Re: Elsevier Science Policy on Public Web Archiving Needs Re-Thinking

From: Arthur Smith <apsmith_at_APS.ORG> <harnad_at_COGSCI.SOTON.AC.UK>
Date: Sat, 26 Sep 1998 08:22:31 -0400

Arthur Smith <apsmith_at_APS.ORG>:

Well, once again I think we've jousted long enough. One wouldn't think
from the tone, but I actually agree with a good part of Stevan's last
post, from which I can distill the following points:

    1. We both agree that peer review is essential, and is the central
    role that publishers do and should continue to perform.

    2. We both agree that the cost of peer review is somewhere around
    30% of total costs for standard print literature, perhaps 50% of
    costs for current all-electronic journals (those that do
    copy-editing or re-formatting in addition to review).

    3. We both believe it is important that essentially all (me) or
    absolutely all (Harnad) researchers have immediate access to the
    peer-reviewed literature.

    4. We both recognize that publishers, if they are to continue to
    play the peer-review role, need to obtain stable financial support
    for that in some manner.

There seem to be just 2 fundamental areas of disagreement:

    1. Stevan believes that the 30% costs to cover peer review can be
    recovered through page charges to the author, with a transition
    plan for existing journals to reduce their costs to the 30% level.

I believe this is unworkable and impractical, and therefore either
reader-based payment schemes (Subscription/Site License/Pay per view)
are going to be necessary, or some other form of funding will have to
be found (long-term institutional or government funding, perhaps). If
S/SL/PPV is necessary, as it seems to be right now, it also follows
that the publisher must have at least some of the rights associated
with copyright exclusively (in particular the commercial distribution
and sale rights). Different publishers may have different requirements
in this area - authors should be able to choose which agreements they
are willing to live with.

The first large-scale experiment that could prove Harnad right appears
to be the New Journal of Physics (

    2. Stevan seems to believe the drop to 30% or less of current costs
    can be achieved within a year or two through some kind of shock
    treatment to publishers (such as full-scale implementation of his
    subversive proposal, or implementation of modified copyright
    agreements among the majority of academic authors).

I agree that the first 20-30% of cuts could be done on a relatively
short timetable, simply by ceasing print distribution. But the
remaining cuts will either take at least a decade, or will sacrifice
quality in a variety of areas, and end up lumping more of a burden on
the readers. This is because the requisite software (specifically in
the area of author tools) are either not available or not even close to
being standards. And really getting down to the core (this is what I
meant by irreducible) 30% or so of costs will require a long series of
smaller process-improvement steps - these may end up radically changing
our concepts of peer review itself, but one-two years is far too short
a time for it.

My decade time-table also seems not unreasonable when you compare with
how long xxx has been around (7 years now, and the number of journals
and publishers in the areas it covers has gone up, not down) and how
long Harnad and co. have been prognosticating about all this (4-5 years?)
with no clear success yet, other than xxx itself. Perhaps some of the
revolutionary proposals discussed and referenced in this forum will take
hold and prosper, but I think it is more likely that the revolution
will come through price competition and continued evolutionary improvement
by existing publishers and journals.

Either way, in both our views the future promises substantially
increased accessibility of the peer-reviewed literature, reduced costs
for all participants, and a continued role for publishers in overseeing
the process of peer review. Whichever happens, I think the future is
very promising for academic communications.

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

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