Re: 2.0K vs. 0.2K

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Wed, 12 May 1999 21:44:54 +0100

As you see, intellectual pluralism prevails at Southampton, for my
colleague Steve Hitchcock has posted something with which I could not
disagree more:

 shi> Arthur Smith says that the APS will allow authors to self-publish free
 shi> versions of their papers, as well as an APS-created rendition of the
 shi> same paper, and is considering a license agreement where the author
 shi> retains full copyright. Allowing the free posting of APS pages is an
 shi> absolute bonus. As far as I can see, allowing

 shi> 1 free posting of all **author-created** copy (that includes revisions
 shi> for refereed versions)

 shi> 2 backed by a non-exclusive license of some form for enhanced
 shi> publication is **all** that is needed to begin the beneficial
 shi> transformation of scholarly publishing on the Web.

 shi> The real question is, does this position enhance APS' competitive
 shi> position or detract from it? If it detracts, then this may not remain
 shi> "current official policy" for long (noting also that APS will not now
 shi> be able to revert to any previously-held position). If it enhances,
 shi> presumably other publishers will move to emulate it.

I do not think that that is the real question at all. The APS is a
Scientific Society which exists to provide a service to its
scientific constituency, the Physics community. Its journals are by far
the most prestigious physics journals in the world, the most highly
cited, with the highest impact factors and the highest quality

APS's raison d'etre is and always has been to provide the physics
readership with articles of that quality to read, and to provide the
physics authorship with journals of that quality to appear in; the
APS's raison d'etre has never been to "enhance APS's competitive
position." Providing that quality IS APS's "competitive position"!

Now, is there any reason whatsoever for believing that increasing the
availability of APS articles by an order of magnitude -- by allowing
APS authors to self-archive them publicly online, effectively providing
limitless free reprints to anyone who wants them -- will DECREASE the
attractiveness of those journals to their authorship or readership?

The original raison d'etre of learned journal publishing was to
distribute ideas and findings meeting a certified quality standard as
widely as possible to the learned community. That was what PUBLICation
meant to a scholar/scientist: that it would maximize the access of his
fellow scholar/scientists everywhere to his ideas and findings, so they
could assimilate and build upon them in the cumulative enterprise of
Learned Inquiry.

One clear sign of the fact that this is and always has been what it was
all about is that in learned journal publishing, unlike in any other
form of publishing, the author always GAVE his work away -- not only to
the publisher, but to any reprint-requester who made known his desire to
read the work. The need to charge for access to the work was not
dictated by the usual competitive market forces, for the author was
never looking for fees or royalties, only readers. The toll-gates were
necessitated by the economics of (paper) publishing itself: Selling it
to readers, rather than giving it away, was the only way to cover the
costs of publishing it (in paper) at all.

APS is merely continuing to act in accordance with its original raison
d'etre in allowing its authors to maximise access to their work by
self-archiving; to do otherwise would be to imply that the APS had some
autonomous interests that no longer had anything to do with the
interests of its authors, but were in fact in conflict with them. (Remind
yourself again that this conflict of interest is not possible in any
other form of publication, for in every other case the publisher and author
are firm allies in wanting to maximize their joint revenue from selling
their joint product. Anyone wishing to argue that it ought to be the
same here MUST account for the nagging fact that journal authors are
after eyes and minds, not dollars and pounds.)

And APS IS acting in full accord with that nagging fact, in aligning
itself with its original raison d'etre -- which is to
quality-control, certify and then maximize the accessibility of its
physicists'' ideas and findings, not to block them in protecting a
"competitive position" as if APS were a trade publisher rather than
a scientific society.

Author self-archiving will INCREASE, not decrease, the impact of APS
journals. It may or may not decrease S/L/P revenues sufficiently to
require finding another way to cover what costs are left when the
entire corpus is online-only. If S/L/P continues to have enough of a
market despite self-archiving to cover all costs, then the system will
have found a new equilibrium, and the Physics community, with a free
online literature, will be an order of magnitude better off.

But if S/L/P revenues are no longer enough to cover costs, then costs
will have to be covered another way (perhaps through up-front
author-institution charges, funded out of the institutions' S/L/

On Wed, 12 May 1999, Thomas J. Walker added:

tw> It doesn't pay APS's bills and it doesn't help authors get used to the
tw> notion that if they want their refereed versions freely and immediately Web
tw> accessible someone needs to pay APS for its services.

What is "it"? If reader-institution-end S/L/P no longer pays what's
left of the bill, switch to author-institution-end page charges funded
out of the S/L/P savings. But don't just assume (or ordain) that S/L/P is
the only option, and then use that as an excuse to continue holding the
literature hostage to it.

tw> I submit that APS would be more fiscally responsible and be doing more
tw> for facilitating the transition from the current user-pays system to a
tw> future author-pays system by charging for the service of putting the
tw> refereed, formatted, archived versions of articles on xxx immediately
tw> upon publication. They could put all the rest on xxx a year (or more)
tw> later, so as not to give to some what they are selling to others.

I have no idea what "fiscally responsible" means here. But APS seems to
be recognizing primarily its responsibility to provide the service it
provides to its scientific constituency. Free access to the literature
will be an invaluable boon to scientists and science. If you agree that
free access is the optimal and inevitable end-state, how on earth does
it FACILITATE that transition to artificially prolong holding the
literature hostage to S/L/P access-tolls by (1) keeping reader-end
S/L/P in place, (2) assessing author-end page-charges on TOP of S/L/P
(rather than in place of S/L/P, and out of part of the savings from
terminating S/L/P), and "justifying" this by simply (3) forbidding
authors to do for free, for themselves, what they could already do
perfectly well for themselves now (and have already been doing in LANL
since 1991), namely, self-archive?

How does that "facilitate the transition"? It sounds to me like
prolonging the status quo by holding self-archiving at bay (financially
and legally) just when the eventual funds for paying it are out of

It is proving something of an educational battle to get scholars to
realize that (free) self-archiving is overwhelmingly in their best
interests now. Trying to persuade them to do it, and to PAY for it too,
under the circumstances, turns the optimal and inevitable into an
Escherian impossible figure. (And you are calling the APS "fiscally
irresponsible" for letting them do it for free? I think historians will
have a different assessment of the causal role that the APS's
enlightened and progressive policy played in the transition to the
optimal and the inevitable.)

Stevan Harnad
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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