Re: Council of Engineering and Scientific Society Executives '99

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Sat, 10 Jul 1999 22:14:18 +0100

On Sat, 10 Jul 1999, Hal Varian wrote:

> > 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.
> 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.

Yes, but the question was whether they would trade it off for their
refereed journal articles, not for their books and other activities.

(It would have been absurd of me to suggest that the authors of refereed
journal articles don't care about making money at all: It's just that
they don't want to make money by selling THOSE articles.)

> >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
> review."

Perhaps the meaning of "make money on their texts" was not antirely
clear the first time. I hope that now it is: It is the blockage of free
access to THOSE texts (and not other texts they may write, or other
things they may do with their time, that we are discussing here).

> I asserted that this statment is 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.

I said something stronger, and I repeat it: The authors of refereed
journal articles are not interested in making money on THOSE texts at

> > 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.

Fine, but you are missing a rather fundamental point, repeatedly: The
income from the sale of THOSE texts is not the income of the author!
And if the income from the sale of THOSE texts plays any causal role at
all in the author's visibility and hence income, then that is a
negative role: The fact that access is denied till tolls are paid
REDUCES the author's visibility, hence his income.

And self-archiving (i.e., making those texts available for free for
all) enhances their visibility, hence (if you wish) the author's
income. Now is the dissociation (and even opposition) between the two
incomes clear? This is not the case when the income to the AUTHOR comes
from the sale of the text.

The conclusion is that in the case of the refereed journal literature
only, the author has an interest in there being NO INCOME (to anyone)
from sale of his texts, because income means access-blockage. This is
also in the interest of the author's institution, which likewise gains
kudos (and grant income) from the impact of his research (not to
mention their savings from S/L/P cancellations!)

So with refereed journals it makes sense (and with books it does not)
that costs should be paid for at the author-institution end (yielding
free access for all) rather than the reader-institution end (blocking
access, impact income).

I don't think that the DISanalogy could be any more complete than this.

> 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.)

Sure they would, but so what? That still would not connect the author's
income CAUSALLY to the income from the sale of his (refereed-journal)
texts. (And, to simplify, if we say directly that it is
impact/visibility, and not publication simpliciter, on which the income
ladder depends, then the NEGATIVE causal relation between S/L/P access
barriers and author/institution income becomes even clearer.)

> 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).

I agree, insofar as esoteric monographs are concerned. Those no-market
specialty items have always been more like journal articles than more
mainstream academic or nonacademic books, their royalties are often a
joke, and many do not even succeed in finding a publisher.

But that happens to be the very subset of the non-journal literature
that I have always said fits the give-away formula too! It is in no way
representative of the book market, however, being at least as esoteric
as, and even more minoritarian than, the refereed journal literature

And your hypothetical situation above simply amounts to speculating
about what it would be like if more books were more like journals in
this way for academic authors: But one gets out of such a hypothesis
exactly what one puts into it: If more books did fit the esoteric,
give-away formula, then they too would fall on the left of that
figurative line in Cyberspace I invoked in the prior posting (requoted

And if your point was only that online self-archiving will make it
possible to publish more no- or low-market esoteric monographs online
than has been possible in paper, that is certainly true too. (It is an
interesting empirical question what proportion of current scholarly
monographs would have voluntarily gone the royalty-renunciation route
in exchange for the enhanced reach! I don't doubt it would be a
non-negligible number.)

> > 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.

The trade/nontrade divide is fairly represented by desire and
expectation of revenue directly from the sale of the text. The trade
model continues to be the right one for most books, and it does not
help, in trying to bring out the anomalous state of affairs on the
nontrade side (where refereed journal articles are representative) to
dwell on similarities with esoteric monographs (which are NOT
representative of the trade side and never have been).

Most people (authors, publishers, readers, economists) think of texts
as products that authors, jointly with their publishers, SELL to the
readers (or reader-institutions). It is this reader/consumer intuition
that prevents them from seeing that this reader-end market is the wrong
one for refereed journal articles, which authors have always wanted to
give away, but have been prevented from doing so by the economics of

These economics change in the online medium, radically, for these
anomalous authors. Their institutions (which paid the costs anyway
already, at the reader-institution end) can now pay much lower costs at
the author-institution end, freeing this literature at last.

But this author-end market does NOT generalize to most books, which
will continue to be bought and sold on the old, trade model. To blur
this crucial distinction in either direction is to miss the fundamental
development that the old, trade model, which was "right" for ALL texts
before, is no longer right for refereed journals.

How much else it is also no longer right for is an empirical question,
and the boundary lines are not nearly as clear or illuminating, though
I expect that the algorithm I've proposed:

    "Does the author (1) seek/get any revenue for his text (royalties,
    fees) or does he instead (2) give it away, seeking only the
    eyes/minds of readers? If (1), it is trade, if (2) it is not."

probably still captures it.

> > 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.
> 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.

Fine. I'm actually losing my grip on what we are disagreeing about...

But just as thinking in terms of the reader-end trade model for
publication has been an obstacle to people's realizing where the
refereed journal literature is headed, so has thinking in terms of
freeware and the general give-away spirit of the Net!

For freebies are then associated with the vanity press, without quality
control (peer review). From this it becomes clear that SOMETHING still
has to be paid for here, and that is the IMPLEMENTATION of the quality
control (for referees referee for free). That is what leads to the
unintuitive shift from a reader-institution market to an
author-institution market for the SERVICE of quality control and
certification (instead of the PRODUCT of a text).

Again, the give-away spirit of the Net is no guide in any of this.
Net freebies are not quality controlled or certified!

> > 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.

It's not academic vs. trade authors! It's academics when they wear
their refereed-journal-author hats and every other author, including
themselves, when wearing their book-author hats (except in the case of
esoteric monographs).

> 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.)

This is all no doubt true. But books, academic and nonacademic, can in
principle bring direct incomes to their authors, and journal articles
can't, and that's the point.

> 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.

What you say about beautification and self-beautification applies
indifferently to all texts, but nothing follows from it. There are still
texts that the author wants to sell. Let's call those trade (and they're
mostly books) and texts the author wants to give away (let's call them
nontrade, and ALL refereed journal articles fall into that category --
from their author's viewpoint).

And there is one critical piece of "beautification" that an author
cannot do all on his own, and that is peer review. That is a service
another "provider" will have to continue to provide. In the case of
scholarly books, its cost can be wrapped into the cost of publication,
recovered from sales of the text; in the case of refereed journal
articles, it, and it alone, can be recovered another way, eliminating
the need for all sales barriers (to the eternal benefit, if you like, of
the author's and the author's institution's "visibility," and hence the
indirect income accrued therefrom).

Stevan Harnad
Professor of Cognitive Science
Department of Electronics and phone: +44 2380 592-582
Computer Science fax: +44 2380 592-865
University of Southampton
Highfield, Southampton
Received on Wed Feb 10 1999 - 19:17:43 GMT

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