would the revenue to
pay their fees come from?

as> and while royalties are nice, do little for most authors
as> either.

I'm not sure what to say about this. The royalties are the

Or is this saying any more than (the paradox/fallacy) that the price of
widgets is, after all, always an unwanted "access barrier" for every
widget-maker (because the lower the price, the more he could sell, and
hence no price at all would be the maximum of that function)?

as> [Gate receipts] do provide a huge indirect benefit however -
as> specifically for salaried journalists in ensuring the survival of
as> their employer

This is getting too complicated for me: Isn't it just that if my
employer can't make money by selling my product all that will be
left of my salary will be the Cheshire Cat's smile?

as> but also for other authors in ensuring that
as> reputable and authoritative publishers have some means of keeping
as> themselves afloat. The same incentives apply to scholarly authors
as> and the journals they publish in.

Yes, yes, everyone has to be able to recover costs and make an
honest living but what on earth has this to do with the matter at hand?
I was not proposing to bury capitalism, only the S/SL/PPV model for
cost recovery for refereed articles. Again, except if it is
smuggled in as a suppressed premise, S/SL/PPV is not the only way
to make an honest living in publishing! There's also page charges.


 sh> Only when this pressure is felt by all will page charges be seen
 sh> as the appropriate cost-recovery mechanism; until then,
 sh> tide-over subsidies for free online-only journals are the way.

 sh> Together, free public eprint archives and free online-only
 sh> journals will be the experience and practise that changes the
 sh> culture, but, alas, this cannot happen overnight.

as> The "tide-over" concept sounds good, but what exactly is the
as> mechanism you propose? I've heard several concepts:

as> 1. Libraries cutting subscriptions and paper expenses and putting
as> their savings into this - is that a realistic concept? Wouldn't
as> libraries put their savings into their much-abused book collections?

If the savings prove to be 2/3, as many of us predict, than there
will be plenty of room for discretion with the 2/3. Only 1/3 need
be redirected to page charges in the long run.

as> Wouldn't recalcitrant faculty members force libraries to hang on to
as> one or two "essential" paper subscriptions, now exorbitantly priced
as> because of subscription declines?

Not for long...

as> What university is going to
as> support libraries sending their money to third parties who provide
as> their information free anyway?

These "third parties" are their faculty and researchers! And
there is a very explicit quid pro quo here. (The online-only refereed
journal page costs still have to be paid, whether by scaled down
S/SL/PPV or page charges. The choice will be between a free and a
fire-walled literature, and the choice will be made at a more
collective level.)

as> 2. Governments, which ultimately fund most scientific research
as> (although where does this leave the scholarly works in applied areas
as> like medicine or engineering, not to mention the humanities?). Try
as> to get the US Congress to go for something like this... Do you think
as> legitimate peer review journals will actually see much or any of the
as> money?

Not sure what your point is here. Yes, it makes sense to add
publication funds to research grants. I think Congress would be very
receptive to making sure that the findings of publicly funded research
are publicly available. For unfunded research, the savings from the
library buy-back subsidy above should go a long way.

as> 3. An independent fund or trust, or scholarly societies themselves.
as> We're talking about at least a few hundred million dollars yearly
as> (various estimates have given 1 - 3 million published scholarly
as> articles a year, and minimal peer review costs of at least a few
as> hundred dollars). Has anybody stepped forward to create and run such
as> a beast? Why should the other parties in the publication process
as> trust it?

The beast is now three times as expensive, and paid for mainly
through library S/SL/PPV. We are talking about how to fund 1/3 of
that and S/SL/PPV savings are a good candidate, research
grants another.

It's not clear whether you are still talking about the (temporary)
tide-over for the transition here, or the steady state: For a while,
costs will exceed 1/3, perhaps by a good deal, because paper will still
be on the way out and online-only savings will not yet be realised.
This is the period that may require explicit subsidy, but it is by its
nature temporary.

as> Whatever the solution, somebody is up there deciding which
as> electronic-only journals qualify for subsidy - I don't think any of
as> this will be easy or easily swallowed by libraries, governments, or
as> publishers.

It is not online-only journals that need the subsidy! It's the
in-transition paper journals, hurrying to scale down to online-only,
but not yet there, and losing paper subscription support while
they are restructuring.

Online-only journals can go straight to page charges (when the culture
has reached a critical mass, as discussed in previous postings).

as> I earlier asked what was wrong with inexpensive access, versus free
as> access:

 sh> The answer is simple: Because [reader fees...] are access
 sh> barriers, toll-gates, fire-walls. They would mean I cannot just
 sh> link to xxx and pick up everything and anything. I must go
 sh> through a financial obstacle course of S/SL/PPV (assuming that
 sh> publishers' licensing packages can be made to interdigitate into
 sh> a seamless literature at all).

as> Site licensing (SL) makes things pretty much transparent, as long as
as> the institution subscribes (authors probably expect that a reputable
as> publisher will have all relevant institutions as subscribers).

That was what I expected from paper. From the Web I expect more. I
expect that everyone has access, not just licensees. (Here is the
unchallenged reader-end trade model enthymeme again.)

as> Pay-per-view (PPV) at least permits access. I would argue the
as> current fees are much too high - they should come down significantly
as> as electronic payment schemes mature. And publishers are already
as> competing on price here (Elsevier has a new test system for about
as> $7/article, half or a third of the average out there now).

But quite a bit more than xxx's $0. Your job is to tell me why I as an
AUTHOR should prefer retaining that price-tag. (No need to guess what a
reader would prefer.) Don't reply that it's a journal's prestige,
because prestige (like much else) is not married to S/SL/PPV.

as> Password-based individual subscriptions can be cumbersome, but there
as> are technical means for easing that. I agree that tolls are a hassle
as> - it's a hassle that you have to pay to read a newspaper or book
as> too. But I argue it's a necessary hassle that people will be (and
as> are) accepting, and the painfulness should go down as the technology
as> matures.

Necessary for newspapers and books: the trade literature. Now tell
me why it's necessary for the refereed journal literature, when
there is clearly an alternative possibility (and to all intents and
purposes a better one).

[This misperceived necessity is another example of the hidden
premise that keeps making itself felt here.]

as> As far as "seamless literature", I think the only prospect we have
as> for that in the next few decades is through the secondary or
as> tertiary services (abstracters and indexers and the likes of Science
as> Citations). Any other mechanism would leave out too much of the
as> literature (past as well as current), and most people doing
as> literature searches would not use it.

Have you forgotten self-archiving, in xxx, say?

(Set aside the past literature for now; that's a red herring here.
We're talking about the current, prospective refereed journal
literature. Forget about book links too.)

 sh> The optimality [of free/online-only] to the reader is obvious.

as> That's the kind of statement referees are supposed to catch...!

Let them look at xxx's access statistics.

 sh> Now ask yourself why AUTHORS should wish it otherwise? Are
 sh> financial firewalls that gate access to their work any advantage
 sh> to them? Is there any earthly reason I should not archive all my
 sh> work publicly, in my home server and xxx?

as> Because it's a hassle for the author. I used to have a bunch of my
as> papers available on a personal web site, but the computer they were
as> on was re-purposed. I re-installed them on a new system, but that
as> went away too. I haven't bothered to do it again, and I'm really not
as> sure anybody ever downloaded one of my papers while it was up, free
as> for everybody. Wasn't I just wasting my effort? "xxx" is a bit of a
as> different case because it acts much like a publisher - it has a
as> reputation (at least in some segments) and normalizes, processes,
as> and aggregates articles from many authors. But even there, it's not
as> trivial to prepare your article to be made publicly available.

Again, look at xxx's author statistics.

And there's all the home-servers where authors in growing numbers
are having just the opposite experience to yours: Increasingly
robust institutional web-sites on which institutions put more and
more emphasis every day.

as> Let me turn the question around - if an author's work is getting
as> published in a reputable journal, and the author knows it will
as> shortly be available and highlighted to the peers whose recognition
as> he or she craves, what reason does the author have to put extra
as> effort into posting it free on the web?

But Arthur, what are you saying? That all the xxx authors above are
just being irrational?


 sh> You are posing this question from the point of view of the
 sh> present, paper-bred S/SL/PPV status quo. You ask the reader
 sh> (without mentioning the fire-wall problem): wouldn't it be
 sh> simpler to keep the present system, with cost-reduction, rather
 sh> than to move to page-charges, with all their bad associations?

 sh> This is a Trojan Horse. It would make us forever hostage to
 sh> counterproductive toll-gates when, for the same money,
 sh> rechanneled in a more sensible way, we can free the literature
 sh> for once and for all, for one and all.

as> As I argued above, I don't think the rechannelling will be by any
as> means easy. But suppose we achieve our Nirvana of free literature
as> and free access to peer-reviewed material supported by
as> page-charges. Wouldn't this whole system be unstable to the
as> following:

as> 1. A new S/SL/PPV journal forms that has no page charges, perhaps
as> even gives authors royalties, but only accepts the very highest
as> quality work, in exchange for a guarantee from authors that they
as> will not post the material free on the web.

How would one go about assembling a journal of such instant
prestige (normally requiring years to earn) in Nirvana land, where
the literature is free to all and authors have funds explicitly
dedicated to covering publication costs?

But let's suppose...

as> 2. Authors try out the new journal because it saves them money (no
as> page charges). The most famous established authors are solicited to
as> write articles.

I doubt that page-charge funds will be set up so that you can spend
them on something else if you don't use them. In a
publish-or-perish climate that would be a big disincentive!

So much for attracting authors through savings. (The authors would also
have to renounce free access to their work for everyone, which, in
Nirvana, would be the norm.) Are you thinking of commissioning authors,
paying them fees, perhaps?

as> 3. Readers demand the new journal, and libraries subscribe, because
as> it clearly contains valuable material that can't be found
as> elsewhere.

I have no idea whether it could get this far. But suppose it did have
commissioned, big-name reviews, written for a fee (or royalty?). Sounds
as if it would then be a trade journal, which is of course free to have
recourse to S/SL/PPV, if there is a market.

as> 4. Other journals follow this lead, and S/SL/PPV becomes a mark of
as> high quality.

I can't follow the chain of reasoning: Are we all going to be paid
to write our refereed articles now? Will the pay be high enough to
offset our loss of readers?

as> At the least we end up with a mix of free and S/SL/PPV journals.

There will always be a mix of trade and nontrade journals. So what?

as> But then we have the same problem as now. The only thing that can
as> keep this from escalating to the current mess is extreme vigilance
as> by librarians that they only pay for high-quality S/SL/PPV. But
as> perhaps the current serials crisis can lead to such a solution
as> without needing an intervening free-access phase?

I think you are imagining a transition scenario from Nirvana back to
S/SL/PPV (i.e., from the optimal/inevitable back to now) that would
require things to flow uphill instead of down. You have not given it a
viable incentive structure because your analysis is still driven by
your suppressed premise: that it's all reader-end market-driven and
that page charges are somehow unnatural.

as> My comments on non-profit and for-profit publishers were based on
as> the assumption that for-profits have much better marketing and
as> contracts, as well as a profit-cushion that will probably give them
as> an extra one to two years of survival beyond where non-profits start
as> to collapse. If the transition to free-for-all is rapid, less than a
as> year or two, then non-profits will suffer by far the most. If the
as> transition is slow, then both will suffer. Unless of course the
as> "tide-over" business can actually be made to work...

As I hope it can be, and will.

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

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