Re: BioMed Central and new publishing models

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Mon, 14 Feb 2000 19:27:01 +0000

On Mon, 14 Feb 2000, Marvin Margoshes wrote:

> universities will surely claim ownership of copyright to online
> scholarly publications when substantial amounts of income come into
> view.

The virtually no-readers-per-article refereed journal literature is
not one where "substantial amounts of income come into view." It was
not so on paper and will not be so online. The only issue is how to
remove access-blocks to the few extra eyeballs that unrestricted online
access might accord to a given research paper.

It makes no sense to liken the virtually unread, give-away refereed
research literature to textbooks or courseware.

The universities will derive indirect benefit from removing the obsolete
and counterproductive access barriers to the reports of their research,
thereby augmenting its impact through the increased number of eyes and
minds that can access, read, cite and build further research upon it.

> It is unlikely that the universities will stop with lucrative online
> courses. It makes more sense for them to claim ownership of all
> intellectual rights, probably allowing faculty to gain income from
> those rights as long as the university gets its share.

There is no share to be had here. Authors have always given it away; no
fees, no royalties. And it was universities who had to pay huge access
tolls so the few among their faculty who might wish to read a few
particular articles could do so. There is no income to be made here,
only access to be blocked, to the detriment of universities' own
research impact. Charging a few pennies to the occasional soul who
might want to read a particular university researcher's refereed paper
can never be "lucrative." It would make as much sense to put a price
tag on that as to tax faculty's trips to their own university libraries
(or their university toilets).

Why not just tap the lucrative reference market directly, charging a
royalty to everyone who CITES one of their researchers' articles?

No, this highly anomalous literature will not be understood as long as
we conflate it with the trade literature in this crude way.

> The question for this forum isn't whether scholarly publications will
> be affected, but how that will affect the goal of some on this Forum to
> make online scholarly articles free to the reader.

The goal is to make what has always been an esoteric, no-market,
give-away literature -- held hostage by a trade model by which it was
always ill-served, and from whose access barriers universities suffered
as much as their researchers (over and above having to be the ones to
pay the Subscription/Site-License/Pay-Per-View [S/L/P ] tolls) -- free
at last, now that it can be dissociated from the costs as well as the
economic model of paper trade publication.

Continuing to see it as if it were the same as the rest of the literature
is simply missing the critical difference here (and the point).

> The proposed way to make the articles free is to shift the costs to the
> authors, which means to their institutions or to the third parties
> (mainly governments) that pay the bill through grants. Without a doubt,
> the ones who pay will seek to recover the costs, just as they look to
> income from patents from the research they sponsor.

They will be recovering the costs manyfold -- out of their annual
S/L/P savings. This is a quid pro quo, where not only will universities
be saving their entire annual serials budgets (and resolving their serials
crises) in exchange for redirecting only a small portion of the annual
windfall savings toward Quality-Control/Certification [QC/C] charges,
but their resulting enhanced research impact will bring in much greater
benefits (in research impact, citations and funding) than continuing
to try to squeeze pennies out of this giveaway, no-market literature
could possibly ever do.

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

NOTE: A complete archive of this ongoing discussion of "Freeing the
Refereed Journal Literature Through Online Self-Archiving" is available
at the American Scientist September Forum (98 & 99):
Received on Mon Jan 24 2000 - 19:17:43 GMT

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