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

From: Mark Doyle <doyle_at_APS.ORG>
Date: Thu, 27 Aug 1998 15:03:26 -0400

Hi all,

Well this discussion at least has led to the deflation of one myth that I
often encounter: that the APS acts as a single cohesive unit with agreement
among all. Anyway, Arthur makes some good points, but I disagree with some
of his points.

On Thu, 27 Aug 1998, "Arthur Smith <apsmith_at_APS.ORG>" wrote:

> Harnad [...]
> clearly favors a Utopian simplicity. But wasn't Utopia discredited
> with the fall of the Berlin wall? The benefits of a messy,
> decentralized market economy are in the huge incentives for rapid
> innovation, the pressures of competition, and ultimately the efficiency
> imposed by the price mechanism. While scientific journal publishing
> does not constitute an ideal market economy as Harnad and Odlyzko have
> noted, Utopian ideals seem to me a move in the wrong direction.

This is an interesting way to look at it, but largely irrelevant. At least
a Utopian goal can serve as a guide to where things can be made better (not
to mention that just because East Germany claimed to be a Utopia doesn't
make it one). In any case, I think it is wrong to put xxx and publishers on
different sides of the Utopia/Market fence. Basically we are in a market
economy and xxx is one player in it. It doesn't make any money, but it is a
formidable competitor for traditional publishers in the marketplace of
dissemination of research information. But even if you just look at the
traditional publihshers as the "decentralized market", it is clear that this
market has evolved to a place far from the efficient, streamlined economy
that is possible (hence the serials crisis, huge profit margins, the rise of
xxx, etc.).

The challenge posed by xxx (or more generally, technology enabled direct
author-reader communication that bypasses traditional publishers) is to
develop new markets in which to compete (rather than just competing in the
basic role of disseminating information). Thus there is plenty of room for a
market economy of competing overlays and services above what is offered by
a large centralized repository.

> From both a reader's and an author's point of view, there are clear
benefits to having everything in one place. In some respects the marketplace
has already spoken in some fields. In mathematics, for instance, the many
small e-print servers that sprang up were rather ineffectual, many becoming
moribund. With the recent incorporation of almost all of them into the xxx
structure, there has been a steady growth of usage in the mathematics
community. Another example is the APS's own e-print server which started
almost 2 years ago and still only gets a tiny fraction of what xxx gets in
physics (and there is a large overlap with authors feeling compelled to send
their papers to multiple places -- another inefficiency).

> A cursory review indicates that by far the greatest costs of
> publication are people costs, often ignored by those new to the issues.
> Technology can cut costs primarily by replacing work people do. The
> benefits of electronic publication come from automation as much as from
> the communication improvement inherent in replacing paper with bits.


> The primary implicit cost
> increase is to the reader, who must, aside from the technology issues,
> spend considerable time wading through basically "raw" literature.

This is not the xxx model, but only one component of it. The full model
includes overlays (peer-reviewed or not) which readers may be willing to pay
for (or, more Utopianly :^) that authors should be willing to pay to get
their paper flagged in such an overlay since it enhances the possibility
that their paper will be read and will be highlighted for future

> In some fields, particularly where the avenues of development are narrow
> and many people may be working on very similar problems, there is great
> benefit to immediate access to the work of others, and so the cost to
> the reader is well worth it. In other fields the benefits are not as
> great, and the xxx model has had more difficulty catching on.

This only speaks to the early dissemination of work. Authors can circulate
work after is has been vetted by whatever process they feel is necessary.
xxx is just as efficient at circulating vetted work as unvetted work.

> There is clearly some benefit to the work done by roles 2-6 in the
> publication process beyond what can be automated with current tools: if
> this benefit exceeds the related explicit cost to the reader, then
> simple economics tells us readers should pay it.

I don't think you can leave the author out of this equation since an author
benefits by having their work read, linked, indexed, and preserved.

> But to remove the opportunity for the reader to explicitly pay for
> improved services (as Walker and Harnad seem to suggest) cuts out a
> major incentive for innovation in the areas that implicitly cost the
> reader so much.

I don't think anyone would argue with readers paying for new services that
can't easily be automated and do cost money to produce. It is just that the
current set of services offered by publishers differs little from what can
in principle be almost entirely automated with better authoring tools. It
should also be noted that thus far it is hard to beat xxx as a source of
innovation -- the incentives are there without readers footing the bill.

> I agree that journal prices should come down as the electronic
> revolution moves forward and automation eliminates many of the people
> costs of a journal - but should they go away?

Right, but also, as you mentioned earlier, who should pay for the residual
costs? I prefer a model where authors cover the costs for the basic
dissemination of the work, peer-review, and the conversion to heavily marked
up archival formats, allowing readers to have much less restricted access
to the literature. Tying the costs to the author is one of the few ways to
give them some incentive for producing electronically friendly (and good
quality) manuscripts in the first place.

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

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