Re: Should Publishers Offer Free-Access Services?

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Mon, 24 Dec 2001 15:57:32 +0000

On Mon, 24 Dec 2001, Thomas J. Walker wrote:

> The current problem with the self-archiving of refereed articles is
> that it requires some effort on the part of the researcher and produces
> little benefit. Therefore, few researchers do it.

Well, it is undeniable that too few researchers yet do it, and that it
is not yet clear why.

But it is absolutely certain that it is not because it produces little

  Lawrence, S. (2001) Online or Invisible? Nature 411 (6837): 521.

    "Articles freely available online are more highly cited. For
    greater impact and faster scientific progress, authors and
    publishers should aim to make research easy to access."

  Odlyzko, A. (2001) The Rapid Evolution of Scholarly Communication.
  Learned Publishing 15(1) (Jan. 2002), pp. 7-19. Also to appear in
  Bits and Bucks: Economics and Usage of Digital Collections, W.
  Lougee and J. MacKie-Mason, eds., MIT Press, 2002.

    "the reactions to even slight barriers to usage suggest that even
    high quality scholarly papers are not irreplaceable... To stay
    relevant, scholars, publishers, and librarians will have to make
    even larger efforts to make their material easily accessible."

Researchers are not always the fastest at picking up on what is in their
own best interests. But eventually they will come round, if for no other
reason than from losing impact and visibility to those who realize it

> On the other hand, many researchers will pay a fair price for immediate
> free Web access to their articles, and the more convenient the access
> is made, the more the researchers will value the service.

I know we are on the same team, but empirical reality forces me to
point out that the number of researchers who do the above is orders
and orders of magnitudes fewer than the number who self-archive!

There are 180,000 articles self-archived in ArXiv, 500,000 more
self-archived articles have been harvested by ResearchIndex, and untold
further numbers of them are being self-archived daily in researchers' home

In contrast, how many authors have so far purchased online eprints
from their journal publishers? (How many journal publishers even offer

Tom and I are both impatient to get to the optimal and the inevitable
(free full-text access online to all 40 million annual articles in all
20,000 of the planet's refereed journals). But let's be fair: The
free-access numbers to date are still risibly small for both the path
he is promoting (authors purchasing free-access eprints from their
journals) and the one I am promotiong (self-archiving), but the numbers
are incomparably bigger for self-archiving.

> It is easy to understand why commercially published journals do not offer
> their authors the service, but it is not at all clear why society-published
> journals do not. The members of the societies would approve, and the
> society's journals would gain in value because their authors would gain in
> impact.

Nevertheless, it is a fact that almost no journal yet offers it!

But even if they did, it is not at all clear whether paying the
price would be more attractive to researchers than just self-archiving
it for themselves. The effort is in reality minimal (a few minutes).

It is more likely that the reason researchers are not yet taking either
path in sufficient numbers is that they simply have not thought it
through yet. In that regard, they would be well-advised to read the
above two articles, and perhaps also the one below.

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

    "Unlike the authors of books and magazine articles, who write for
    royalty or fees, the authors of refereed journal articles write
    only for 'research impact'. To be cited and built on in the
    research of others, their findings have to be accessible to their
    potential users. From the authors' viewpoint, toll-gating access to
    their findings is as counterproductive as toll-gating access to
    commercial advertisements.

    "With the online age, it has at last become possible to free the
    literature from this unwelcome impediment. Authors need only
    deposit their refereed articles in 'eprint' archives at their own
    institutions; these interoperable archives can then all be
    harvested into a global virtual archive, its full contents freely
    searchable and accessible online by everyone."

Stevan 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):

You may join the list at the amsci site.

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Received on Mon Dec 24 2001 - 15:57:48 GMT

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