Re: The Logic of Page Charges to Free the Journal Literature

From: Stevan Harnad <harnad_at_COGLIT.ECS.SOTON.AC.UK>
Date: Fri, 7 May 1999 20:23:11 +0100

On Tue, 4 May 1999, Steve Hitchcock [shi] wrote:

> sha> Why would anyone want to continue paying for what they can get for free?
shi> Good question, and one for the commercial players to
shi> answer. Non-exclusivity is the lever to get them to answer, and it would be
shi> good not just for authors and users, but publishers too. I think it is
shi> possible to build enhancements that are worth paying for - and there are
shi> many good examples in many fields, such as open source software. In
shi> contrast, exclusive copyright is a drag on publisher innovation.
shi> I see the e-print archives as the open source software model for scholarly
shi> publishing.

Not really clear exactly what "non-exclusivity" and "open source" mean.

If they mean that the author retains the right to self-archive his
paper for free for all, all is well.

But [the following is absolutely critical]: if PEER REVIEW is treated
as one of the "enhancements," so the author can only self-archive the
non-enhanced, hence non-peer-reviewed draft, then
non-exclusivity/open-source does not achieve the objective of freeing
the refereed literature.

So if non-exclusivity applies to the refereed final draft, and authors
self-archive the refereed final draft, no problem, and market forces
can decide whether there is anything else left to sell. But if it
applies only to the unrefereed preprint, then the problem of how to pay
for peer review remains with us, and up-front author page charges again
look like the only viable option.

> sha> Now do you see the logic of why it does not make sense to recover that
> sha> 30% directly via S/L/P barriers?
shi> No. The open source model does not prescribe how market forces will
shi> develop. I believe that page charges will be at best a niche market,
shi> because I see little demand from authors, readers, publishers or
shi> librarians, and there are few incentives at the moment.

The incentive will come only when it is clear that there is no other
way to free the refereed literature. (If there is another way to do so,
then I agree that the incentive will never come.)

shi> But my view doesn't
shi> matter because it is not a market driver. The point is that open source
shi> should produce a better cost model for our papers, whether it's S/L/P or
shi> page charges. So I can't see the point of this part of the argument.

It all depends entirely on which side of the S/L/P access barrier the
refereed draft falls on. To be free, it has to be able to bypass
S/L/P tolls barriers.

shi> Assume there is a global e-print archive freely available, and that
shi> principal goal has been achieved.

For unrefereed preprints or for refereed reprints too? Only with the
latter is the goal achieved.

shi> Your next concern is that we still have
shi> the refereed journals to certify papers. Since you believe that people will
shi> not pay for what is free elsewhere - this may be a core fallacy - we have
shi> to recover the costs of refereeing via upfront page charges to protect the
shi> journals. In other words the fallacy leads you to think that without income
shi> guaranteed by page charges the journals will be abandoned. I don't think
shi> it's remotely likely that publishers will abandon the journals even if they
shi> have to cede exclusivity to the archive. On the other hand, if the large
shi> share of the academic 'market' somehow opts for page charges that would
shi> represent a bigger threat to the journals than otherwise would be the case.

I would prefer not to entrust the prospects of a free, refereed literature
to the possibility that refereeing will continue to be paid for out of
revenues from selling "enhanced" versions when the refereed version is
also available for free. The appeal of the "enhancements" would have to
be at least as great as the appeal of the refereed literature itself
(the generic, unenhanced literature that we have now, and that has been
the only refereed literature we have ever known) if we are to imagine
them holding onto enough of the market to subsidize the free ride of
the unenhanced refereed versions. It seems much more realistic to plan
for the much more likely market contingency: That most of the market
will be lost to the free version, as it would be with any other

shi> Wouldn't it make sense to concentrate on non-exclusivity in pursuit of a
shi> free global archive, leave the 30 per cent S/L/P stuff alone, then let
shi> market forces work?

Only if it would make more sense for enough people and institutions to
continue paying S/L/P fees for "enhancements" even after the refereed
literature is available free for all. Otherwise it's better to try to
think of some other way to cover the essential costs of producing the
"unenhanced" but refereed version. Those are the costs of implemenmting
peer review, the <30% stuff...

Stevan Harnad [sha]
Professor of Cognitive Science
Department of Electronics and phone: +44 1703 592-582
Computer Science fax: +44 1703 592-865
University of Southampton
Highfield, Southampton
Received on Wed Feb 10 1999 - 19:17:43 GMT

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