Re: Council of Engineering and Scientific Society Executives '99

From: Hal Varian <hal_at_SIMS.BERKELEY.EDU>
Date: Sat, 10 Jul 1999 12:34:48 -0700

On Sat, 10 Jul 1999, Stevan Harnad wrote:

> > No author *wants* to deter eyeballs, even trade authors.
> You might as well say no producer of any product wants to deter greater
> consumption of their product (it's just that they would like to get
> paid for it!).

Indeed. You've now stated the correct principle: authors (academic and
trade) are happy to be paid for their work. There is no difference in
their motivation in this regard. The primary motivation for each
group is visibility, but neither group disdains monetary compensation.

> I'm afraid I have to disagree again: It would require a MONSTROUSLY
> large amount of money to make a research author trade off his potential
> impact on research for the impact on his pocketbook. (And many
> scientists and scholars, still recalling why they chose the leaner path
> of Learned Inquiry rather than heading straight for the junk bond market
> in the first place, would decline even that!)

The evidence contradicts you. Many academics choose to devote part of
their time to writing textbooks, trade books, consulting and other such
compensated pursuits. They could be spending this time doing academic
research. It appears that they are choosing to trade off *some* research
output and recognition for *some* financial gains.

>Correct, but TOTALLY irrelevant! The author is not being paid out of the
>access-blocking toll-gate receipts from the sale of his papers by S/L/P!

That's true enough, but that wasn't your original assertion. Your
original claim was

"(2) Unlike all other literature, their authors write these papers to
report their ideas and findings, not to make money on their texts. All
they want is to reach the eyes and minds of a maximum of fellow
researchers, present and future, once their findings have passed peer

I asserted that is statment not entirely true: part of the motivation of
academic authors is economic, due to the relationship between rank,
publication, and salary. I agree that academics would prefer to make more
money without reducing the number of readers, but this is trivial and
obvious: the same is true of non-academic authors.

> This is a completely spurious, noncausal correlation, and the simple
> act of self-archiving shows it to be so. (Have the 100,000 authors who
> have self-archived in Los Alamos reduced or inhanced their impacts and
> incomes?)

Increased them, I would claim, since by increasing their visibility they
have, indirectly, enhanced their income.

>I'm afraid I disagree, and I do think it makes a great difference. The
>similarities between the two populations are partial, superficial and,
>in the present context, misleading. The deep differences are in the
>means/ends: For most trade authors, self-archiving their work free for
>all is only a temporary means to an end (hopeful, eventual
>compensation); for (most?) refereed journal authors it IS the end
>(widest possible access to their findings for peer eyes/mind, present
>and future).

Suppose you cut all linkages between compensation and publication and had
a rigid formula between years-on-the job and academic salary. Don't you
think that academic publication rates would go down? (As they do in
countries with such rigid academic compensation systems.)

Suppose you offered publication to trade authors with minimal financial
compensation. Don't you think a lot of people would take you up on this? I
submit the answer is yes since very little trade publication is
compensated to any great degree even now. In fact, it could easily be the
case that the average academic author makes more from publishing a book
(via the impact on promotion and salary) than the average trade author
makes from publishing a book (via royalties).

> The reason stressing the similarities between the trade and nontrade
> literatures here is misleading is that the self-archiving model I have
> been advocating for refereed journal papers is decidedly NOT the right
> model for the rest of the literature, and conflating the two simply
> blurs the critical insight at the core of all this.

I guess I don't know what "right" means here. If you mean "economically
sustainable" I would argue that self-archiving is sustainable in both
environments, since the cost of self-archiving is so low.

> But this can be settled empirically: Let a line be drawn in Cyberspace,
> and let those who are interested in giving away their products
> (whatever they are) as freebies in perpetuo step to the left of it
> (say), and let those who are not step to the right.
> The entire refereed journal authorship will be on the left. Perhaps
> some others will be too. Let's see wait and see who. I'm predicting
> that most book and magazine authors will not (and note that I said "in
> perpetuo," not in "pro-tem promo"!).

Look at the the non-academic textual content on the WWW. The vast
majority of it is available for free. Some of this free material
involves compensation for the author, some doesn't. I would argue
that fundamental economic forces will keep it that way. So the left
side of your line will be heavily populated by both academic and
non-academic authors.

> In any case, that is the literature I am dedicated to freeing (from its
> hostagehood to the trade model and S/L/P) -- not every product of the
> human mind!

I don't disagree with the rest of your argument. I just think that your
story about why academic publishing differs from trade publishing is
wrong. You argue that there is a fundamental difference in motivation
between academic authors and trade authors: academic authors seek readers,
and trade authors seek money. In reality, academic authors and trade
authors both seek money and readership. And, in each case, readership
is the primary driver.

The real difference between the economics of academic and trade publishing
is not due to having an entirely different set of motivations as you
claim, but rather in the nature of the academic research process. Academic
articles are both an input to research and an output of research, which is
rather different from trade publications. (Compare citation patterns in
the two literatures.)

Because the literature is both an inputs and an output, up until the last
decade or so, it made sense for researchers to pay an intermediary to
organize the selection, beautification, production, and distribution of
academic research. But now that the costs of beautification, production
and distribution have declined so dramatically, the role of the
intermediary has been dramatically changed, and it may make sense for
authors to take on much more of the intermediary's role. But the primary
reason for this is due to the change in technology and the associated
change in costs---it isn't due primarily to the difference in motivations,
as you assert.

Hal Varian, Dean voice: 510-642-9980
SIMS, 102 South Hall fax: 510-642-5814
University of California
Berkeley, CA 94720-4600
Received on Wed Feb 10 1999 - 19:17:43 GMT

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