Re: APS copyright policy

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Mon, 4 Mar 2002 21:45:57 +0000

On Mon, 4 Mar 2002, Thomas J. Walker wrote:

> Stevan and I agree that
> (1) Immediate free web access to the journal literature is optimal and
> inevitable.
> (2) Funding the journal literature will switch from user-pays to
> author-or-author's-funder pays.

> Stevan thinks of IFWA as access to PDF files. I think of it as access to
> the publisher-certified version.

That's fine. Nothing hinges on that distinction. I accept.

> Blume's contribution to Nature's e-access forum
> (
> ... proposes that APS make the transition to universal free
> access via institutional sponsorships, thereby avoiding the reluctance of
> authors to pay submission or publication fees.

Doesn't work! Free access means free access on the reader (i.e.,
reader-institution) end. Any institutional payment for the INCOMING
literature is -- by logic, and by any definition of the word free, NOT
FREE. It is then just an institutional license, which you either pay, or
you don't get access. (And if it's voluntary, forget it. Economic
pressures, human nature, the prisoner's dilemma, and the tragedy of the
commons says institutions will opt out for a free ride.)

No, the only way to make it work is to charge for what is being provided,
to whom it is being provided: The service is peer review, and it is being
provided to the author-institution PER OUTGOING PAPER, not to the
reader-institution, per incoming journal. One is a submission fee, the
other is the usual: a subscription fee.

> >Moreover, among the costs that the collapse of subscription/license
> >revenue would cease to be able to cover would be the costs of the
> >editing and markup that generate the PDF itself! So it really could be
> >quite risky to encourage authors to do that.
> Perhaps it is even more risky to ignore the accelerating movement toward
> free access and to allow subscription/license revenue to collapse with no
> alternative revenue source established.

The advantage of subscription/license cancellation pressure is that it
induces publishers to cut costs and to scale down to the essentials
(just peer review and certification, by my lights). If all current
features, essential and inessential, are artificially propped up (by
author-paid electronic-offprint fees, or by anything else that keeps
the essentials bundled with the inessentials), there is no incentive to
cut costs and unnecessary enhancements.

The fundamental ambiguity about what is being paid for also needs to be
resolved: If access is free (not just institutionally licensed for a
fee: free) then what the institution is paying for cannot be the
incoming journal! It can only be paying for its own outgoing papers.
And unless the essentials are unbundled from the inessentials, this will
leave the institution paying for VASTLY more than it can or will or
should pay for.

The figures I gave before will do: The planet currently pays an average of
$2000 per article in collective subscription/license fees. That includes
the costs of peer review, certification, editing, markup, print-on paper,
PDF, distribution, etc. Peer review costs $500 per paper. Now, with free
access, what are you going to charge the institution per outgoing paper,
and for what?

> Should not professional societies
> provide their authors (and the authors' funders) the opportunity to show if
> they value free access enough to pay a fair price for it?

Free access to what? We agree that they can have free access to the
peer-reviewed draft by self-archiving it. Are you suggesting that they
should pay the extra for the certified peer-reviewed draft? I doubt
they would, but suppose they did. What would then be the next step?

> $500 seems high for a current fair price. The most expensive IFWA purchase
> by an ESA author in 200l was $267 (for a 32-page article). The average ESA
> article in 2001 was 7.2 pages, which had an IFWA price of $90 in 2001. (The
> price is $95 in 2002.)
> [It is important to understand that ESA plans to increase its IFWA prices
> as subscription/license revenues decline. It also plans to stop printing
> paper issues when the revenues generated from paper subscriptions no longer
> support such printing.]

Increase them to what amount? How much will it be per paper when there is
no longer a market for the print version? And in exactly what will the
"certification" consist: Authors submit digital drafts; these are
refereed, revised, re-refereed, and finally accepted. So far, that's peer
review, and we know it's about $500. Now starts the rest. What is the
rest, and what will it cost?

> The "self-archived vanilla postprint" is not the publisher-certified
> version. It is the author's rendition of it. Surely good scholarship
> requires that those who cite articles in the journal literature base their
> evaluation of those articles on the publisher-certified
> versions. Therefore it is in the authors' self interest to have those
> versions conveniently accessible to all and to find funds from some source
> to pay for making them so accessible. [Such funds are extraordinarily
> modest compared to the costs of the research and of preparing the results
> of research for publication.]

Yes, even the $2000 per paper being collectively paid for non-free access
is small compared to the cost of the research, but do you think it would
make sense to simply ask authors to pay it instead of libraries? And do
you think many or most could, even if they wanted to?

Author-institution-end payment is certainly the right model, but payment
for what, and how much?

> Authors who want to self archive can still do so. Authors who don't want
> IFWA don't have to find the funds to buy it.

We are certainly in agreement about that. Much of this is an educational
matter. Most authors haven't the faintest idea about what their options
are, nor about the causal contingencies (the relations between access and

But you are making the assumption that the long-suffering authors will
find a way to pay, even as the price rises. I have my doubts, both about
whether they will want to, and about whether they will be able to, if they
want to. I also think they shouldn't have to. They do enough already.

Moreover, there is already more than enough institutional money being spent
already ($2000 per paper). I think it's much more reasonable to cut costs,
scale down to the essentials, and have the author's institution pay out
of its own savings. Then (if you like) the author has indeed found a way
to pay.

But that redirection of funds will only work if there are substantial
windfall savings to make it worth the institution's while (and to make it

So I have to ask again: What other values and services come with this
"certification" of the accepted digital draft, and how much will they
cost, over and above the $500 for the peer review?

> As IFWA becomes more popular, subscription/license revenues drop thereby
> increasing the fair price of IFWA and reducing the financial incentive to
> continue the print version. Once authors are hooked on IFWA, they will do
> whatever is necessary to continue it. If current publishers won't make it
> attractive for authors (and their funders), other publishers will.

We agree on everything except how much higher the $500 per paper has to
go, and in exchange for what. We agree that the print version and its
expenses will be phased out. But many publishers have said repeatedly
that, as most costs are "first-copy" costs, phasing out printing and
distribution only cuts costs by 30%, and those are then scaled up again
by digital enhancements. Do we need those enhancements? More important,
is there any way to test whether we need them if we have no choice?

(What if the peer-reviewed final draft simply received an encrypted
certaification tag from the publisher, and that was the end of it?)

But, as you note, we do have a choice. We can self-archive our
peer-reviewed drafts for free, or we can pay to have the "certified"
drafts made freely accessible, and keep paying more and more as
cancellations go up. Let's see what happens!

Stevan Harnad
Received on Mon Mar 04 2002 - 21:47:02 GMT

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