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From: Arthur Smith <apsmith_at_APS.ORG> <harnad_at_COGSCI.SOTON.AC.UK>

Date: Sun, 20 Sep 1998 05:39:41 -0400

Arthur Smith <apsmith_at_APS.ORG>:

In another thread I made an assertion about prices which I have now

discovered, at least for our journals (Physical Review) was incorrect.

Going back to 1950, we charged $25/year for a journal of close to 4000

pages - that's $172 in 1998 dollars, or 4.3 cents/page. The per-page price

to libraries varied considerably over the subsequent years (the journal

was growing at times by 20% or more annually) with a low of 1.7 cents/page

(1998 dollars) in 1965, and bouncing back up to about 11 cents/page now

as library subscriptions have declined.

Since we've always been non-profit (ie. revenue equals costs to within

roughly 10 percent) the cost per published page can be estimated by

multiplying the subscription price by the circulation numbers. I don't

have exact numbers for circulation over the years, but I do know the

rough trends going back to about 1960, and the remarkable thing is

this product (price/page * number of library subscriptions) has been

almost constant, probably for the entire 50 years, to within about 25 percent

(except for some anomalous years around 1965 when the price fell behind

the growth in size) - $180/page plus or minus $45, if current circulation

is assumed to be 2000 libraries.

So over at least 40 and perhaps 50 years we have maintained a pretty

much constant cost/page - note that page size and density for our journals

did increase in the 1970's and 80's, so there may have been some improvement

in value per dollar to the community as a whole. But certainly not much.

In this context, even a 30% reduction in costs over the next decade would be

pretty remarkable. I think such a reduction is almost certain (99% probable)

because print distribution will disappear - just as it has already

for the encyclopedia market. There may be a handful of print subscribers

remaining in 10 years, but costs to support those will be minimal, less than

1% of current total costs. Hardware and networking to support electronic

distribution will also be at most 1% of current total costs.

Since printing and print distribution account for 25-30% of current total

costs, we'll probably see at least 25% of costs go away in at most a decade.

Other savings will come from electronic distribution to editors

and referees etc. prior to publication - the paper and mailing for this

amount to at most 2% of total costs right now though so this would not

be a big effect.

Improved authoring tools hold the promise of cutting another 30% off

the per-page costs by obviating a lot of the copy-editing and other

manual labor required in handling manuscripts. Getting these out to

the author community and getting them accepted will take some effort

however - this is where the 10-year time-frame starts to look a bit

optimistic. But I'd give it a 50-50 chance that 90% of authors will be

creating documents that require minimal copy-editing in 10 years. We'll

still have to handle the remaining 10%, but this promises at least another

25% savings in the long run.

Other possibilities for automation could start to tackle the remaining

40% of costs strictly associated with editorial and peer review work.

Assuming continuing 2%/year productivity growth over and above salary

growth rates (possible but not guaranteed) we could perhaps eliminate

a quarter of that 40% in 10 years.

So with some reasonable assumptions about electronic distribution,

improved author behavior (predicated on improved tools for authors),

and general productivity improvement, we could well be looking at

costs a factor of 3 lower than they are today, in ten years. The savings

will have to come from much more than electronic distribution savings

however.

Note that nothing I have said is predicated on an S/SL/PPV scheme for

supporting the journals - I have outlined only our costs associated

with performing peer review to the same level it is currently for our

journals. If we used an xxx-style free pre- and post-publication mechanism

for distribution, this would shave at most the < 1% of costs associated

with hardware, software, and networking to support electronic distribution

from our location - and we'd probably want to be spending at least that

much anyway as a show of support for free distribution.

The fact that our per-page costs have stayed almost constant (in 1998 dollars)

over 50 years while the number of papers handled has grown by almost two

orders of magnitude indicates that the fundamental costs associated with

performing peer review to an acceptable degree have not changed significantly

in all that time. These costs are not going to suddenly evaporate in a year

or two just because of some change in the way journals are funded and

distributed - yes there will be changes, but it will really take one

or more decades to make any substantial difference.

Arthur Smith (apsmith_at_aps.org)

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

Date: Sun, 20 Sep 1998 05:39:41 -0400

Arthur Smith <apsmith_at_APS.ORG>:

In another thread I made an assertion about prices which I have now

discovered, at least for our journals (Physical Review) was incorrect.

Going back to 1950, we charged $25/year for a journal of close to 4000

pages - that's $172 in 1998 dollars, or 4.3 cents/page. The per-page price

to libraries varied considerably over the subsequent years (the journal

was growing at times by 20% or more annually) with a low of 1.7 cents/page

(1998 dollars) in 1965, and bouncing back up to about 11 cents/page now

as library subscriptions have declined.

Since we've always been non-profit (ie. revenue equals costs to within

roughly 10 percent) the cost per published page can be estimated by

multiplying the subscription price by the circulation numbers. I don't

have exact numbers for circulation over the years, but I do know the

rough trends going back to about 1960, and the remarkable thing is

this product (price/page * number of library subscriptions) has been

almost constant, probably for the entire 50 years, to within about 25 percent

(except for some anomalous years around 1965 when the price fell behind

the growth in size) - $180/page plus or minus $45, if current circulation

is assumed to be 2000 libraries.

So over at least 40 and perhaps 50 years we have maintained a pretty

much constant cost/page - note that page size and density for our journals

did increase in the 1970's and 80's, so there may have been some improvement

in value per dollar to the community as a whole. But certainly not much.

In this context, even a 30% reduction in costs over the next decade would be

pretty remarkable. I think such a reduction is almost certain (99% probable)

because print distribution will disappear - just as it has already

for the encyclopedia market. There may be a handful of print subscribers

remaining in 10 years, but costs to support those will be minimal, less than

1% of current total costs. Hardware and networking to support electronic

distribution will also be at most 1% of current total costs.

Since printing and print distribution account for 25-30% of current total

costs, we'll probably see at least 25% of costs go away in at most a decade.

Other savings will come from electronic distribution to editors

and referees etc. prior to publication - the paper and mailing for this

amount to at most 2% of total costs right now though so this would not

be a big effect.

Improved authoring tools hold the promise of cutting another 30% off

the per-page costs by obviating a lot of the copy-editing and other

manual labor required in handling manuscripts. Getting these out to

the author community and getting them accepted will take some effort

however - this is where the 10-year time-frame starts to look a bit

optimistic. But I'd give it a 50-50 chance that 90% of authors will be

creating documents that require minimal copy-editing in 10 years. We'll

still have to handle the remaining 10%, but this promises at least another

25% savings in the long run.

Other possibilities for automation could start to tackle the remaining

40% of costs strictly associated with editorial and peer review work.

Assuming continuing 2%/year productivity growth over and above salary

growth rates (possible but not guaranteed) we could perhaps eliminate

a quarter of that 40% in 10 years.

So with some reasonable assumptions about electronic distribution,

improved author behavior (predicated on improved tools for authors),

and general productivity improvement, we could well be looking at

costs a factor of 3 lower than they are today, in ten years. The savings

will have to come from much more than electronic distribution savings

however.

Note that nothing I have said is predicated on an S/SL/PPV scheme for

supporting the journals - I have outlined only our costs associated

with performing peer review to the same level it is currently for our

journals. If we used an xxx-style free pre- and post-publication mechanism

for distribution, this would shave at most the < 1% of costs associated

with hardware, software, and networking to support electronic distribution

from our location - and we'd probably want to be spending at least that

much anyway as a show of support for free distribution.

The fact that our per-page costs have stayed almost constant (in 1998 dollars)

over 50 years while the number of papers handled has grown by almost two

orders of magnitude indicates that the fundamental costs associated with

performing peer review to an acceptable degree have not changed significantly

in all that time. These costs are not going to suddenly evaporate in a year

or two just because of some change in the way journals are funded and

distributed - yes there will be changes, but it will really take one

or more decades to make any substantial difference.

Arthur Smith (apsmith_at_aps.org)

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

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