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

From: Hal Varian <hal_at_SIMS.BERKELEY.EDU>
Date: Mon, 12 Jul 1999 07:52:16 -0700

On Mon, 12 Jul 1999, Stevan Harnad wrote:

> The only two substantive issues now are (1) an error (about "author
> charges") and (2) a disagreement (about who should pay for peer
> review).
> (1) Hal speaks of AUTHOR charges, and I keep speaking of

No problem there; I just shortened the phrase in the interests
of my weary fingers.

> If you must think in terms of who the "consumer" is and how he
> benefits, the consumer is the author-institution in both cases

Completely agreed. In fact, you will remember that I argued that it is
this point (that the readers and the authors are by-and-large the same) is
the critical aspect of academic publishing that differentiates it from the
trade press, as opposed to the different motivations of the authors that
you emphasize. (Perhaps it is not surprising that a psychologist
emphasizes motivations and and economist emphasizes industry structure.)

> 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...

I agree that S/L/P, as currently implemented, reduces readership.
However, that's not the end of the story. I think you need to look
at why and how S/L/P was created and survived for many years. You may
end up being right that S/L/P is no longer appropriate given the change
in costs. If it was so inefficient, how could it have survived for so
long? This very fact calls for a deeper analysis of the economic
forces that kept it alive in the face of the inefficiency you describe.

> > 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....

> 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.)

And what about countries and institutions that can't afford submission
fees? In the long run, the same costs have to be paid. Your argument is
that the author-institution pays system covers the costs and allows for
broader readership, an observation with which I agree. However, there is
a more subtle issue. An economic system tends to favor those who pay. If
the authors pay, then the system will lean towards the author's goal
(getting published) whereas if the readers pay the system will lean
towards the reader's goal (effective filtering.)

I'm not sure which effect is larger. But, of course, there is no
reason why both sides couldn't pay, if that turned out to be the
appropriate way to align incentives.

> "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)?

The publication system shouldn't be designed only to serve authors---it
has to serve the needs of readers as well (especially if they are the same
people!). One might add terms like "all meritorious papers, systematically
evaluated and vetted" to your "ideal online resource". (I realize that
you acknowledge elsewhere that refereeing is a critical part of academic
publication, even though it ends up being missing as a desideratum here.)

> 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!

> 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!)

I think that your subsequent analysis is a more-or-less correct analysis
of the pressures for quality in the current system. Essentially, low
quality journals are cancelled since their benefits aren't worth their
costs. But in your proposed system, the reader bears no costs, so
this particular feedback is eliminated.

You may well respond that authors will want to submit to quality journals,
a point I accept. But what does "submit" really mean in this world?
I have argued elsewhere that when publication costs were expensive,
it made sense to evaluate ex ante. Now that publication costs are
cheap, it makes sense to evaluate ex post. Furthermore, there is
no reason to use a 0-1, publish/don't publish scale any more---much
more sophisticated systems could be used.

One scenario is for public-archiving and self-archiving as the publication
mechanism and an essentially separate system of cataloging/ranking/peer
reviewing as the filtering system. The question then is who should pay
for the peer reviewing? I submit that it may well be the readers, due to
the incentive effects described above.

> > 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.

See Lemberg, Richard, 1996 thesis on costs of digitization, UC Berkeley.
JSTOR did some calculations with the same conclusion, which are reported
in part by a speech from Bill Bowen, which, I believe, is available
on the JSTOR Web site.

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

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.3.0 : Fri Dec 10 2010 - 19:45:34 GMT