Re: The True Cost of the Essentials

From: Michael Kurtz <>
Date: Fri, 25 Jul 2003 04:34:10 +0100

Dear Steven,

I have been reading the discussion of the "True Cost of the
Essentials;" it seems to me the discussion is quibbling over pennies
when there are dollars lying around.

Basicly the entire cost of the journals is tiny compared with the
efficiencies gained by having full electronic access to the literature
in a discipline. In astronomy, where essentially every professional
astronomer has had total electronic access to the entire journal
literature for five or six years, the value of that access, in terms
of increased efficiencies of research, is about twenty times the total
production cost of the core journals(*).

Given this huge difference issues concerning methods to reduce the
production cost of the journals, or to redistribute these costs, seem
of secondary importance.

It is likely true that improving the publication process will be of
far greater benefit to the progress of research than any restructuring
of the financial arrangements so that those who currently can't or
won't afford access to the literature can get it.

A good example of the type of improvement possible is the de facto
collaboration between the physics journals and the ArXiv. While this
has the pleasant side benefit that papers can be read without charge,
the principal benefit of this collaboration is that the rate of
information diffusion between active researchers is substantially
increased(**). The rate of discovery must go up as a result. The
value to society of a 1% increase in the rate of discovery (which
would mean that we would know twice as much new stuff after 70 years
as otherwise) is so great as to be uncalculable.

Best wishes,


(*) The value of increased efficiency for the electronic astronomy
library is calculated in section 9 of my recent paper for JASIST
( The cost of
the core journals comes from assuming the cost of the 6,000 journal
articles is twice the cost of the 3,000 published by the Astrophysical
Journal and the Astronomical Journal (figures from the AAS annual
budget report).

(**) See Tim Brody's plot at
Received on Fri Jul 25 2003 - 04:34:10 BST

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