Re: ALPSP statement on BOAI

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Thu, 7 Mar 2002 19:27:34 +0000

On Thu, 7 Mar 2002, Sally Morris wrote:

> Isn't Stevan's position a bit like making chocolates free and suggesting
> that people pay for the box if they want to?

It would be PRECISELY like making chocolates free and suggesting that
people pay for the box if they want to:

(1) IF chocolate makers, like research paper-authors, WANTED to give their
products away for free.


(2) IF there were a way to distribute chocolates electronically, with no
need for the paper package.

Sally, I strongly suggest that you and your colleagues think more
self-critically about these things, rather than giving out facile
analogies like this, that only make your dilemma seem worse and your
attempts to sustain the status quo seem more desperate.

The whole point is that peer-reviewed research is NOT like chocolates, and
its authors are NOT like chocolate makers, and that it was only the
unfortunate (but now fortunately obsolescent) constraints of the Gutenberg
(paper) era, and its real expenses, that forced these authors to be
exactly like chocolate-makers, acquiescing to the expensive cost of the
paper-packaging, because there was no other way they could distribute
their give-away intellectual product.

To make it shorter and more obvious: In the paper era, the co-bundling of
give-away content with the costly paper container was unavoidable: There
was no other choice!

But now there is. And that choice is optimal for research and
researchers, and they accordingly can and will make the choice. It is
inevitable -- once they have seen through the unfortunate rhetoric with
which the indefensible status quo is currently being defended.

Besides, you are not doing the publishing profession justice if you cast
them in the role of chocolate-wrapper-providers either. Their most
important role in peer-reviewed research publication was never anything
like that: It was always in providing the quality-control, the assurance
that the chocolate was of a given quality level. That is called
peer-review, and it's not a PRODUCT but a SERVICE, and one that can and
will continue to be paid for, even when the chocolates, suitably
quality-tagged, are all delivered electronically.

But that cost is only $500 per paper. Whereas currently, the "wrapper"
(whether paper, or paper-image) is still adding $1500 per paper to the
cost on top of that. That is not only completely unnecessary, but it is
preventing the consumer shoe from being put on the right consumer foot,
forcing reader-institutions to continue to pay for the paper as an
incoming PRODUCT, instead of letting the author-institution pay for the
SERVICE (peer review) by the outgoing paper. The latter provides free
access at the reader-institution end, AND it releases the funds to pay
for it (in the form of the annual windfall subscription/license
cancellation savings) at the author-institution end.

It will pay to be forthright about this, calling a spade a spade. It is
not certain that those institutions that can afford it now will not
continue to be ready to pay for the wrapper even when the "wrapperless"
chocolates are available online free for all. But trying to pretend as
if it is a matter of logic or a causal law of nature that they MUST
continue to do so, or risk being left with just the Cheshire Cat's Smile
is at best desperate, at worst disingenuous. It just isn't so, and the
only way to put that to the test is to unbundle the essentials from
the inessentials and SEE whether there is still a market for the latter.

I don't expect journal publishers to do this on their own; all I ask is
that they don't try to obstruct it. (There is no legal way they can
obstruct it, but, because of all the factual and psychological confusion
that abounds, they can perhaps slow it down by spurious obstructionism,
evoking groundless fears about copyright and quality in uninformed
authors whose bread and butter is causally connected to having their
work accepted by journals but whose sense of the real causal picture is
extremely hazy: The haze will be dispelled! Publishers can bank on
that. And then their obstructionism will not look very good, in
clear-sighted retrospect.)

Researchers can and will take matters into their own hands, unbundling
their peer-reviewed research from the rest of the add-ons through
self-archiving. This will be parasitic on the fact that the $500
peer-review costs will still be paid by the collective $2000
subscription/licenses from those institutions that are paying them
right now. And as long as that does not change, nothing else need
change: Access will be free, and all essential costs will be covered.

But if the for-free version ever does start cutting into the revenues
of the for-fee version, then some restructuring will become necessary:
Journals will have to downsize to the essentials and convert to
providing a service, instead of selling an obsolete product.

> Seriously though, ALPSP is currently carrying out another large-scale
> research study to ask academics what they think - and do - about all types
> of electronic publication, both traditional and new. The results may help
> us move this issue forward.

If, like the last ALPSP research study
this one fails to make the real options clear to its respondents, it
will just become another exercise in self-fulfilling (and self-serving)

May I suggest that, rather than launching another questionnaire exercise
ALPSP take time to consider seriously the criticisms that were made of the
prior study, as well as of the rather incoherent criticisms ALPSP made of
the BOAI?

> In the meantime, ALPSP remains convinced that
> much of what traditional publishing does will continue to be of value. We
> therefore urge the development and testing of alternative business models
> before, and not after, moving to a 'give it all away' framework which risks
> pulling down what people do value, as well as what they don't.

The authors are already giving it all away. It had been paper
access-tolls that prevented them from giving it free to anyone except
their publisher and reprint-requesters until now. But now they can give
it away to their entire potential readership/usership online. IF ALPSP's
convictions are right, that the publisher's product continues to be of
sufficient value to be worth paying for, then it will continue to be
paid for, even under these conditions. But if free access to the
peer-reviewed version is value enough, then it will not continue to be
paid for, and the peer review will instead be paid for out of the savings.

There is another path publishers can take, if they don't wish to wait for
the outcome of this experiment: They can offer free online access
themselves, now, by converting to open-access publishing (BOAI's Strategy
2, self-archiving being Strategy 1). (I myself would find this a little
risky right now, before funds are available to the author-institution to
pay the $500 per paper, but some journals, usually newer ones, have begun
to try this.)

But what journal publishers should not expect is that research and
researchers should continue sacrificing their impact while they wait for
publishers to decide. We have already waited far, far too long.

Stevan Harnad
Received on Thu Mar 07 2002 - 19:28:39 GMT

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.3.0 : Fri Dec 10 2010 - 19:46:27 GMT