Re: Excerpts from FOS Newsletter

From: Peter Suber <>
Date: Wed, 2 Jan 2002 10:10:02 +0000

      Excerpts from the Free Online Scholarship (FOS) Newsletter
      January 1, 2002

Dissemination fees, access fees, and the double payment problem

Today BioMed Central (BMC) starts charging processing fees for each article
it publishes (see FOSN for 12/19/01, 12/26/01). The purpose is to cover
its costs without charging readers so that access to its articles can be
truly free. In a past issue (FOSN for 9/6/01) I offered some thoughts on
this method of supporting free online access. Here are some further
thoughts occasioned by BMC's new policy but which go well beyond BMC.

First let's distinguish access fees from dissemination fees. Access fees
pay for access. Subscriptions and licenses are the primary examples but
not the only ones. There are secondary examples in micropayments and other
forms of pay-per-view. By definition, access fees make access unfree. So
if we want free online access, then we must find a way around access fees.

Dissemination fees pay for dissemination (publication, distribution) rather
than access. If they pay the full cost of dissemination, then the provider
has completely covered its costs and can offer access free of charge. So
dissemination fees solve the problem of free online access, if we can find
the money to pay them. Hence, BMC is on the right track. The per-article
processing fees is has started charging are dissemination fees.

Who will pay dissemination fees? There many potential sources and in the
best future many different funding models might co-exist. Authors might
pay dissemination fees, and so might their employers (universities and
labs) or their funders (foundations and governments). Journal publishers
might pay them out of the profits from the sale of add-ons. For me one the
most hopeful possibilities is journal endowments. If a journal is endowed
and can pay its dissemination expenses from the interest on its endowment,
then it needn't hustle funds from any source ever again, creating a very
stable, long-term solution. Since dissemination costs for online journals
are low, the needed endowments are correspondingly low.

If there are many potential sources of funds to pay dissemination fees,
then we shouldn't assume that authors must pay. I've argued against author
fees in the past (FOSN for 9/6/01), but we shouldn't make the mistake of
thinking that the objections to author fees apply to every kind of
dissemination fee.

BMC does not depend on authors to pay its processing fees, although it once
called these fees "author charges"
( Its latest thinking
emphasizes universities. By offering to waive processing fees for authors
employed by universities with institutional BMC memberships, BMC is
appealing to universities to see the economy of paying small processing
fees for free online journals rather than paying large subscription
fees. Despite this, I'm sure BMC would be delighted if foundations made it
a practice to include funds for article processing fees in every research

But let's focus on the pitch to universities. It's true that universities
would save significantly if they paid for journals with up-front
dissemination fees (subsidizing their authors) rather than back-end access
fees (subsidizing their libraries). However, this savings will only
materialize in the long run, after priced-access journals have been driven
out of the field by competition with free-access journals. Until then,
universities will have to pay twice, first in processing (dissemination)
fees and then in subscription (access) fees. The problem facing BMC is to
find a way to help institutions get past the short term loss to the long
term gain.

Before looking at solutions, let me restate the problem. Funding journals
through dissemination fees is the only way to make journal access free for
readers. So insofar as FOS is embodied in journals, dissemination fees are
the long-term solution. But since traditional journals charging access
fees will not disappear immediately, and since no university will want to
cancel all its subscriptions to them immediately, there will be a
transition period in which universities face a daunting double payment
--first, for the desirable new journals representing the future, and
second, for the important existing journals. So until the competition with
free journals drives priced journals from the field, universities will pay
for both, or want to do so, and their costs will be higher than before or
after the transition period. The question, then, isn't the economic
feasibility of the long-term solution, but the economic feasibility of the
transition. How can we eliminate the double payments?

First note that there is only a double payment here because (during the
transition period) universities will have reason to support two sets of
journals when it now supports only one, not because universities would ever
pay twice for the same journal. When a university pays dissemination fees
through its authors, it would support journals that provide free online
access. When it pays access fees through its library, it would support
traditional journals that limit access to paying subscribers. The new
dissemination fees must come out of a budget already strained to cover
access fees.

If all universities simultaneously agreed to pay processing fees through
their authors, and stop paying subscription fees through their libraries,
then the funding paradigm would shift as quickly as institutional inertia
allows. Of course, this won't happen and BMC isn't counting on it to
happen. But because this won't happen, the BMC strategy faces a classic
freeloader problem. If affluent and far-seeing universities A, B, and C,
join the revolution and start paying dissemination fees, then less affluent
or less far-seeing universities D, E, and F will have reason to benefit
from the ABC investment without joining it.

Another way to put this is that the strategy faces a prisoner's
dilemma. Universities will have a motive to defect against cooperators
(freeload on early adopters and lengthen the transition period),
cooperators will be vulnerable to defectors (early adopters will subsidize
freeloaders and pay double payments for a longer period), and yet mutual
cooperators will be best off (by shortening the transition to single

Perhaps the simplest way to put the dilemma is that all institutions may
prefer low dissemination fees to high access fees (partly to save money and
partly to get free access), but none wants to adopt this model first. All
want to wait until enough others have adopted it to make double payments
unnecessary. This pattern looks familiar. There are many other situations
in which everyone wants to make a certain choice but no one wants to go
first. For example, all merchants in a town may want a day of rest (say,
on Sundays), but the first to close on Sundays will lose customers to those
who do not. Or, all the states in the U.S. may want a relief fund for the
poor, but the first to raise taxes first in order to provide one will lose
businesses, hence taxes, to those that do not.

There are several ways to address this problem.

(1) Legislate so that all who want the outcome, but hesitate to go first,
are compelled to move at the same time. This is how towns provide a day of
rest and how the U.S. federal government solved the circular hesitation of
the states to adopt social security. I mention this solution only for
completeness. It won't happen for dissemination fees and we wouldn't want
it to happen.

(2) Parties can agree in advance that when a critical mass of them is ready
to move, then all will move. People can say to one another "I will if you
will" or "I will if others will" indefinitely, prolonging a circular
stalemate indefinitely. But if they agree to act together when they are
sufficiently numerous, then the circle is broken. This is roughly what the
Public Library of Science did with its online list of
signatories. Universities could start to negotiate a multilateral
treaty: if their agreement to pay dissemination fees ever gets x
signatories, then they will start to pay dissemination fees. If x is
chosen carefully, then the coordinated action of x universities will
shorten the transition to single payments. Universities would sign because
signing is costless and because it hastens the day when the world will have
free online access and the signatories will reduce their serials budgets.

(3) When the only penalty for early adopters is financial, as it is here,
then external funding can solve the problem. If generous bystanders paid
early adopters to take a day of rest, or provide a state-wide social safety
net, then early adopters would no longer have a reason to hesitate. Are
there generous bystanders who would like to accelerate the transition to
FOS? I'm convinced of it. The more early adopters there are supported by
friends of the cause, the greater is the competition for priced journals
and the shorter the transition to single payments. This is a reason to
think that the needed generosity is finite and temporary. The help could
come from a brigade of right-thinking foundations and governments, or from
a individual contributions to a non-profit FOS Transition Fund, or both.

(4) Finally, the double payments could become single payments if we could
effect the transition with one set of journals rather than two, or if every
new journal requesting dissemination fees meant one fewer journal
requesting access fees. If the number of journals were held roughly
constant, but their business models were converted one by one from access
fees to dissemination fees, then universities would not only avoid double
payments, but save on their single payments every time a journal
converted. BMC has no direct control over traditional journals and so has
had to launch new journals. But is there a strategy for converting
traditional journals to dissemination fees, other than by launching new FOS
journals to compete with them? We have more to hope here from the
non-profit publishers, and the professional society publishers, than from
the big for-profit publishers.

We don't have to pick just one of these solutions to the double payment
problem. If university or library consortia are willing to coordinate
their journal strategies, and support dissemination fees when they are
sufficiently numerous, then they can start now. If there are generous
bystanders, let them help to the extent they are able. If non-profit
publishers can be persuaded to try dissemination fees rather than access
fees for their journals, this will convert some journals, even if the
number is limited.

And of course, within limits, universities are willing to adopt worthy new
journals. To this extent, some universities may be willing to try
dissemination fees even before they realize any savings from cancelled
subscriptions or diminished access fees. Moreover, we shouldn't forget the
range of other funders who might pay dissemination fees and spare
universities the need for double payments. Insofar as foundations and
governments provide funds for research publication as part of their
research grants, universities are freed from their dilemma. For journals
that can raise an endowment, the problem is permanently solved for readers,
authors, libraries, universities, foundations, and governments. The
problem of double payments is only acute if we expect the current funder of
access fees (libraries and universities) to be the present and future
funder of dissemination fees.

Finally, if only to show that there are many paths to FOS, remember that we
can have FOS without journals. Peer review is essential for reliable
scholarship, and journals traditionally provide peer review, but journals
are not essential for providing peer review. There are many other
conceivable ways to do so, especially in an era interactive digital
networks. If we get peer review without journals, then self-archiving can
give us free online access to the peer-reviewed literature at essentially
no cost beyond the network infrastructure already present at every
university --plus the cost, if any, of the peer review service provider.

The double payment problem is a real one, but two conclusions give grounds
for hope. First, it can be solved by any of several strategies, including
coordinated action, external funding, and journal conversion. Second, it
can be bypassed to the extent that dissemination fees are paid by anyone
other than the libraries and universities that now pay access fees.

The economics of FOS are easy compared to the economics of the
transition. But the transition doesn't have or need to have a single,
optimal strategy. Let it be a patchwork of makeshifts. If different
disciplines, nations, or decades have different resources and constraints,
let local experimentation adapt these general strategies locally.

Let me know what you think.

FOS discussion forum
(Anyone may read; only subscribers may post; subscription is free.)


More on the market value of research papers

If you remember, the Wellcome Trust has bought Francis Crick's scientific
papers and plans to create an online Crick archive (see FOSN for
12/26/01). The San Diego _Union-Tribune_ reports that Crick was on the
verge of donating his papers to the University of California at San Diego
(UCSD), where he teaches, when he became intrigued by the "hot new market"
in the papers of notable scientists. When Crick decided to test the
market, the Wellcome Trust sent two appraisers to examine his papers and
(with backing from the British Lottery) eventually paid him $2.5 million
for the collection.

Francis Crick's papers helped by British Lottery
(Thanks to Jim Jacobs for bringing this to my attention.)

* Postscript. This reminds of me of Amazon's e-docs division, which sells
60 days' worth of access to individual papers for up to $4,500 each (see
FOSN for 7/31/01). The prices are this high because the market will bear
them. On the one hand, scholars have a right to make money from their
work. The FOS movement doesn't criticize them for trying, but only tries
to secure free online access to the texts they agree to donate. On the
other hand, if all scholars tried to make money from all their work, all
research would slow to a crawl. The question isn't what the market will
bear but when and why we should ask what it will bear.

Amazon e-docs

* On November 29, Lawrence Lessig and Jack Valenti debated the direction of
U.S. copyright law. The video is online for those who didn't see it live.

To follow-up, Slashdot arranged for Lessig to reply to questions from its
readers that either arose from the debate or that weren't directly answered
in the debate.

* The World Legal Information Institute is a free online archive of primary
sources in law from around the world. It's a collaborative effort of a
growing number of national legal information institutes.

However, it does not apparently include the Legal Information Institution
for the U.S. from Cornell University.

* The annual NSF report on academic research and development expenditures
for FY 2000 isn't ready yet, but the data tables have been put online in
advance of the report.

* The Forth Institute of Computer Science has released a suite of open
source tools for the semantic web. The components consist of an RDF
validator, RDF schema specific database, and RDF query language. All are
now available for downloading.

* The Text-e online seminar has moved on to a new text, Jason Epstein's
Reading the Digital Future. The online discussion will focus on Epstein's
essay from December 31 to January 14.

* In the January _Syllabus Magazine_, Phillip Long summarizes the nature
and purpose of MIT's Open CourseWare Project.

* In a December 29 posting to his Red Rock Eater list, Phil Agre analyzes
the "social embedding" of scientific papers in scientific communities and
explores how this will change as we shift from print to electronic
publication. "Boundaries may blur or collapse between libraries and
neighboring institutions such as publishing, collaborative authoring,
enterprise computing, peer review, records management, informal
paper-passing and commenting, data capture and archiving,
tenure-and-promotion evaluation processes, personal libraries and filing
systems, online conferencing, and so on. Design in such a world will need
to begin with institutional analysis, and with a fully drawn understanding
of what documents can be in a world where people can readily reach through
digital representations to pursue the ends to which documents are a means."
(Scroll down to his third essay in this post.)

* In the December 28 _New York Times_, Carl Kaplan asks six experts on
internet law to review the major events of 2001. All six mention cases
covered during 2001 by FOSN.

* In a September 16 article at _TrendSiters_, Sam Vaknin argues that the
amount of information lost due to web site closings is far greater than
most people realize and "can be compared only to the [information loss]
which followed the torching of the Library of Alexandria". He reviews
several archival projects to preserve present and future web content.

The human genome is in the public domain even though the research group
that seemed likely to sequence it first had plans to lock it up in
patents. This historic coup is now credited to grad student James Kent,
who wrote a 10,000 line gene assembler in four weeks, allowing the UCSC
Human Genome Project to reach the finish line before Celera Genomics. The
UCSC group then put its genome sequence into the public domain. In the
October 2001 _Linux Magazine_, Tim O'Reilly argues that Kent's heroic
program and the consequent freeing of the genome were the most significant
works of open source development in 2000.

Tim O'Reilly, What's Next for Linux and Open Source

Nicholas Wade, Grad Student Becomes Gene Effort's Unlikely Hero

The Human Genome Project at UCSC

Source code to James Kent's biological analysis programs


If you plan to attend one of the following conferences, please share your
observations with us through our discussion forum.

* Mathematical Challenges in Scientific Data Mining
Los Angeles, January 14-18

* Academic Institutions Transforming Scholarly Communications (SPARC/ARL
Forum at the ALA Midwinter Meeting)
New Orleans, January 18-23

* Electronic Texts in the 21st Century (another forum at the ALA Midwinter
New Orleans, January 18-23

* Intellectual Property and New Business Creation from Science and Technology
Oxford, January 27 - February 1

* High Quality Information For Everyone And What It Costs
Bielefeld, February 5-7

* E-volving Information futures
Melbourne, February 6-8

* Book Tech 2002
New York, February 11-13

* ICSTI Seminar on Digital Preservation of the Record of Science
[No web site yet, but for registration info contact Barry Mahon, <icsti
Paris, February 14-15

* Conference on Intelligent Text Processing and Computational Linguistics
Mexico City, February 17-23

* Symposium on Foundations of Information and Knowledge Systems
Schloß Salzau, February 19-23

* Electronic Journals --Solutions in Sight?
London, February 25-26

* A Symposium on the Research Value of Printed Materials in the Digital Age
College Park, Maryland, March 1

* International Spring School on the Digital Library and E-publishing for
Science and Technology
Geneva, March 3-8

* 17th ACM Symposium on Applied Computing. Special tracks on Database and
Digital Library Technologies; Electronic Books for Teaching and Learning;
and Information Access and Retrieval
Madrid, March 10-14

* Digitization for Cultural Heritage Professionals: An Intensive Program
Chapel Hill, North Carolina, March 10-15

* Knowledge Technologies Conference 2002
Seattle, March 11-13

* Computers in Libraries 2002
Washington D.C., March 13-15

* International Conference on the Statistical Analysis of Textual Data
St. Malo, March 13-15

* The Electronic Publishers Coalition (EPC) conference on ebooks and
epublishing (obscurely titled, Electronically Published Internet
Connection, or EPIC)
Seattle, March 14-16

* Internet Librarian International 2002
London, March 18-20

* The New Information Order and the Future of the Archive
Edinburgh, March 20-23

* European Colloquium on Information Retrieval Research
Glasgow, March 25-27

* New Developments in Digital Libraries
Ciudad Real, Spain, April 2-3

* The New Information Order and the Future of the Archive
Edinburgh, March 20-23

* International Conference on Information Technology: Coding and Computing
Las Vegas, April 8-10

* NetLat and Friends: 10 Years of Digital Library Development
Lund, April 10-12

* SIAM International Conference on Data Mining
Arlington, Virginia, April 11-13

* Creating access to information: EBLIDA workshop on getting a better deal
from your information licences
The Hague, April 12

* United Kingdom Serials Group Annual Conference and Exhibition
University of Warwick, April 15- 17

* Information, Knowledges and Society: Challenges of A New Era
Havana, April 22-26


The Free Online Scholarship Newsletter is supported by a grant from the
Open Society Institute.


This is the Free Online Scholarship Newsletter (ISSN 1535-7848).

Please feel free to forward any issue of the newsletter to interested
colleagues. If you are reading a forwarded copy of this issue, you may
subscribe by signing up at the FOS home page.

FOS home page, general information, subscriptions, editorial position

FOS Newsletter, subscriptions, back issues

FOS Discussion Forum, subscriptions, postings

Guide to the FOS Movement

Peter Suber

Copyright (c) 2002, Peter Suber
Received on Wed Jan 02 2002 - 10:11:01 GMT

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