Re: Overlay Journals

From: Steve Hitchcock <>
Date: Fri, 24 Nov 2006 13:01:21 +0000

There is a simple test of overlay journals. Do they provide what authors
want? On the basis of the number of overlay journals that have appeared in
recent years, the answer must be no.

The most successful examples of overlay journals appeared in the mid- to
late-1990s. It is worth noting that at the time e-journals were relatively
new, there were no IRs, no OA publishers and no hybrid OA. In other words,
those original overlay journals were releasing a latent demand for
e-publishing and (what we now call) open access, and even then it could
only be applied in one area, subjects covered in the physics arXiv. In a
sense those overlay journals were a standby in case e-journals and OA did
not materialise on a reasonable scale and at a reasonable pace.
(Admittedly, this model was of interest to some of us at the time for these
reasons, but let's be realistic and see that things have moved on.)

Of course they did, and authors are currently spoilt for choice. So why
would they choose overlay journals, which are explicitly intended to
provide basic service at the lowest cost?

The time for overlay journals could return. There is much talk about how
distressed journal publishing might become through cancellations caused by
self-archiving and mandates, although the prospect of mandates must be
factored in to recent big money publisher acquisitions and suggests that
overlay journals may have a long wait ahead.

Steve Hitchcock
IAM Group, School of Electronics and Computer Science
University of Southampton, SO17 1BJ, UK
Tel: +44 (0)23 8059 3256 Fax: +44 (0)23 8059 2865

At 17:07 23/11/2006, Stevan Harnad wrote:
> Stevan Harnad
> Hyperlinked version of this essay:
> SUMMARY: The notion of an "Overlay Journal" often unwittingly
> confuses (1) access-provision with peer-review service-provision, (2)
> pre-peer-review preprints with peer-reviewed postprints (or posting
> with publishing), (3) archives (repositories) with journals, or (4)
> Central Archives/Repositories (CRs) in particular with distributed
> Institutional Repositories (IRs) in general. Throughout the evolution
> of research communication -- from On-Paper to On-Line to Open Access
> -- peer review remains peer review, a journal remains a journal
> (i.e., a peer-review service-provider and certifier), and texts
> tagged as "published" by journal X remain texts tagged as published
> by journal X. All that changes is the access-medium and the degree
> of accessibility. (And possibly, one day, the cost-recovery model.)
>The notion of an "Overlay Journal" is and always has been somewhat
>inchoate -- potentially even incoherent, if construed in a way that
>conflates (1) access-provision with peer-review service-provision, (2)
>pre-peer-review preprints with peer-reviewed postprints (or posting
>with publishing), (3) archives (repositories) with journals, or (4)
>Central Archives/Repositories (CRs) in particular with distributed
>Institutional Repositories (IRs) in general.
> (1) Access-Provision vs. Peer-Review Service-Provision. A research
>journal is and always has been both (i) an access-provider (producing,
>printing and distributing the print edition; producing and licensing
>the online edition) and (ii) a quality-control service-provider
>(implementing and certifying the peer review process -- but with the
>peers independent and refereeing for the journals for free). In the
>Open Access (OA) era, the access-provider functions of the research
>journal can and will be supplemented by author self-archiving of the
>final, revised, peer-reviewed postprint (in the author's own IR and/or
>a CR) in order to ensure that all would-be users have access, rather
>than only those whose institutions can afford access to the journal's
>subscription-based version.
>It is also possible -- but this is hypothetical and it is not yet
>known whether and when it will happen -- that the distributed network
>of IRs and CRs containing authors' self-archived postprints may
>eventually substitute for the traditional access-provision function of
>journals (i), at least insofar as online access is concerned. This
>does not mean that IRs and CRs become journals. It just means that the
>online access-provision function (i) is unbundled from the former
>double function of journals (i, ii), and offloaded onto the IR/CR
>network. And this is merely hypothetical at this time. Only the
>supplementary function is a reality today, not yet the substitute
>function. (Is this hypothetical outcome what is meant by "Overlay
>Journals"? If so, let's forget about them for now and work on reaching
>100% OA self-archiving, crossing our "overlay" bridges only if/when we
>ever get to them.)
> (2) Unrefereed Preprints vs. Refereed Postprints (Posting vs.
>Publishing). Authors self-archive both their pre-peer-review preprints
>and their peer-reviewed postprints in IRs and CRs, but the primary
>target of the OA movement, and of OA self-archiving mandates, is the
>peer-reviewed postprint (of all 2.5 million articles published
>annually in the planet's 24,000 peer-reviewed research journals).
>Self-archiving preprints (usually done in order to elicit informal
>peer feedback and to assert priority) is neither publication nor a
>substitute for publication. To post a preprint in an IR or CR is not
>to publish it; it is merely to provide access to it. In providing
>access to preprints, IRs and CRs are certainly not substituting for
>journals. (Preprints are not listed in academic CVs as "Publications"
>but as "Unpublished Manuscripts.")
> (3) Archives (Repositories) vs. Journals. IRs and CRs are not
>themselves journals, nor even part-journals. They cannot and do not
>provide peer review, or certify its outcome. If an author's own IR
>were to try to do this, for its own research output, it would become
>an in-house vanity press, not a peer-reviewed journal. If a CR tried
>to do this, it would simply become a new journal start-up (competing
>with existing journals). Right now, IRs and CRs are merely
>access-providers -- providing access to both unpublished preprints and
>journal-published, -peer-reviewed, and -certified postprints.
> (4) Central Archives/Repositories (CRs) vs. Distributed
>Institutional Repositories (IRs). CRs and IRs also differ in that CRs
>are few, and do not exist for all or most fields, whereas IRs are many
>and cover all fields. CRs are independent 3rd parties, not affiliated
>with, beholden to, or sharing common interests with the authors who
>deposit in them, whereas IRs are authors' own institutional showcases,
>sharing with their authors a joint interest in maximizing the
>visibility, usage, impact and prestige of their research findings. IRs
>are hence not eligible for undertaking the independent, neutral,
>3rd-party quality-control function of journals. CRs, in contrast, are
>in principle eligible to become journals (just as any online entity
>today is), but if they do so, they do it in competition with the
>24,000 existing journals, just as any new start-up journal does.
>Moreover, although CRs may already host preprints, those preprints are
>currently all destined for submission to established journals today;
>and those same CRs also host the postprints that result from the
>peer-review service provided by those journals. Hence CRs in no way
>substitute for that peer-review service-provision (ii) today.
>So what is an "Overlay Journal"? The idea arose (incoherently, almost
>like an Escher drawing of an impossible staircase) from the idea that
>journals could simply "overlay" their peer-review functions on the
>self-archived preprint. The idea was first mooted in connection with a
>CR (Arxiv), but it was never coherently spelled out.
>(I will not be discussing here any of the speculations about "overlay"
>and "disaggregated" and "deconstructed" journals that are based on
>untested notions about scrapping peer review altogether, or replacing
>it with open peer commentary; nor will I be discussing far-fetched
>notions of "multiple-review/multiple-publication" (in which it is
>imagined that peer review is just a static accept/reject matter, like
>a connotea tag, and that papers can be multiply "published" by several
>different journals, taking no account of the fact that referees are
>already a scarce and over-used resource, nor of the fact that peer
>review depends on answerability and revision): These conjectures are
>all fine as possible supplements to peer review, but none has yet been
>shown to be a viable substitute for it. The notion of an "Overlay
>Journal" is accordingly only assessed here in the context of standard
>peer review, as it is practised today by virtually all of the 24,000
>journals whose peer-reviewed content is the target of the OA
>One rather trivial construal of "Overlay Journal" (not the intended
>interpretation) would be that instead of submitting preprints to
>journals, authors could deposit them in CRs (or IRs) and simply send
>the deposit's URL to the journal, to retrieve it from there, for
>peer-review. This would not make the journal an "Overlay" on the CR or
>IR; it would simply provide a more efficient means of submitting
>papers to journals (and this has indeed been adopted as an optional
>means of submission by several physics journals, just as the
>submission of digital drafts instead of hard copy, and submission via
>email instead of by mail has been quite naturally adopted, to speed
>and streamline submission and processing by most journals, in the
>digital era).
>So submitting preprints to journals via IRs or CRs is not tantamount
>to making the IR or CR into an underlay for "Overlay Journals," nor to
>making journals into overlays for the IR or CR. (In the case of IRs,
>because the authorship of most journals is distributed across many
>institutions, depositing in IRs would have meant "Distributed-Overlay
>Journals" in any case, but let us not puzzle about what sort of an
>entity those might have been!)
>What might be meant by an "Overlay Journal" in something other than
>this trivial optional-means-of-submission sense, then? Could the users
>of the term mean the hypothetical outcome contemplated earlier (1),
>with journals offloading their former access-provision function (i)
>onto the IR/CR network and downsizing to become just peer-review
>service-providers (ii)? Possibly, but at the moment journals don't
>seem to be inclined to do so, and if they did, it is likely that they
>would prefer to continue to be thought of as what they have always
>been: journals, with a name and an imprimatur. Paper journals were not
>"overlays" on libraries. Journals that abandon their print edition are
>still journals, not "overlays" on their electronic edition. If their
>electronic edition is jettisoned too, they're still journals, not
>"overlays" on IRs/CRs.
>Once we recognise that access-provision (i) (whether on-paper or
>online) was always just an incidental, media-dependent function of
>peer-reviewed research journals, whereas peer-review service-provision
>and certification (ii) was always their essential function, then it
>becomes clear that -- medium-independently -- a journal was always
>just a peer-review service-provider and certifier of a paper's having
>successfully met its established quality standards: It has always
>provided a quality-control tag, -- the journal name -- affixed to a
>text, whether the text is on-paper on a bookshelf, in the journal's
>proprietary on-line archive, or in an OA IR or CR. In this very
>general sense, all journals already are (and always have been)
>"overlay journals": overlays over all these various media for storing
>and providing access to the papers resulting from having passed
>successfully through the journal's peer review procedure (which is not
>itself a static tagging exercise, but a dynamic, interactive,
>feedback-correction-and-revision process, answerable to the referees
>and editors).
>In other words, throughout the evolution of research communication --
>from On-Paper to On-Line to Open Access -- peer review remains peer
>review, a journal remains a journal (i.e., a peer-review
>service-provider and certifier), and texts tagged as "published" by
>"journal X" remain texts tagged as published by "journal X." All that
>changes is the access-medium and the degree of accessibility. (And
>possibly, one day, the cost-recovery model.)
>Stevan Harnad
Received on Fri Nov 24 2006 - 13:37:41 GMT

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