The Urgent Need to Plan a Stable Transition

From: Stevan Harnad <harnad_at_COGSCI.SOTON.AC.UK>
Date: Wed, 2 Sep 1998 06:26:48 -0400

Arthur Smith <apsmith_at_APS.ORG> wrote:

> primary motivations for "beginning" trade authors or journalists,
> seem be very similar to those of scholarly authors.

But the steady state motivations do not. Refereed journal authors are
not embryonic journalists or novelists. They will NEVER reach the
paid-word stage (while they are writing refereed articles), nor
is the free contribution of their words merely a temporary

> Harnad argues that the prospect of future reward through a "fat
> contract" makes a big difference, but really how is that so different
> from the prospect of future reward to a scientist through grants,
> tenure, or prizes based on a significant publication track record?

Very different.

That indirect dependence (for making a living, a reputation and an
impact) was made quite explicit in what I wrote, but in no way
does it become equivalent to being paid for words. (It's more like
a journalist getting a Pulitzer: That's not fee for words either.)

> Yes the [trade author's] future reward is based on selling your words,
> but is not publication to please a grant funding agency also "selling
> your words"?

Kurz und Gut: No it isn't.

It would be helpful, in unpacking these analogies, to at least
keep the terms of comparison literal. We are speaking about
selling your words, not "selling your words."

> Harnad sees black and white, but I see a wide spectrum between
> scholarly and trade publication, with no sharp boundaries.

There may well be a gray borderline area, but the vast bulk of the
refereed journal is well West of it, so there will not be big
generalisations to make from that narrow strip (review articles?
wide-spectrum journals with commissioned and uncommissioned
articles? etc.) to the overall way to handle the refereed journal

There is a simple rule, after all, for determining whether
something is black, white or grey here:

Does the author want/get a fee for his words?
Yes? White. No? Black. Mixture? Grey.

> And yes the fact that scholarly authors can write books that sell as
> trade literature is relevant - in some fields this is the primary
> written communication means, rather than journal publication.

I have been at great pains in every paper I write on this to make it
quite clear that it pertain to the refereed journal literature ONLY.
NOT to the book literature ("trade" or scholarly); NOT to the magazine
literature; not to any royalty- or fee-based writing. It is specifically
the refereed journal literature that is situated almost completely West
of the Trade demarcation line.

> What happens to this argument when books become available online too -
> probably only a few years away, since publishers like Springer are
> already testing the waters?

Absolutely nothing. The argument is completely inapplicable to the book
literature, whether scholarly or nonscholarly (with the possible
exception of esoteric monographs that can expect only a success
d'estime among a narrow group of specialists too small even to
constitute a market in paper: here scaled down e-only expenses or even
free public archiving may be the optimal solution -- or the only
solution, other than a Vanity Press).

> [Aren't] [t]rade journal articles meant to be read or
> cited [too]? The articles are chosen and carefully placed by editors
> based on some kind of quality criteria - the imperative is to make a
> trade journal interesting enough that readers keep coming, and paying,
> for it.

Reading, and hence paying, to be sure, but CITING? What trade
journal do you have in mind here?

> Prestige = readership (quality and quantity) for both. Is this really
> so different?

Yes. With the trade author, it's reading (and paying) and that's
the end of it. With the refereed journal author it's meant to go
on to citing and building upon the work (as reported in further
refereed literature).

Now in the case of scholarly books, as opposed to refereed journal
articles, there can be both: reader-revenue and
citing/building-upon. But this has not been the case with the
ever more specialised and esoteric refereed journal literature and
it will not be the case in the online incarnation of it either.

So there is no point trying to draw anything out of that double
agenda in the case of scholarly books. Just apply the fee-rule and
the whites and blacks will sort themselves out unambiguously. Nothing
is gained (and much is missed) by trying to blur this boundary.

> And think about trade books by scholarly authors intended for, say, the
> graduate student level or above - are they not carefully critiqued
> before publication, and intended to be read, cited, and built upon?

Textbooks are yet another hybrid trade/scholarly category: They are
written to teach and also to make money. Not so with refereed articles.

> sh> what ensures peer recognition among refereed authors is
> sh> refereeing: Do all trade authors want that too?
> Do scholarly authors actually like critical referee reports?

Of course not. But what is the point? They know they must pass
peer scrutiny in order to make an impact; they have no wish to
make fools of themselves; and they do have the perverse sense that
they are trying to get at the truth about something. So feedback
as to where they might have gone wrong is welcome, if not
emotionally, then at least intellectually.

> Trade authors go through a critical editorial process that always
> modifies and often improves the text. Nonfiction trade authors often
> solicit commentaries from other authors to vet their manuscripts and
> later to use as jacket blurbs. After books are published, critics
> publish their commentaries. In scholarly publishing we have perhaps
> LESS review than in many areas of trade publication.

First, as many times acknowledged, scholarly book publishing is a
hybrid enterprise, having something in common with both refereed
journal publishing and popular trade book publishing. This is
simply not true of refereed journal publishing and there is no
lesson to be learned from treating one like the other.

Electronic scholarly books (except the unsellable esoteric
monographs) will go East with the Trade winds...

(Less rigorous peer review in journals than books? Which journals?
Which books?)

> Some scholarly journals advertise, and could possibly
> support themselves with neither page charges nor fees to readers.

I doubt it. And as an author I'd rather pay modest page charges
than have my readers timesharing their attention to my work with
the multimedia java hijinks we are seeing more and more of
wherever we turn on the Web these days...

> No - I think free access on the Web does NOT ensure the widest
> readership. It ensures the widest POTENTIAL readership, certainly. But
> the only way you'll actually get people reading things is to somehow
> point them there, and how do they get to your little web site, if
> they've never heard of you and can't think of any of the handful of
> keywords that brings your site to the top of the AltaVista heap?
> Assuming they even attempt to use AltaVista to search for scholarly
> articles? [xxx is a separate case, which we can discuss later.]

The proposal, one must repeat, is not to do away with refereed
journals. They are to continue performing their certification function
(hierarchically, in the online version of the same prestige hierarchy
that calibrates our currently reading in paper) as they always did.
That is both medium-independent and economic-model-independent. In
other words, it's there whether costs are paid through S/SL/PPV or page

Home-server preprint archiving is something; much better than nothing
(or sending out paper tech reports). But it is not everything,
nor is it the end of the line. The preprint should also go in the
central archive (xxx).

  [By the way, I for one think there is no reason why xxx (mirrored
  worldwide) should not grow to become THE international,
  interdisciplinary public archive; it's a medium, not a message, and
  being free and public, it is not competing for that function with
  anyone else; and it's already there, funded, and capable of scaling
  up to much greater capacity; see my forthcoming September 10 Nature
  article .]

Then comes refereeing (paid for by page charges) and then the
final draft, again in the home archive and xxx, but now tagged by
the +REFEREED +JOURNAL-X brand-name, on which searchers can then
focus their engines.

Now do you believe that a publisher's MARKETING efforts are needed
to make the links between the articles and its "potential"
readership? I think his role in the quality control certification
will have been quite sufficient for that.

> That was the crux of my argument: a publisher helps readers and authors
> meet. That concept is central to publication.

That's what it is in paper publication, where readers need to pay the
costs if there is to be any meeting at all. That's what it will
continue to be in trade publication, both paper and electronic. But
that it not the publisher's role in online refereed journal article

> Publication in a Physical
> Review journal means first that your paper (selected through a rigorous
> review process) is accessible by a variety of mechanisms (online links,
> searchability, tables of contents, author indexes) within the grouping
> of articles that comprises the journal,

Now that's just xxx plus the certification tags.

> and just as importantly that
> your article will be accessible through INSPEC, Science Citations, and
> similar cross-journal search tools.

If I had money to invest I wouldn't put it in any secondary or tertiary
journal publisher stocks just now: I'd wait to see how the chips fall
with enhanced authoring tools, search tools, and public archiving.
I'd maybe even wait to see what became of primary journal publishing

> Soon your article will be
> accessible by direct or indirect links from the reference sections of
> papers in other publishers' journals.

Or through cross-referencing in xxx, with the advantage of no
fire-walls in between. (The fire-wall with retrospective literature
seems unavoidable, because of the extra cost of scanning it in, and
attendant proprietary considerations.)

> The publisher attempts to create
> as many reasons as possible for readers to WANT to read your article.

A question to this Forum's readership: As authors of refereed journal
articles (as opposed to books), have you ever had the sense that that
was the role your refereed journal publisher was playing for you?

> Because that's what the publisher gets paid for - under S/SL/PPV that
> is.

No, under S/SL/PPV for refereed journal articles, the publisher was
paid for implementing quality control and getting the product out in
paper (which was costly). Marketing the journal was part of what it
took to pay the high paper costs. This function is defunct for the
online literature -- except if we find some good reason for keeping
S/SL/PPV in its own right.

> So the publisher and author actually have similar goals - they want
> to create a need among as many readers as possible to see the article
> in question. And if too many readers are frustrated by S/SL/PPV
> complications then the publisher loses out as well as the author.

I think that in the fire-wall-free online era the author's work and the
peers' level of certification create the need. Public archives provide
the best way to fulfill it. Searchability and citations are the most
effective means of advertising the "product." And marketing the journal
has next to nothing to do with any of it.

Hewing only to the reader as the consumer is, I think, again a symptom
of your enthymeme: The paper is the author's product, freely given,
hence the author's needs are central. But even from the reader's
standpoint, I think xxx illustrates exactly how they will "vote," once
the choice is available and apparent.

> Now, if the S/SL/PPV model goes away and we have page charges
> supporting publication, the motivation to the publisher to catch reader
> interest is indirect (authors will presumably pay more for a journal
> that can catch more readers) and it is likely that actual readership of
> an article will decrease, even if potential readership increases by
> providing the articles for free. It seems a paradox, I know, but I
> believe it is deeply rooted in the economics of the problem.

Only because you continue to presuppose S/SL/PPV even after you
have hypothetically dispatched it! Marketing has nothing to do
with attracting the readership of a refereed article (in contrast
to, say, a book or magazine).

> On tide-over funds - I would like to see a more detailed model
> or action plan for this. I thought at first you said only online-only
> journals would qualify, but now we seem to be expanding the scope.

The path from reader-end S/SL/PPV-based cost recovery to
author-end page-charge-based cost recovery looks like an Escher
Drawing or a Moebius strip; in reality, there will be an unstable
period when the culture and economy have not yet gone over to page
charges but library cancellations risk not covering publishing
expenses. The tide-over is for that period, and it affects both
hybrid journals trying to make the transition and online-only
journals without a reliable page-charge-base to draw on yet.

You are right that it will require a much more detailed model and
course of action. There will be conferences and committees convened
about this, consisting of representatives of Universities, Research
Institutions, Libraries, research funding agencies, learned societies,
public archives (xxx), publishers (paper, hybrid and online), and
probably other relevant parties (including governmental ones).

I've participated in a few of these already, but so far they have
not been very fruitful because most of the participants were so
monumentally uninformed. I think this can only improve, and that
perhaps a greater sense of urgency will be needed to get people
thinking more seriously. That urgency will come from the mounting
pressure of author self-archiving as well as from library

Discussions like this may help too -- soon to include the feedback from
the forthcoming paper on copyright and author archiving in Science on
September 4
and mine on "OnLine Journals and Financial Firewalls" in Nature on
September 10

But you are right that a detailed, systematic transition process
has to be thought out carefully.

> Would it be centralized or decentralized? Organized by field, or
> geographical location? Lots of details missing, and some of them
> may matter if it is actually to be done.

You are quite right.

> The details of the page charge scheme also seem to be somewhat
> missing here. Does it come directly out of authors' grants? Is it
> mandated in some way by granting agencies? Can we write down
> a specific criterion that a granting agency could legislate, eg.
> "Any page charges for publication in free-to-reader online-only
> journals must be paid in full through the supplementary
> publication award (limited or unlimited?)."

All legitimate questions, and we should be sitting down to
start analysing them and working them out.

> And how should journals handle unfunded authors? Make up the difference
> by charging funded authors more? That could lead to large
> inter-national discrepancies. Could there be different page charge
> levels depending on what services were provided to the author? Wouldn't
> there be an incentive among publishers to keep hiking page charges if
> neither authors nor libraries directly feel the pain?

I should hope the selected page-charge mechanism will be designed to
forestall the latter, but, again, your questions are all good ones, and
deserve an informed answer from an informed body that has worked on it
from the viewpoint of all the different players involved. The trick is
to avoid continuing the kinds of half-baked rehearsals of the same old
uninformed questions and objections for several years more!

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

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

> sh> Let them look at xxx's access statistics.
> sh>

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

> I wasn't talking about xxx in these arguments. I think it's important
> to distinguish the run-of-the-mill individual or even departmental web
> server from xxx, which is an important and active site with a large
> steady readership.

> For a good fraction of physics (20-40 percent of basic physics,
> probably around 10 percent of "all" physics, somewhere around 1 % of
> scholarly publishing) xxx is a reliable source of the latest papers

But you see, in my mind, xxx is just the centralised gathering together
of the very same initiative in all disciplines. I don't for a minute
believe it works only for a subset of the disciplines. It simply has a
head start there. And there are those of us who are working to
accelerate the drawing of the rest of the disciplines into the fold.

Home-archives are the distributed version, xxx the centralised
one. But it is the same enterprise: one global public archive of
the refereed serial literature, free for all.

> [xxx] has become a de-facto publisher, archiver and
> abstracter/indexer, minus of course traditional peer review.

Not minus peer review. In reality, xxx, and all home archives, are
subsidised, not by NSF or DOE, but by the paper journal publishers who
are currently paying all the costs of quality control. That "Invisible
Hand" of peer review is of course felt all over the archive. Not only,
obviously, in the papers that have been archived as final published
versions, after peer review, but also in the pre-refereeing preprints,
for they are all written IN ANTICIPATION of passing peer review, which
goes a long way toward keeping them honest!

If the plug were suddenly pulled on this subsidy (or if those misguided
zealots were to prevail who have suggested that we do away with peer
review altogether, as mere censorship and bias, and let skyreaders vote
instead with their eyeballs and their comments) then, human nature
being what it is, I think the literature would quickly undergo a
catastrophic drop in quality and reliability that would rival the
current alarming fall of the rouble.

It is for this reason that a stable transition process must be planned
very explicitly and carefully now.

> Right now, even if it seems like it
> shouldn't be, the reality is that readers (library committees) have a
> nonzero but limited budget out of which they select which of competing
> scholarly journals to pay for access to. The vast majority of authors
> continue to seek publication in a traditional journal without putting
> anything free on the web, in some cases because prestigious journals
> forbid it.

I think you are very wrong about the latter. If xxx's stats don't
persuade you that self-archiving is growing, I wish there were a way to
chart home-archiving in the other disciplines. All indications I see
are that it is growing very fast, encouraged by Universities,
Departments, and mounting practise.

As to the attempts to "forbid" the optimal and inevitable: In the next
posting I will re-post something I wrote some time ago on this subject.
In a nutshell, attempts to prevent public self-archiving by authors are
not only doomed to fail, but they will alienate the learned community
and exacerbate instead of resolving the growing conflict of interest
that this new medium has both revealed and offered the possibility of
resolving to the great benefit of the learned community and
learned inquiry itself:

What we need is cooperation in a smooth transition, not attempts
to force a status quo on the learned community that in no way
serves its interests.

> Payment
> Model Authors Readers
> 1 A > T R < 0 A possible advertising model
> 2 A = T R = 0 Page-charge supported, free-to-reader
> 3 0 < A < T 0 < R < T Combined S/SL/PPV and page charges
> 4 A = 0 R = T Current S/SL/PPV model (no page charges)> 5 A < 0 R > T Royalty model (trade publication).
> Harnad claims that only a mix of (2) and (5) is stable together (Model
> (1) hasn't been considered at all here). My claim is that the
> whole range, from (1) to (5), could easily be present in the scholarly
> publishing mix, and the final stable distribution will depend on
> field (what kind of authors and readers you have), funding structure
> (what kinds of publications charges authors are funded for), and
> culture (are authors willing to pay page charges for free distribution,
> are they willing to refuse royalties up to a certain level for
> restrictions on distribution, where do readers go to look up
> information).

This is useful, and worth discussing further, with the details of
the COSTS behind the proposed reader and author charges made

> I also claim that the principle effect of online journals is, through
> both communication efficiencies and automation, to decrease
> considerably the total cost T. Electronic distribution also makes it
> easy to increase the number of readers sharing in the burden R, without
> any substantial increase in T. The net effect is to decrease the costs
> both to authors and readers, but more substantially to readers, and
> equilibrium economics would suggest the result is a shift downward in
> this table.

At the cost of keeping the current fire-wall access barriers to the
refereed corpus in place. A big cost indeed, not in terms of dollars
(as we are speaking now of recovering the same amount in two different
ways), but in terms of the potential fruits of learned inquiry, as I
have argued in other writings.

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

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