Other Forms of Publishing?

From: Stevan Harnad <harnad_at_coglit.ecs.soton.ac.uk>
Date: Sun, 3 Jun 2001 15:51:59 +0100

Joseph J. Esposito wrote in Nature's ongoing WebDebate:


> I was formerly a publisher (CEO of Encyclopaedia Britannica) and now
> work in the Napster-besotted world of Internet strategy consulting....
> While it is only natural that the readers of Nature would direct their
> comments to the world of scientific publishing, I would like to know if
> any or all of the remarks posted to date are intended to have any
> application to other areas of publishing. For example, it has been
> suggested that all scientific papers be made available for free in a
> publicly accessible digital archive six months after initial
> publication. Should this apply to journals in the humanities as well?
> And why stop at journals? What about college textbooks, K-12
> supplementary materials, cookbooks, and Helen Fielding's latest? In
> other words, what makes science journals different from all other
> species of publishing when it comes to free public access (after a
> limited period of time)?

No. The motivation and justification and method for the "literature
liberation movement" applies ONLY to the author give-away literature
(chiefly, the 20,000 refereed research journals published annually).

It does not, and should not, apply to author royalty/fee/salary-based
writings at all (books, magazine/newspaper articles). To conflate the
give-away and non-give-away literatures is to confuse and cloud the
issue completely, and to miss the point:


The author give-away/non-giveaway distinction is also precisely what
dissociates this author-end self-archiving initiative


from the user-end piracy problems engendered by napster and gnutella:


But the problem definitely is NOT solved by freeing these research
findings 6-12 months AFTER they have been published, as has been
proposed. They must (and can and will) be freed immediately, through
author/institution self-archiving of both the pre-refereeing
preprints and the post-refereeing postprints, to the eternal benefit of
that cumulative, interactive cycle that is scholarly and scientific
research productivity and progress.


> It is probable that many commercial publishers (perhaps incorrectly)
> will conclude that the "information-wants-to-be-free" movement will in
> due course make it difficult if not impossible to reap a return on
> capital. Should we expect them to exit the field entirely, or do we
> imagine that they will come up with new forms of publication, perhaps
> with new economic models, that for some reason do not anger members of
> the movement? What would those forms look like? How will they be
> marketed and sold?

Again, do not mix up the much larger body of NON-giveaway literature,
which is not at issue here, and has no authors angry at being unable
to give their work away (but rather has authors angry at having it
stolen via napster and gnutella), with the much smaller body of
give-away literature (viz. the at least 2,000,000 papers published
annually in the world's ~20,000+ refereed journals). The latter are the
angry authors, the ones currently being deprived of their full potential
research impact by obsolete toll-barriers blocking access to their
give-away findings.

And, yes, there are alternative economic models:


> One complaint about the current regime of scholarly publishing is that
> the prices of publications have risen faster than the consumer price
> index. Putting aside the intriguing question of why Consumer Price
> Index (CPI) is the metric of choice (rather than, say, the ebbs and
> flows of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which is a more likely
> metric for the managers of commercial operations), it would be
> interesting to speculate whether the current uproar over journals
> publishing would not have arisen if prices had simply kept pace with
> CPI. Does information want to be free because academic publishers have
> been exceedingly greedy, or because information wants to be free,
> period?

The current uproar about toll-based access-barriers to give-away
refereed research would and will continue until this literature is
completely free to the user, as it was always meant to be -- but was
prevented from being, by the real costs of production and distribution
in the on-paper Gutenberg area: In the on-line PostGutenberg era the
only remaining essential costs are those of implementing peer review,
they are only 10% of the Gutenberg costs, and they can be paid on an
outgoing per-paper basis by the author's institutions instead of on an
incoming paper basis by the reader's institution, out of the 100%
annual windfall cancellation savings.

> If all scientific publishing were to be made available for free after
> six months, would we expect the number of publications to rise or fall?


> What impact, if any, would this change in policy have on the quality of
> publications?

None. Peer review and its certification by journal-name remains intact,
as always, PostGutenberg.

> Or is the economic system of publishing research simply
> irrelevant to the research itself?

Only the remaining PostGutenberg essentials are relevant: Covering the
costs of implementing the peer review SERVICE. The rest can be
accomplished by author/institution self-archiving
(http://www.eprints.org). Publishers' paper and PDF PRODUCTS are mere
options, PostGutenberg.

> It would be interesting to know how many members of the research
> community are themselves shareholders of commercial publishers of
> scientific research, either directly or through mutual funds.


> Do they (or their funds' administrators) view such publishers as a good
> investment - compared to, say, Coca Cola or Microsoft? This is a
> back-door way of asking what is an appropriate amount of profit for a
> publisher to make.


Stevan Harnad harnad_at_cogsci.soton.ac.uk
Professor of Cognitive Science harnad_at_princeton.edu
Department of Electronics and phone: +44 23-80 592-582
             Computer Science fax: +44 23-80 592-865
University of Southampton http://www.ecs.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/
Highfield, Southampton http://www.princeton.edu/~harnad/

NOTE: A complete archive of the ongoing discussion of providing free
access to the refereed journal literature online is available at the
American Scientist September Forum (98 & 99 & 00 & 01):


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Received on Wed Jan 03 2001 - 19:17:43 GMT

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