Re: Journal Publisher Click-Through Monopoly: A Trojan Horse

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Thu, 18 Nov 1999 18:02:22 +0000

> antitrust implications of the project...
> assured by attorneys that no one would challenge the project so long
> as the founders didn't try to exclude anyone.

It can't be legally challenged under anti-trust, because each firewall
can set its own prices; it's rather like a bunch of vendors (even
competitors) all agreeing to sell their wares through the same
catalogue, or in the same department store.

Nor is it trust-like in its "competition" with free archiving -- for the
simple reason that free-archiving is free, and hence its revenues are
not at stake or at risk. A trust must be a collective entity that either
fixes prices collaboratively instead of letting the market decide, or
engages in some protective practise in order to prevent competitors from
entering the field.

So this is not technically trust behavior. But it certainly has all the
relevant FLAVOR of trust behavior: They are joining forces to preserve
the S/L/P revenue-source. The competition is Open Archives, which seek to
free the literature (and have more trouble getting off the ground if the
S/L/P providers collaborate).

It is this monopolistic flavour, and this monopolistic practical effect,
to which my posting was drawing notice, and people will understand.

> How will scientific authors break free of publishers' claims to own
> their work, if they cannot break free of the existing network of
> scientific journals?

They will break free of publishers' claims to own their work by striking
out clauses forbidding online self-archiving in their copyright
agreements. As the self-archiving grows, the demand for it, both from
users and from authors will grow.

And don't forget the Los Alamos Lemma: Whatever did not stop Los Alamos
Archives will not stop the rest of the Open Archives either.

Copyright did not stop the Los Alamos Archives. Nor did the career-grip
of journals (nor did it have to, as self-archiving is subversive, being
a supplement, not a substitute, to conventional submission practise).

But public awareness will play a big role in the speed with which the
inevitable outcome will be reached. So enlightened press coverage can
always help (just as blinkered or partisan press coverage can always

Publishers could do worse. There have been rumours lately that they
have thought of preserving the golden goose with a Solomonian solution
that goes straight for the heart of my "give-away" argument: They make
so much money per paper that it would make sense for them to offer to
split this with their authors -- effectively enticing them into becoming
for-fee authors like yourself -- rather than sticking to the
give-away/keep-it-all status quo, and risk losing it all.

That enticement would not work for the top 20-30% of the literature, for
those authors care more about free access than pennies per paper. But
for the average and below average papers (2/3 of the literature) authors
might resonate with that.

My prediction is that this would yield a two-tier literature: High
quality for-free, lower quality for-fee: That is what evolutionists
would call "an evolutionarily UNstable strategy," because it would
stigmatize the for-free literature (including its CV/promotion/tenure
value) and would create a pressure toward preferring for-free and
high-access/high-impact over for-fee and low-access/low-impact.

So the inevitable outcome would eventually prevail anyway; the strategy
would just temporarily retard it.

Stevan Harnad
Professor of Cognitive Science
Department of Electronics and phone: +44 23-80 592-582
Computer Science fax: +44 23-80 592-865
University of Southampton
Highfield, Southampton
Received on Wed Feb 10 1999 - 19:17:43 GMT

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