Re: Nature 10 September on Public Archiving

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Tue, 15 Sep 1998 11:59:34 +0100

On Fri, 11 Sep 1998, Arthur Smith wrote:

 sh> If the per-page savings from transforming to on-line-only are indeed
 sh> 70% then arithmetic says the remaining 30% could be paid out of the
 sh> 100% saving from journal subscription cancellations, as stated in the
 sh> Nature article.

> What I have said previously is we could easily cut our costs by a factor
> of three or more OVER THE NEXT DECADE through automation improvements
> and forcing/educating authors into better practices. Some of
> the required technology does not even exist yet although I believe it
> is close (current TeX from xxx is not good or consistent enough for much
> automation on the editorial side here).

There are empirical (and motivational) questions here:

(1) Does it really need to take 10 years, or even near that?

(2) Would the pace be the same with and without subversive pressure
from subscription cancellations driven by mounting preferential use of
free public archives like xxx and author home-archives by the "user"

(3) Is the timetable the same with and without the separate and
separable pursuit of the "value-added" gambit (wrapping in add-ons in
order to preserve S/SL/PPV)?

> But Harnad is assuming an instantaneous drop in costs, not one that
> takes a decade.

Actually, for what it's worth, I neither expect nor hope it will be
instantaneous -- though I would like it to be as soon as possible.
"Possible" means without any catastrophic instability or risk to the
learned corpus. That's why heads need to be put together to work out a
rational and collaborative transition scenario.

> An instantaneous drop is simply not feasible (and as
> I've argued elsewhere, an instantaneous drop in paid subscriptions puts
> nonprofit publishers at a terrible disadvantage).

An instantaneous drop in subscriptions would be extremely destabilizing;
that's why some sort of subsidised tide-over will almost certainly be
needed. If well-planned, this could be done as a rational phase-out,
with the collaboration of the subscription-cancellers (and hence the
beneficiaries of the eventual windfall), the libraries.

This sort of collaborative transition scenario would be infinitely
preferable to the "trojan horse" on which publishers are pinning their
hopes currently (hybrid paper/online subscriptions now, and transition
to online-only when the demand dictates), pegged as it is to the
survival of S/SL/PPV.

In my view, the only stable, realistic transition will be a dual one:
not only from hybrid to online-only but also from S/SL/PPV to

That's what needs to thought out and planned; otherwise mounting de
facto free use will simply subvert the present system with no escape
route in place to a new stable system, and a possibly chaotic
inter-regnum, to the detriment of us all.

> What is most likely
> to happen over a decade where our costs decrease is that submissions
> will increase to compensate.

I can't follow this: For a particular journal (the only pertinent entity
here), at its own particular level in the current "prestige"
hierarchy -- determined, as it is, by the degree of rigour that that
journal has been traditionally been exerting in its peer review and
selectivity -- why should falling page costs mean increased
submissions, let alone increased acceptances (unless you are expecting
a new demographic shift in the production of learned research, over and
above the gradual trends already in place [why?])?

Perhaps there will be more lower-level journals in the new medium, of
the kind that market research might have ruled out in the costly paper
era; but that should have no bearing whatsoever on the transition
scenario for the established journals.

> For us article submissions have doubled roughly
> every decade for a very long time

But that overall trend, as you say, is not new at all; moreover, it is
independent of online-only savings, and will only affect how new
journals are created. The growth trends within a particular journal are
not determined by page cost reductions (indeed, they have been going on
for decades despite GROWING costs, no?).

> - if we cut costs per article by
> a factor of 3 but the number of articles increases by a factor of 2, do
> we have a 30% or a 70% saving?

70% of course! This is just a symptom of your S/SL/PPV enthymeme again!
The right unit of reckoning in the world of page-charges is the
article, not a journal-issue.

> What impact does this have on the argument?
> I think it is all very much more complex than Harnad seems willing to
> believe.

And it's even more complex than that! That's why heads need to be put
together to work out a viable transition scenario.

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

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