Re: Institution supported publishing (was: Re: PubMedCentral)

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Fri, 24 Sep 1999 13:32:27 +0100

On Fri, 24 Sep 1999, Fytton Rowland wrote:

> Eric has hit on an important point here. Chemistry in particular sells
> a lot of copies of journals to the industry, where the researchers are
> likely to produce patents but not many papers. Whatever system is
> adopted to pay for the esoteric publishing system (to use a term Stevan
> Harnad has stopped using!), it is essential that the input of money to
> the system from the chemical industry is maintained.
> Maybe Stevan Harnad will say that the major chemical journals (at
> least) are outside his definition of purely scholarly journals and fall
> in a similar category to Nature, Science, etc.
> But then how about The Lancet and other similar medical journals --
> they sell lots of copies to rich doctors, who do not by any means all
> publish research. Are they outside Stevan Harnad's definition too?

    Okerson A. & O'Donnell, J. (Eds.) (1995) Scholarly Journals at the
    Crossroads; A Subversive Proposal for Electronic Publishing.
    Washington, DC., Association of Research Libraries, June 1995.

    Harnad, S. (1995) Sorting the Esoterica from the Exoterica: There's
    Plenty of Room in Cyberspace: Response to Fuller. Information
    Society 11(4) 305-324.

(1) The "esoteric" definition was dropped in response to the valid
recommendation of Ann Okerson, who realized earlier than I did that it
was misleading: It was based on a READER-end criterion ("does the item
have few readers?"), whereas it should have been based on an AUTHOR-end
criterion ("does the author seek royalty/fee revenue?").

The correct, self-explanatory descriptor, then, in place of the
"esoteric" literature, is the GIVE-AWAY literature. (And the size of the
potential readership is equivocal, for even "esoteric" work might draw
a much larger readership if it were accessible to everyone without the
need to cross the financial firewalls of
Subscription/Site-License/Pay-Per-View [S/L/P] that currently block the
free access the give-away author seeks for his work.)

The give-away literature includes the entire refereed journal
literature, along with many esoteric monographs and conference
proceedings that would otherwise have trouble finding an audience of a

(2) I don't know what else chemical journals contain, apart from the
refereed papers. Whatever the rest is, if its producers don't intend it
as a give-away, let it be charged for, by all means. But for the
give-away refereed portion (of Nature and Science, Lancet and NEJM,
just as surely as for the chemical journals), it should definitely all
be free to the reader -- and, ceterum censio, the minimal costs of the
sole remaining essential service, Quality-Control/Certification [QC/C]
(estimated at about $300 per paper) should be paid for up-front by the
author-institution out of just a small portion of its institutional
S/L/P cancelation savings.

To summarize: The distinction in question (the one underlying the
"Faustian Bargain" in the "Subversive Proposal" cited above) is, and
always was, an author-based distinction, not a reader-based one. It is
whether the author wishes to sell or give away his product that
is decisive, not how many people may be willing/able to pay for it.
(But cf. the thread 'Journal Article Royalties: Reanimating the
"Faustian Bargain" in the Forum below.)

Stevan Harnad
Professor of Cognitive Science
Department of Electronics and phone: +44 23-80 592-582
Computer Science fax: +44 23-80 592-865
University of Southampton
Highfield, Southampton
Received on Wed Feb 10 1999 - 19:17:43 GMT

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