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

From: Mark Doyle <doyle_at_APS.ORG>
Date: Thu, 27 Aug 1998 16:12:56 -0400


On Thu, 27 Aug 1998, Stevan Harnad wrote:

> 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.

In the very long run this may be true, but I think in the medium term
it is safe to have these swimming-tubes. xxx provides a raw archive for which
many overlays are possible. xxx won't be in the business of providing all
useful overlays, though it is likely true that many that are currently
manually produced by publishers will be automatable in the future. But
automatable just means that it is easier for everyone which means that we can
do a good job as well. The kinds of overlays that people will want in the
fully-electronic future isn't completely clear to me, but they won't
necessairly be the easily automatable ones. There is a role for scholarly
societies like the APS to play in such a future.

Also, I don't agree that publishers can't be sources of expertise in
handling electronic information, though I grant that there is scant evidence
of it from the outside point of view. The main problem is in expanding new
ideas and practices to the scale of large, well-established journals whose
authors (and editors) are quite used to the status quo. In fact, much
innovative work in the realm of SGML and all of that goes on within the
publishing community out of necessity.

Anyway, the bottom line for the APS (can't speak for any other publishers and
I don't really speak for APS for that matter), is that we aren't in it for
the money and the paper/online journals are a way of paying for peer-review
(page charges have fallen by the wayside in physics because of competition
with commercial publishers who did away with them and then more than made up
for it on the subscription side). We work on developing new authoring tools,
not to increase our profits, but to benefit the community as a whole. We also
are quite interested in archivally preserving Phys. Rev. for the indefinite
future and xxx isn't yet at that level. Finally, we are intent on making
the past archive of Phys. Rev. available online (
Another economic model (with a smooth path from here to there) would be
welcomed by us.

> Agreed. But the scenario is probably the following:

This scenario is quite plausible (and I personally wouldn't be upset to see
it come to pass). It is certainly an experimental question to see how
authors react to having more stringent requirements put on them. Acting
unilaterally can be disasterous for a publisher, as authors can be fickle
and many are willing to take the path of least resistance without
considering the global consequences.

> 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
> inevitable to avoid instability.

Probably right, but very difficult to achieve in practice.

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

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