Re: Journal Papers vs. Books: The Direct/Indirect Income Trade-off

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Mon, 12 Jul 1999 11:51:16 +0100

The exchange with Hal Varian has been very interesting, but in the
interests of hastening convergence, I will be more telegraphic in
my quote/commenting in this round, but first a summary:

The only two substantive issues now are (1) an error (about "author
charges") and (2) a disagreement (about who should pay for peer

(1) Hal speaks of AUTHOR charges, and I keep speaking of
AUTHOR-INSTITUTION charges. The annual costs for quality
control/certification (QC/C) (less than 1/3 of the total institutional
S/L/P costs for full paper and online publication in the present,
obsolete system) will not and should not come from authors' pockets but
from (less than 1/3 of) author-institution's annual S/L/P savings from
total S/L/P cancellation.

The rest of the (marginally vanishing) costs of periodical publication
in the new system are to be borne by centralized self-archiving
facilities (Los Alamos, E-biomed, CogPrints, Scholar's Forum), backed
up by distributed institutional self-archives, plus the increased
offloading of word-processing (and soon tagging/mark-up) onto authoring
software (which is on the rise anyway).

(2) Hal acknowledges the trade-off between direct benefits (royalty
income) from the sale of texts and indirect benefits ("impact" income).
(I put this in crass income terms just for the sake of simplicity.)
The trade-off is that charging for access (royalty income) means loss of
access to those who can't/won't pay (impact income). (I won't even
mention that journal authors don't even get the pennies from the royalty

Yet, despite acknowledging this loss of potential readership (hence
indirect revenue) caused by S/L/P barriers, and despite agreeing that
self-archiving may even be the way for many books, let alone journals,
when it comes to the question of how to recover the much lower residual
costs of quality control/certification [QC/C], Hal regresses on the
S/L/P trade model, seemingly forgetting both the trade-off and the
self-archiving option!

Part of this misunderstanding may revolve around institutional S/L/P,
which currently SUBSIDIZES readers (at that lucky institution); Hal
contrasts this with PERSONAL (out-of-pocket or out-of-grant) payment
of author charges in the proposed system, whereas the most natural way
to think of it is simply as rechanneling what is already an
institutional subsidy from S/L/P costs to the much lower up-front QC/C

If you must think in terms of who the "consumer" is and how he
benefits, the consumer is the author-institution in both cases, the
benefit in the former case (reader-institution end S/L/P) being to buy
in SOME of the journal literature for the use of its scholars and
scientists (to enhance their research impact), the benefit in the
latter case (author-institution end QC/C) being to buy in ALL of the
journal literature for the use of ALL scholars and scientists (thereby
enhancing everyone's potential impact) -- and at less than 1/3 of the

When you speak of retaining S/L/P from the author-institution's point
of view, always keep in mind their lost potential impact on the
eyes/minds of the many institutions and countries that cannot afford
that particular journal...

In fact, the best intuition pump I have found for why charging S/L/P for
access makes no sense for the refereed research literature is that it
is for exactly the same reason that charging for access to
advertisements would make no sense!

Now to (telegraphic) quote/comment mode:

On Mon, 12 Jul 1999, Hal Varian wrote:

> ...You argue that the author should pay for this filtering
> role. Perhaps that is right, but one could also make a case that the
> reader should pay since he is the direct beneficiary of the filtering,
> that the other costs have been driven so low.

But this makes the author and author-institution the LOSER of all those
potential eyes/minds (and impact income) -- and PARTICULARLY considering
how low those "filtering" (QC/C) costs really are!

> ... the funding agencies pay researchers to produce papers which are sent
> to journals to be evaluated and, in most cases, published, which are
> then purchased by libraries for the free use of the researchers.
> ... it is the role of intermediaries that has got us into the current
> mess; if the authors/researchers faced the true costs of the current
> publication system, they would find a way to reform it quite quickly!

Indeed they would, but it would not be by simply lowering S/L/P
barriers, but by eliminating them completely, through author-institution
end QC/C payment out of 1/3 of S/P/P savings, plus author self-archiving.

> There is something of a tradeoff, but perhaps less than you think.
> There are ways to vary access and recover costs from customers. Even
> now you can purchase a journal subscription directly or go access
> it "for free" in your library. Here are two different kinds of access,
> one more convenient than the other, and they are priced accordingly.
> So it isn't "access" vs "no access" but different degrees of access.
> The same can be done in the online world; whether this is desirable or
> not is a different question.

And what about the many countries and institutions that can't afford
either form of access? (And re-calculate that at least 14,000 times for
each of the refereed journals in Ulrich's that some institutional
author's work might appear in.)

    "It is easy to say what would be the ideal online resource for
    scholars and scientists: all papers in all fields, systematically
    interconnected, effortlessly accessible and rationally navigable
    from any researcher's desk worldwide"

As an author, how many potential readers of my work would I like to
deprive of this resource -- in the interests of a reader-end S/L/P
model (from which I do not make a penny, and which costs my institution
at least twice as much as barrier-free QC/C would)?

And what is the counterpart of personal vs. library access in the
desk-top, networked world?

> You argue that author charges could pay for peer review. This maybe
> correct, but I worry about the incentives in such a system. Under
> reader pays, the publisher has an incentive to keep quality high in
> order to attract readers. Under author pays, the publisher has an
> incentive to get as many authors to pay as possible, and other
> mechanisms must be used to maintain quality.

I have already replied to this, in response to Frank Norman at the
National Institute for Medical Research. This "vanity press" model of
author-pays profoundly misunderstands peer review!

    Nothing like this will happen; it is based on a misunderstanding of
    peer review -- and of what it is that makes the prestigious
    journals prestigious, and hence makes authors prefer to submit to
    them rather than elsewhere:

    The prestige of the top journals is based on their quality, which
    in turn depends on their quality-control standards: They only
    accept the very best papers (and their typically high citation
    impact factors reflect this). (They are not "designer labels," for
    the patina of which a "consumer" is willing to pay more!)

    The way that high standards of quality are maintained is through
    rigorous peer review: One cannot BUY success in that process;
    authors must EARN it (by doing high quality work). Otherwise the
    prestigious journals would simply lose their prestige (and be
    replaced by other, more rigorously refereed journals, that
    recapture their standards, and THEREBY the best papers. [And, no,
    they will not LOWER their charges to capture to higher-prestige
    authors either! This sort of market thinking is all based on the
    wrong, old, reader/consumer-end model: or, to put it another way,
    the "competition" in this nontrade literature is for high-quality
    papers, not for author-dollars.]).

    On the contrary, it is much lower down in the peer review
    hierarchy, as one approaches the vanity press, that some abuse of
    the author-end system is conceivable: Authors may try to buy their
    way into the pages of low-quality journals when they have failed to
    earn their way into the high-quality ones. But, frankly, I don't
    find this at all worrisome! Vanity publications are apparent to
    everyone; they wear the result (low quality) on their sleeves (and
    their contents, their authorships, and their impact factors); and
    such journals already exist today, where the "subsidy" currently
    comes on the reader-institution end rather than the
    author-institution end -- everyone knows which ones they are, and
    that caveat emptor prevails when it comes to deciding whether to
    read them or rely on what they report.

And don't forget: The peers review for free... QC/C costs are only for
IMPLEMENTING refereeing, not for the referees themselves (who, like the
author, contribute for free). Vide supra.

> if an organization "can't afford" access, it is
> likely an accounting illusion rather than actual lack of money.

I'd like to see the data for that, not even for all 14K journals in
Ulrichs, but just, say, the top 6.5K indexed by the ISI. And please
tell me the figures per journal, per institution, per country. As an
author/advertiser, I would like to know how many potential customers I
am really LOSING if I endorse the SELLING of my papers/ads, instead of
having my institution pay up front to GIVE them away to one and all...

> The important principle is that the readers are willing to pay
> something for the filtering services provided by the journal. And it is
> this willingness-to-pay that supports the current business model. You
> could be right that "author pays" is superior for the reasons you cite.
> But my worry is that the economic incentives to provide value to the
> reader (via filtering) are weakened.

Vide supra. Peer review will take care of itself (money is not involved
in refereeing); focus on the my POTENTIAL readers whose institutions
CANNOT pay...

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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