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

From: Hal Varian <hal_at_SIMS.BERKELEY.EDU>
Date: Mon, 12 Jul 1999 11:18:18 -0700

On Mon, 12 Jul 1999, Stevan Harnad wrote:

> In the PostGutenberg, online-only era, for refereed journals, the days
> of S/L/P are over!
> But S/L/P is STILL fine for the trade literature (books, magazines).
> It's only the anomalous, give-away literature that has been freed at
> last of the "Faustian Bargain" that held it hostage to S/L/P tolls
> until now.

This is what strikes me as peculiar in your position. You argue that
the dramatic change in costs will have a big effect on the academic
publishing model, and yet the same S/L/P model "is still fine" for the trade

Doesn't it seem strange that the same change in costs will have such a big
effect in one area and a tiny effect in another? I argue that the change
in costs will also have a dramatic effect in the trade literature with
lots of free publication of unvetted material (see the Web) with people
paying for filtering/vetting. Hence the business model for the two
literatures will
tend to become more similar.

> > 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.)
> This is the vanity-press argument again. Reply: Peer Review. The peer
> community will continue to maintain the standards, as always, for free!
> It is only the IMPLEMENTATION of peer review that needs to be paid for,
> not referee time/effort. And journal rejection-rates and impact-factors
> will continue to be the marks of quality (and the magnet for authors),
> not the money exchanged for implementing peer review!

But, as you well know, peer review varies dramatically in its quality.
There are good journals (which tend to be more selective) and bad journals
(which tend to be less selective) under the current system. If authors
pay to get published, there will be a natural tendency to increase the amount
published and reduce average quality.

> > 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.
> Heaven forfend! The worst of all possible worlds! You have to pay to
> read AND you have to pay to be published! Insult upon Injury!

But you are paying for different things: authors are paying for
the hosting, readers are paying for the filtering. This makes sense
since the authors value being published (as you repeatedly emphasize)
and the readers value selectivity. I think that your 1/3 figure for
refereeing process is about right (I have made the same estimates in my
papers), so it's the same total amount paid, by essentially the same people,
in either case.

And if there are those that don't want to pay for filtering, they are welcome
to go out and search for the material they want on their own, spending time
rather than money. But if there are those that want to pay money to have
the searching and filtering done for them, why should you object?

> Precisely. It is and always has been the freeing of the REFEREED JOURNAL
> LITERATURE to which all these efforts have been directed. And as far as
> I can tell, that completely nullifies your objection here!

My argument is that you seem to think that you can take the existing
refereed journal literature, reverse the payment system, and have nothing
else change.
To a social scientist, this is highly unlikely. The existing payment
system influences incentives, and changing the payment system will change
the incentives.

> The way for a reader to vote is not with his (institution's) S/L/P
> dollars, but with his eyes, his citations, his refereeing, and his
> research! This is not commerce we are talking about, but Learned
> Inquiry.

Hmm. I thought we were talking about the economics of learned inquiry.

> > 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.
> Untested speculations about replacing peer review by post-publication
> peer commentary are a can of worms on which I've written before:

I'm not talking about post-publication peer commentary; I'm talking
about post-publication peer review, just as you describe in the following

> This is already covered by the dichotomy: "U" unrefereed preprint vs.
> "R" refereed reprint (+ journal name "JX"). BOTH can be self-archived (and
> suitably tagged).

> > 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.
> No, the readers need merely CHOOSE to search only on items tagged "R"
> in the free Eprint Archive. The refereeing can be provided by peer
> review (which ain't broke, hence don't need fixin' -- let alone
> replacin' by untested alternatives).

Here, I think, is a difference in our conceptions. You think of the "R" and
"U" as being bound to the archive. But that seems rather limited. Why not
have different organizations providing the "R"s and "U"s with pointers to the
archive? This way you get competition for rating services, with the
appropriate incentives for keeping quality up and price down. Some reviewing
services may charge for their services and some not; let the users decide
what they want.

> >sh> I'd like to see the data for that, not even for all 14K journals in
> >sh> Ulrichs, but just, say, the top 6.5K indexed by the ISI. And please
> >sh> 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.
> That does not answer my question: We are not talking about the costs of
> digitization, current or retrospective. We are talking about how many
> institutions/countries can and do afford how many journals!

Part of the thesis dealt with the costs of shelving, costs of Web hosting,
etc. Certainly figuring out which institutions can afford journals
involves looking at how much they are paying now vs how much they would
have to pay for online access.

> You focus on capturing the available money (via S/L/P), whereas I ask
> "Why not give it away for free for all, and pay the small remaining cost
> -- quality control -- out of the S/L/P SAVINGS?"

This is misreading of my claim. I don't have any quarrel with giving
the writing away for free, and having the authors pay for posting.
(Remember, my original argument was precisely that this is what most
authors want, not just academic authors.) The question is who will
pay for the filtering? Just as the authors benefit from being published,
and will pay to do so, the readers benefit from filtering and will pay
for high quality filtering.

Of course, if the authors are willing to pay for the filtering (as you
assume), there is no need for the readers to pay. But the incentives
are poor in that system---I think that it would tend to degenerate into
the vanity press you correctly deride.

> If there is no other way to free your intuitions from reader-end market
> thinking, run your whole argument through on advertisements: Why
> shouldn't advertisers give their ads only to those who can afford to pay
> for it?

> Answer: Ads are not the right PRODUCT to think of! It is ad companies'
> SERVICES that advertisers want to pay for. (But before this segues into
> the vanity-press argument again, note that it's only an analogy; for
> something closer to a homology, you would have to make it the services
> of a quality-controller/certifier (the FDA?), and one in which the
> quality assessment itself is done by independent and incorruptible --
> because unpaid! -- assessors [referees]!)

In your system, the authors pay the journals to have their papers published.
The analogy is that the drug companies would pay the FDA to have their
drugs approved. Do you see a problem with the latter business model?

[This isn't to say the current FDA model is right, either. There is a lot
of evidence that the incentives in the FDA are bad---if a bureacrat delays a
good drug no one knows. If they approve a bad drug, they loose their job.
leads to a possibly overly conservative approval process. But the costs of
bad drugs are very different from those of bad papers, so I hesitate to
extend the analogy!]

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