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

From: Arthur Smith <apsmith_at_APS.ORG>
Date: Fri, 28 Aug 1998 13:39:40 -0400

On Fri, 28 Aug 1998 08:04:48 -0400, Stevan Harnad <harnad_at_COGSCI.SOTON.AC.UK> wrote:

>> Arthur Smith ( wrote:
>> ... Furthermore, both "overlay" journals have print versions (which
>> they rely on for revenue), so it is hard to truly call them
>> "electronic-only".
>I believe you have answered your own question.

Then we have no concrete examples of an "overlay" electronic-only
journal at all. So the thing you are proposing does not yet exist.
Meanwhile, existing academic journals are moving forward. My argument
is that a purely electronic "overlay" journal is not economically viable,
whether paid for by readers or authors. You have no counterexample.

There are of course many other electronic-only journals, but they
"own" the content in the traditional manner, and do the distribution

It is all well and good to say "of course peer review will be available",
but peer review is expensive and the model you have proposed for a journal
based on the xxx archives does not seem to be in any way viable as
a purely electronic entity.

>What we need to know is how much it REALLY costs to produce TRULY
>electronic-only journals, and whether S/SL/PPV is the optimal way to
>recover those costs (and a fair profit), or there is a better way
>for us all.

What's so special about a truly electronic-only journal? It merely
eliminates one of the production and distribution pieces of the process.
Prior to production, the same automation efficiencies are
available whether or not you produce a print version. The majority
of users of electronic journals print out a copy of articles they
are interested in - does that make every electronic journal not

>> providing a single location to look things up... is the primary role of
>> abstracting/indexing services
>But generic browsers (guided by the all-important +/- REFEREED tag,
>once most of the literature is on-line and free in xxx and
>home-servers) could already do almost as well on the cheap...

Ahh, here is the key sentence: "once most of the literature is
on-line and free"... Even at its current size, xxx does not cover
more than 10% of current physics - some fields have reached saturation
but for most (atomic and molecular, optical, fluids, biological physics,
statistical physics, plasmas, chemical physics, computational physics,
accelerators, practically all experimental or applied physics) there is
very little coverage. Even if the current linear growth rate continued
it would be several decades before even 50% coverage of physics was
reached. So are we talking about a future 10 or 30 years down the road?
And even then most archival material will not be available free online -
you of course argue that we are only talking about current content,
but the smooth interlinking of current and ALL archival material is
the kind of future we should be thinking about, not a haphazard
listing of whatever authors have managed to post themselves.

That is where the abstracters and indexers play a crucial role - they
provide access to essentially ALL the refereed literature through a
single interface. They provide it now, and will undoubtedly be doing
a better, faster, even more comprehensive job in the future. And most
institutions and researchers would rather pay for this now than
wait several decades for something that might or might not fill their needs.

>But, for a start, what's the obstacle in the fields/countries where it
>IS possible, then?

Competition. We tried to impose page charges on our high-energy
physics journal (PRD) and the journal almost collapsed, because
competing journals did not charge anything, and authors fled there.
And our page charges have always been voluntary! That's why Physical
Review is actually phasing out all page charges for electronic submissions
at this time.

But I hear a new journal (sponsored by the British IoP, German DPG?) is
planned for physics that will be supported solely by page charges - we'll
have to see how that turns out. If it works, we'd be happy to adopt this
model, but we've just been burned by past experience.

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

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