Re: Savings from Converting to On-Line-Only: 30%- or 70%+ ?

From: Stevan Harnad <harnad_at_COGSCI.SOTON.AC.UK>
Date: Thu, 27 Aug 1998 09:21:23 -0400

On Wed, 26 Aug 1998 22:22:56 -0400, Mark Doyle <doyle_at_APS.ORG> wrote:

>The real danger is that subscriptions to our journals could dry up
>before we have a chance to complete the transition to a new, leaner
>all-electronic publishing process. The APS (a non-profit publisher
>with benevolent aspirations) is much more vulnerable to this than
>prosperous commercial publishers with deep pockets. Luckily, we have
>the prestige of Phys. Rev. to sustain us in the short term.

That's actually my biggest worry too. Not only would a catastrophe-
point be bad for everyone, if it destabilised the literature, but the
PROSPECT of such a point can itself serve as a retardant on the
transition. (It would be a real worry though, unlike the groundless
worries about preservability, readability, etc..) Cushioning this
critical point is what we all really need to get our heads together

But because it is ONE point, rather than a long-term thing, it can in
principle be handled by a one-off measure, like start-up costs, which
funders are more willing to commit to than long-term support.

In other words, a one-time tide-over subsidy that would cover the
phase-out of paper and phase-in of on-line-only in the face of a
catastrophic drop in subscription support might be something reasonable
to propose to NSF and other funding bodies or even a consortium of
University Libraries. The long-term dividends to all from a rapid, smooth
transition to the optimal and the inevitable could probably even be
reckoned in dollars, the language that funders speak.

>In any case, the thinking around here is in terms of selling services
>wrapped around the articles, not necessarily the articles themselves
>(linking to other articles, linking to other resources, full-text and
>fielded searching, etc.). This of course would mesh quite well with just
>overlaying xxx, but the marginal cost of just serving up the articles is
>quite small in comparison with the rest of the services...

There is a danger to publishers there: The only 2 services that they
are the relevant experts in are (1) implementing peer-review and (2)
editing/mark-up -- in other words content and form quality control. The
other add-ons (links, searching, even HTML-ising and SGML-ising) are
likely to be done more expertly and economically by others, and in the
end -- and this is crucial -- they are likely to be wrapped into
authoring tools for the author! So it's best if publishers don't commit
themselves to swimming-tubes that competitors could easily deflate.
They should stake their futures on the service that they (or their
equivalents: there's no escaping quality control) are uniquely
expert to keep afloat long-term.

>The APS did start a new journal Phys. Rev. Special Topics in Accelerators
>and Beams. This journal is 100% electronic and
>is available to all for free because of a new economic model in
>which a consortium of interested parties (like SLAC) has put up money to
>help defray the costs. This model is in addition to those in your
>S/SL/PPV troika.

Good point, and example. But subsidy is an alternative to the trade troika,
not an addition to it!

>Disciplined use of good authoring tools that promote good mark-up
>would play a major role in bringing down the current "paper
>cardhouse", making possible a substanital reduction in the labor costs
>now associated with producing any large journal. Otherwise, I think
>some communities will really lose something by such a collapse.

Agreed. But the scenario is probably the following:

FIRST: Authors archiving their unrefereed preprints and refereed reprints
publicly for free for all (on home servers plus xxx).

SECOND: Readers quickly come to use the free on-line corpus as their
mainstay (xxx's 100 new. ms's and 65,000 hits daily show this is happening)

THIRD: Pressure for more useful and more useable on-line papers will begin
to make authors improve their versions by mastering better authoring tools.

FOURTH: Pressure from library subscription cancellations will make
publishers put pressure on authors to strengthen and standardise their
use of authoring tools, so that as much as possible can be off-loaded
onto them (leaving minimal page charges to pay for the remaining
additional page costs).

The need for a one-time tide-over subsidy during the critical transition
phase from S/SL/PPV to page-charges looks as if it will be
nevitable to avoid instability.

>Regarding copyright: The APS explicitly recognizes the rights of
>authors to circulate their work through xxx even after APS
>certification (and even the revised manuscript can be circulated in
>this way).

Bravo for APS. That is a policy that is completely in the interests
of the learned community (as a learned society publisher's policy
should be!).

On September 4th (not before), have a look at Science:

for more on this extremely critical issue.

Stevan Harnad
Received on Tue Aug 25 1998 - 19:17:43 BST

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