Re: The True Cost of the Essentials (Implementing Peer Review)

From: Arthur Smith <apsmith_at_APS.ORG>
Date: Thu, 26 Jul 2001 10:54:49 -0400

Stevan Harnad wrote:
> Do you think the APS estimate is a better average for the 20,000+
> refereed journals and their 2,000,000+ annual articles? (I am not
> asking ironically: I really wonder how representative you think the APS
> bottom line is. We are talking about averages here, after all, and
> S/L/P revenues vary from $500 per article to $4000+ from journal to
> journal, and publisher to publisher. Submission and rejection rates as
> well as processing demands vary too.)

Obviously a good question - policies on paying for editorial time vary
from journal to journal also. And typical personnel costs can vary
significantly from place to place. In some respects we may be on the
high end, in some on the low. I'll mention one reference:

with some numbers demonstrating the scale (of revenue) is even wider
than you suggest. But even given the range, $500/article seems to be
pretty close to an absolute minimum cost given the current structure of
peer review. As far as we can tell, our costs are close to the low end
of what's feasible for a typical large-volume scientific journal
publisher. JHEP, the example you gave, fits in the "electronic
"start-up" publisher" space, and if you talk to the editor you'll see
even they expect costs to rise a bit as that publisher settles into a
more sustainable pattern. There are probably ways to do it more cheaply.
A publisher that does "peer review" but publishes just about everything
anyway (such as for conference proceedings) can probably get away with
somewhat lower editorial costs. But for the type of established,
significantly peer-reviewed journal we're talking about, I believe our
costs are very typical, and even on the low end.

> [...]
> Are we talking about the eventual
> author self-archiving of the entire refereed literature (20K journals,
> 20M articles annually), and what the eventual impact of THAT might be
> on S/L/P revenue? Or are we merely talking about the pitifully small
> portion of the annual 20M articles self-archived so far, which is still
> only about 50K annually, most of it in physics, amounting to only about
> 30-40% of the total physics literature and not destined to reach 100%
> of that until the year 2011 at the current linear growth rate:
> I see the problem as that of awakening researchers to the benefits (in
> terms of visibility, accessibility, and hence potential impact) of
> freeing access to their research online through self-archiving. In
> other words, the problem is getting the 20M up there, along with the
> 50K.

Actually I thought you said it was 2 million, not 20 million (or is 2
million an annual figure and 20 million a total?) But at what point can
author self-archiving declare victory? One would think it could several
years ago in high energy physics, with virtually 100% coverage. You seem
to be implying coverage has to be complete in ALL areas of science (or
all areas of scholarly publishing, even?) before we can expect to see
S/L/P cancellations. Maybe the answer is somewhere in between?

But my suspicion is that author self-archiving is really only addressing
part of the problem. Yes it is providing free access to people, that's
great. But the problem seems to be the fact that it is under author
control, and a medium controlled by the authors is not sufficiently
trustworthy for science and scholarly institutions to abandon their
established communications media - the scholarly journals. So the need
really is for a new medium, NOT controlled by authors, but perhaps
controlled by researchers and their disciplines in some larger sense.
Perhaps it will be the journals themselves in some new guise - or
perhaps it will be something new, based on the author self-archives.

Stevan, feel free to continue promoting author self-archiving, and I
wish you well in reaching the 2 million or 20 million figure. But I
think we've reached a point where it's clear this isn't a full solution
at least to the problem of serials costs to libraries, which is, if not
the only goal, one major goal this forum has been trying to address.

Somewhat along those lines, this forum may be interested in continuing
fallout from the Public Library of Science effort:

-- it sounds like they may actually try starting up their own new
"journals" based around the public library distribution medium. And they
have a very close impending deadline! Could be interesting...

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

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