Re: 2.0K vs. 0.2K

From: Stevan Harnad <harnad_at_COGLIT.ECS.SOTON.AC.UK>
Date: Sat, 8 May 1999 12:53:35 +0100

Arthur Smith works for the American Physical Society (APS), the
publisher that is (to my knowledge) by far the most benign and
progressive of all large learned journal publishers today.

My minor differences with Arthur should be weighed in this context, for
if all publishers today had the APS's policy, the free global online
archive would be a matter of course, and would be with us in extremely
short order (in Physics it's well on the way already, with LANL).

The minor differences have to do with a way of thinking that Arthur
repeatedly lapses into despite himself. (It has happened in this
discussion before.) I can't think of a better name for it than S/L/P
thinking, or reader-end thinking. He just doesn't seem able to sustain
the concept of selling a product to readers instead of a service
to authors, no matter how ardently he tries!

Read on: The first parts below will just be evidence of the enlightened
and admirable policy of APS, which one can only hope will soon be
emulated by other publishers too. The legocentrism comes a bit later.

On Fri, 7 May 1999 Arthur Smith <apsmith_at_APS.ORG> wrote:
> sh> (2) Is the distinction between allowing free self-archiving of the
> sh> final draft on the "home" server and on the "global" server coherent
> sh> and enforceable?
> Here's what I understand of the current official policy (I was given
> some more information on this today):
> (1) The author, as part of the copyright agreement, can post any
> version of the manuscript as created by the author, including the
> final version after revisions suggested by referees, to any distribution
> service that is either free and public, or if not completely free
> is restricted to the author's institution and is not sold commercially
> to other institutions.

I think the APS's commercial restriction is fully justifiable: As long
as APS is footing the bill for it all, there is no reason whatsoever
why anyone else should be able to sell the product and profit from it.
The author's interests are fully served by having only free
distribution rights.

> (2) The author, also as part of the copyright agreement, may post the
> final APS-created rendition of the article (PDF file, two-column format
> and all) to a public web site under the control of the author or author's
> institution, accompanied by a statement concerning APS copyright. This
> version is not to be posted in other public areas.

Very reasonable to require the copyright notice and the clear tagging
as an APS-certified paper. However, the interpretation of the
difference between my institutional server and, say, the LANL server,
is incoherent: I control my LANL paper too; I can delete it any time.
Meanwhile, I DON'T control cached versions of my own institutional
server, which are automatically generated everywhere. So the LETTER of
this distinction turns out, at bottom, to be illogical, not just
impracticable. But the SPIRIT of it all seems fine.

> The coherence comes in part from requiring the accompanying copyright
> statement. Not that it would be easy (or very useful) to police.
> Now we have also seriously considered a license agreement, where the
> author retains full copyright. The only thing that is holding
> that up is some serious concerns about the validity of the language of
> the license under international laws. This may eventually happen,
> in which case the restrictions in policy 2 would probably be lifted.

Fine. It is clear that the APS has the true interests of its authors and
of science at heart, and that these formal details can be worked out.
Would that all or even most publishers felt and behaved in this way!

> We do want to be on the side of the widest possible distribution for
> the BEST scientific articles - somehow, in the past, copyright has
> helped to ensure that excellent work is widely distributed, but it may
> no longer be the best approach now.

Yes, it's the Faustian Bargain I wrote about in '93.


> Anyway, this issue really isn't as critical as you make it out to be.
> If we did allow it, we would not charge for it, it would just be part
> of the copyright or license agreement.

That is abundantly clear. The need to make it coherent and explicit is
more in the interests of setting a clear example for other publishers
than out of any concern about APS's intentions.

> as> ie. if those institutions
> as> went to an "author-pays" system rather than a "reader-pays"
> as> system, they would be paying more, not less.
> >
> sh> Do you think this would still be true if the page charges were
> sh> only for the true costs of quality control, with no "add-ons"?
> But as we (if we can) cut back our costs, we have no choice but to cut
> back our subscription prices too (we're non-profit) - so it will always
> be true at any one point in time, unless we go to a different system of
> charging for our journals (which may well happen). Maybe we could base
> page charges on projected "true costs" a year or two down the road, but
> it will take some experience to judge what that would be and it's not
> likely to be huge - if we could cut costs 10% a year we'd be ecstatic.

Unfortunately, no matter how benign we are, we have to be protected from
ourselves in such matters. I have no doubt that APS will never have any
unreasonable mark-ups; I haven't the same confidence in many other

But that is not the only issue: As long as one is creating a product
with more features wrapped into it than necessary, the costs will be
higher than necessary. Quality control is the only essential service
that learned journal publishers will perform in the online era.
That is an author-end service. As long as one persists in thinking of
creating (and selling) a reader-end product, expenses will not shrink to
the essentials: for the reader-end product is itself an inessential,
once authors can self-archive all their papers!

> sh> Although, most institutions are net
> sh> CONSUMERS of journal papers, and would profit hugely from S/L/P
> sh> terminations even after paying for all their institutional author
> sh> page-charges, some institutions (a minority) may be net PROVIDERS of
> sh> journal papers. It seems to me that HERE is where a library consortial
> sh> pooling of resources WOULD make sense (i.e., in fairly sharing
> sh> author-end up-front costs, NOT reader-end global site licenses).
> Consortia are usually possible only where the institutions in the
> consortium share a common source of funding - otherwise it's too
> difficult to agree how to split up the costs fairly. But at least in
> our case, the institutions who would have to pay the most extra under
> an author-pays system tend to be bunched together with the same funding
> source (the US government labs in particular, and research-I
> universities relying on federal research grant overhead). There's also
> a significant international redistribution involved - a much higher
> fraction of our subscriptions are in the U.S. than of our authors.

Up to this point, this analysis of switching to the delivery of an
author-end service is all sensible and feasible. Now comes the
following regression onto reader-end thinking.

> A start towards this would be simply to change our pricing structure
> to scale prices in some way according to the number of authors or
> researchers at an institution - but we really don't want to
> go to direct usage based pricing, as that (institutionalized
> pay-per-view in a sense) discourages use, which is the opposite of what
> we all want. So some kind of "number of authors" based price makes a
> lot of sense.

This has become a Mobius strip! What on earth does "pay per view,"
which is a reader-end concept (the "P" in S/L/P), have to do with an
author-end service?

There is no need to "adjust" the author-end costs for quality control;
they will be low enough (once we're really down to only the essentials)
so that all institutions will be able to afford them. Once it is
evident what the LOGICAL role of author-end payment is in the whole
"perestroika" process of restructuring for the sake of a free refereed
online literature, if S/L/P savings should prove insufficient to cover
the publication costs of the happy institutions that are that prolific,
it will also become a natural part of the overhead from research
grants: The lion's share of these are dedicated to performing the
research; reporting it is already mandated; covering its minuscule
publication costs is as natural as covering conference costs...

> sh> Here's another way to think of it: Currently, the net-provider
> sh> institutions are subsidizing the net-consumer institutions. With
> sh> up-front page charges, the excess savings of the net-consumers
> sh> will be redistributed to balance the excess expenses of the
> sh> net-providers, but all institutions will save something like
> sh> (G-g)/G times their own current serial budgets annually.
> But if they do nothing, don't bother with consortia, all institutions
> will still save something like (G - g)/G of their budgets. The savings
> are there whether we make it author-based pricing with
> free-viewing-for-all or not - as I've argued here previously,

Tell that to the institutions and individuals who cannot afford or access
the product; for even (G-g)/G times 0 = 0. (And see the above, about
whether g can ever expect to reach its global minimum as long as it is
sold as a reader-end product rather than an author-end service.)

This is all reader-end, access-toll-based thinking: The tolls need to be
paid, or the papers are simply not accessible. And that means they have
to be paid journal by journal, institution by institution (and "L"
"solves" only one of these problems, and does so by simply putting all the
tolls on one bill; see the earlier thread about Arnoud de Kemp and the
"Global Site License"). Are the immeasurable advantages of the
free-for-all archive over this access-toll-based system not clear? But
they are only realizable if we drop all thinking about providing a
reader-end product and think only of providing an author-end service.

> the actual implementation of S/L/P is a tiny fraction of total costs so
> that's not where the savings (g) will come from. The savings will come
> from improved processes throughout that have basically nothing to do
> with how the journal is being funded.

But they have everything to do with what is actually being sold, to whom;
and that is ineluctably a matter of "how the journal is being funded."

> sh> I am betting (on, paradoxically, market-economic grounds)
> sh> that continuing to recover costs on the reader-end, access-blocking
> sh> S/L/P model will perpetuate an inelastic (if not monopolistic)
> sh> inflation of both prices and (inessential add-on wrap-in) services.
> sh> The potential savings will never be realized or passed on to
> sh> institutions as long as the cost recovery model is S/L/P.
> Well, that's probably the crux of the argument there. Your attitude
> toward the publishers is reminiscent of Joseph Ransdall's toward
> institutionalized academia, whereas I have a much more optimistic view
> of the matter. I don't think either of us has enough experience yet to
> prove the other wrong - we really still are in the early days of this
> transition!

Let me put it another way, then, as I have no wish to be guilty of
that commentator's suspiciousness (although I could reply that we have
actual evidence of some publishers' rapaciousness already; no need to
speculate): I have no paranoia whatsoever regarding APS, for example. I
simply believe that you need to be protected from yourselves: As long as
you persist in thinking in terms of providing a reader-end product,
your "g" will be needlessly (even if unwittingly) inflated by expenses
from inessentials wrapped into that product.

As soon as you think in terms of providing only the author-end service
of quality control, the incentive to wrap in those inessentials
vanishes. The free public archives, together with authors themselves,
will take care of "adding value" to the papers through links, indexing,
search, alerting, etc. Best to keep primary publishers out of the
secondary/tertiary enhancement loop (especially because it will be much
harder for those who are stuck with secondary/tertiary publishing as
their SOLE product to find a niche once the primary archive is online
and free).

> If past experience is any guide though, any cost savings we manage to
> achieve through automation will be made up for by a larger number of
> articles submitted to the journals - libraries may never win this one!
> Which is why we really may want to start looking at other models for
> peer review too. Arthur (

The reason authors publish so much is partly because there is a lot more
learned inquiry going on than before, but partly also because there is
increased publication pressure, as publication is a measure of research
productivity, and hence the basis for rewarding it, both through
salaries/honours and through the funding of further research and
university overheads, etc.

Publication pressure itself will ensure that the modest funds needed to
pay publication costs will be found; covering them is as much in the
interest of universities as research and publication themselves are.

So if more papers are written, there will be more papers in journals,
and probably more journals (and there would have been anyway). That has
nothing whatsoever to do with anything at issue here. Journals will
still be in the business of quality control (indeed, that will be their
ONLY business), and that means maintaining standards (impact factors,
author quality, etc.) regadless of volume.

In general, more papers means more contents for the lower ranked
journals, and, if anything, a tightening of standards ( = rejection
rates) at the top. But if there ARE more papers that meet the current
standards of the top journals, I am sure the journals can rise to the
occasion: Remember, it is not fatter, more expensive issues we are
talking about any more; that's reader-end thinking again! We are talking
about the same referees, refereeing papers as before, and picking out
the ones that meet the standards. And the journal is paid to implement
this; that's what the quality-control costs are meant to pay for. And if
there if the number of acceptable papers should increase, their quality
control costs will each be paid by each author's institution, which
will each benefit from their increasing research productivity, as
attested to by their increased volume of publication.

That's the author-end view.

Cheers, Stevan

Stevan Harnad
Professor of Cognitive Science
Department of Electronics and phone: +44 1703 592-582
Computer Science fax: +44 1703 592-865
University of Southampton
Highfield, Southampton
Received on Wed Feb 10 1999 - 19:17:43 GMT

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