Re: More thoughts on subversion

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Mon, 19 Nov 2001 14:49:40 +0000

On Mon, 19 Nov 2001, Chris Armstrong wrote:

> More thoughts on subversion
> Chris Armstrong <>
> there is clearly an anomaly surrounding journal charging
> that publishers, libraries and, to a lesser extent, authors have to
> face and address.

The anomaly, in my view, is that journals are charging readers and
their institutions anything at all for access to the author's give-away
work. It is not that journal publishers cannot and should not sell
products that add value to the author's research, be they on-paper
texts or on-line texts. But as the author does not seek or get
royalties or fees for his text -- unlike book-authors or journalists --
and instead seeks as many readers/users as possible, so as to maximize
the uptake and hence the impact of the research, there is no longer any
need or justification to hold the online refereed research reports
themselves hostage to those add-ons and their access tolls. They can and
should be sold as options (and I for one am not particularly interested
in the price charged -- as long as the no-frills online draft is
available free for everyone).

The only non-optional element of added value provided by a refereed
journal publisher is the implementation of peer review (the peers
themselves review for free too). The true cost of only this essential
SERVICE (to the author's institution) as opposed to the full cost of
the optional PRODUCT (to the reader's institution) can be amply covered
out of institutional savings on their expenditures for the PRODUCT (if
and when demand for that drops to the point that it no longer covers
the costs of the essential SERVICE of peer review) for the simple
reason that the author-institutions and the reader-institutions are the
same institutions.

> Maybe I am too timid or stick-in-the-mud to attempt the self-archiving
> route or maybe I just cannot believe that there is any point.

You are not alone! Most of the authors of the well over 2 million
papers a year that appear in the world's 20,000 refereed journals are still too timid or
stick-in-the-mud to self-archive! That is why the the proponents of the
self-archiving initiative are trying to show how it is both in
their interests and within their reach to do so, and to do so as soon
as possible:

    7. What you can do now to free the refereed literature online

> Will such
> a recourse really stop publishers in their tracks? I doubt it - there
> is too much invested in the print publishing model.

No it won't, and it's not meant to. The self-archiving initiative is to
free access to refereed research online, now, not to drive down journal
prices or to make publishers do or stop doing anything!

    Harnad, S. (2001) Six Proposals for Freeing the Refereed Literature
    Ariadne28 June 2001.

    Harnad, S. (2001) The Self-Archiving Initiative. Nature 410: 1024-1025
    Nature WebDebates version:
    Fuller version:

> Certainly, I agree,
> Universities are finding that they can afford fewer and fewer journal
> subscriptions (and I suppose this might suggest insufficient funds to
> begin and maintain an eprint archive) - this is beyond question - but,
> as I have said elsewhere in these discussions, work needs to be done at
> the library-publisher interface.

I regret that I cannot follow this at all. Yes, the fact that even the
richest universities can afford access to only a smaller and smaller
proportion of the 20,000 is the problem.
All give-away refereed research should be accessible to all researchers,
and there is no longer any reason at all why it cannot be.

But the pennies it takes for each institution to establish and maintain
Eprint Archives for providing access to all its own outgoing research
are negligible
compared to the immense budgets being spent on acquiring access to
smaller and smaller portion of the outgoing research of other
institutions. And here the Golden Rule really works: Give-away research
need only be given by a research institution in order to get the
research of all the other institutions.

So those pennies are an investment not only in immediate free access to
and for research and researchers, but perhaps also eventual serials
budget savings.

> The gradual move to electronic journals offers a unique opportunity
> that is so far being largely squandered. There were in 1999, according
> to one source, over 10,000 e-journals available - over 1.2 million
> issues or 21 million articles but 66% of publishers then offered free
> electronic access with print subscriptions and only 47% of publishers
> sold the electronic version on its own - 53% were still only bundling
> it with print.

I can only refer the interested reader again to the ARL statistics on
the meagre proportion of the 20,000 refereed journals that even the
richest universities can afford, whether on-line or on-paper:

And I can only cite, without comment (nor, I hope, offence),
Mme. Antoinette ("Qu'ils bouffent de la brioche") on a homologous

> We - meaning publishers and librarians, both - seem largely unable to
> move beyond the paper-based model despite waxing lyrical over added
> value, access and reduced shelf-storage and vandalism.

I think they have both moved beyond it, but to no avail, insofar as
solving the fundamental underlying problem -- freeing online access
access to the give-away refereed literature for everyone, forever, now
-- is concerned. It is not about on-paper vs. on-line, nor about
"value-added": It's about removing the obsolete and counterproductive
access and impact barriers at last (online), to the eternal benefit of
research and researchers.

> Why do journals still have volumes and issues?

This has been discussed elsewhere in the
colloquium, as well as in the American Scientist Forum (but I hardly
see it as a fundamental question in this context).

> Why has some enterprising publisher not
> taken the electronic bull by its virtual horns and developed a
> just-for-you journal that lands on my electronic desktop replete with
> only and all the day's articles that will interest me? The answer I
> suspect is the one that might ultimately be responsible for Stevan's
> subversive proposal - they cannot come up with a pricing model that
> will satisfy all parties.

The only "pricing model" that will "satisfy" research and researchers
is that all their own give-away (refereed) research should be
accessible to all of them online for free. (Free alerting services on
top of the whole virtual corpus of 20,000 will be much more useful and
comprehensive than any proprietary or bundled for-fee service, and
direct browsing, access and search will also be available.)

> Let me offer, not a subversive but a surprising, proposal. Journal
> aggregators such as ingenta could, instead of bundling journals in a
> way that frequently means University libraries have to subscribe to
> journals they neither need or want in order to acquire those that they
> do (a license that, incidentally, removes collection development
> decisions from the librarians best able to take them), offer
> just-for-you, personalised e-journals to academics.
> The SDI model is not new, after all!

Not new indeed! This customized variant of "pay-per-view" is merely one
of the three toll-based access-barriers,
Subscription/License/Pay-Per-View (S/L/P). All S/L/P-tolls are
access-barriers, hence impact barriers. It does not solve the access
problem to simply rebundle the costs.

> The scholarly, peer-review process remains in the
> hands of the journal publishers who would still be able to sell
> subscriptions but an alternative revenue stream is provided for
> publishers while readers are better served.

But the problem is not that of providing alternative revenue streams
and added values, but of providing free online access to the peer-reviewed
research for everyone. (See above regarding how to pay for the peer-review
implementation service.)

> The model could largely free University libraries from their huge
> journal budgets, leave in place the basis of scholarly publishing, and
> provide a better, faster, more targeted service to readers. It is
> radically different in approach and will exercise publishers' minds in
> developing an acceptable costing and profit model.

To simplify: Universities have finite S/L/P budgets. They are not sufficient
to purchase access to more than a shrinkingly small portion of the annual
refereed journal literature (20K journals-full). Trading off the S's for the L's
or the P's will not change this picture one bit; it will merely reposition it.

> There are also other
> issues to be dealt with - such as the anomalous position (in the UK, at
> least) of value added tax which is levied on electronic but not print
> publications, causing the bundling of print and electronic versions as
> a way to avoid it. Some sort of parameters would need to be set up to
> prevent a library from creating a profile so broad in scope that it
> would, for one license fee, capture every article printed!

Nolo contendere on any of this. Online access needs to be freed. The taxes
on the trade transactions can sort themselves out elsewhere.

> So lets not get locked into the eprint archive as being the only
> solution. Publishers and libraries are two links in the same
> information chain; surely it is not beyond the wit of man to come up
> with an economically-viable and -acceptable delivery model?

The only acceptable model is one that frees online access to this vast
author-giveaway corpus at last. The economics will adjust to this, but
the freeing is in our own hands.

Stevan Harnad
Received on Mon Nov 19 2001 - 14:50:10 GMT

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