Re: Rename Forum: Author Auto-Archiving Forum

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Mon, 21 Feb 2000 17:29:31 +0000

On Mon, 21 Feb 2000, Thomas J. Walker wrote:

> As the author of the September98 article that initiated this forum, I would
> like to see a name that allows discussion of other means of achieving
> Stevan's "all papers in all fields, systematically interconnected,
> effortlessly accessible and rationally navigable, from any researcher's
> desk, worldwide for free."
> How about an "Immediate Free Web Access" Forum (=the IFWA Forum)?

I am quite happy with Tom Walker's suggestion to rename the Forum
instead as "Immediate Free Web Access" Forum. That is indeed neutral as
to the means of achieving our shared ends.

But now I cannot resist reminding the Forum again (2 years later) of
exactly why I think Tom's means would retard rather than hasten our
shared ends, and why they do not not contain the seeds of a rational
transition to the final state desired by us all:

> I am not convinced that auto-archiving will, by itself, crumble the dikes
> of S/L/P. It requires more effort on the part of authors and is more
> confrontational than an alternative suggested in my Sept98 article--namely,
> that members of societies that publish journals should demand that their
> societies allow authors that want Immediate Free Web Access (IFWA) to their
> articles be allowed to pay a fair price for it. A price equal to that of
> 100 paper reprints would seem a bargain to authors and would be a
> (temporary) windfall for publishers. [A publisher can post an article on
> PubMed Central for substantially less than the cost of printing and mailing
> 100 paper reprints.] The extra profits from selling IFWA might even
> please society executives and governing bodies, who are looking for ways to
> pay for the expensive, restricted-access e-versions they have started.

The only two problems with this suggestion are the following:

(1) Authors can achieve exactly the same outcome for free, by
self-archiving their paper in an Open Archive. Tom owes us an explicit
rationale for of why we should ask or expect authors to pay for something
that they can do for free.

(I will return to the "confrontationality" issue -- if that is to be
the rationale -- shortly. For the moment, I want to say only that it is
not clear whether the "effort" of paying for reprint rights would be
any greater than the effort of popping the paper in an Open Archive --
especially once the free and monumentally effortless Santa-Fe compliant
open-archive software we are preparing is given [free] to all
universities and research institutions so they can install
interoperable archives for all their authors to drop their papers

(2) Tom's proposal is not a solution for papers whose authors cannot or
will not pay to have their journals archive them for them, and that
means that if his proposal, paid o-prints, instead of self-archiving,
were promoted, then those papers would not be freed.

[On the other hand, if self-archiving were the primary means advocated,
and paid journal o-prints were just mentioned as a supplementary route
available to those who may wish to take it, there would be no harm in
that. I think promoting paid o-prints as the primary or principal
means, however, would only retard progress, partly because of (1) and
(2), and partly because of (3).]:

(3) Whereas the causal chain leading from the status quo to the freeing
of the literature from S/L/P and the downsizing of publication to QC/C
service provision, paid for out of the author-institution's S/L/P savings
is clear, logical and explicit, via the self-archiving route, it is not
at all clear via the paid-o-print route:

Here is the causal chain for self-archiving.

(a) self-archive unrefereed preprint
(b) submit preprint to peer reviewed journal of choice for refereeing
(c) if/when accepted, self-archive the final accepted draft
    (if the publisher's copyright agreement does not forbid it), or
    self-archive a file indicating the CORRIGENDA that will
    turn (a) into the final accepted draft (if the publisher's
    copyright agreement is unalterable and forbids self-archiving).
(d) readers will prefer the free version
(e) institutions will prefer to cancel S/L/P
(f) the shrinking S/L/P market and the institutional availability
    of the funds to pay for QC/C out of a portion of the annual windfall
    S/L/P savings will amply cover the costs of QC/C paid at the
    author-institution end for those publishers who want to stay in
    the business and are ready to downsize to becoming QC/C service
    providers only (and the old titles of those publishers who do not
    wish to stay in the business can migrate to those who are)

I do not say this causal chain may not prove unstable at some points
unless the transition sequence is well planned out in advance, but
the sequence, direction, and momentum are clear.

In contrast, what is the causal chain for paid o-prints?

(a) those authors who are willing and able to do so pay to have their
    papers made available free online
(b) readers prefer the free version
(c) this perhaps drives more authors to pay the price (if they can find
    the funds)
(d) meanwhile, S/L/P proceeds apace; maybe prices reduced a bit because
    of the windfall revenue from reprint funds

Then what? What is to free the rest of the literature, that authors
cannot or will not pay money to free? What is to make publishers put an
end to S/L/P and downsize to QC/C (without which the institutional
funds to pay for the QC/C are not available either, as the institutions
are still squarely in the throes of their serial crises)?

No, in my opinion, the paid-reprint strategy is incoherent and leads
nowhere. Yes, the self-archiving strategy is more "confrontational,"
but what it is confronting is a conflict of interest between research
and publication that is intrinsic in the status quo, and that will not
be resolved voluntarily by the interests that are pitted against those
of research and researchers. (Why should it be? If I were an
established journal publisher, I would not let go of the S/L/P revenue
stream unless I had to.)

And note that self-archiving is not illegal; it is inconvenient to take
the "corrigenda" route, but it gets around copyright (because it is
just self-piracy, a victimless crime) and (I am betting) will still
produce a free corpus that is more attractive to the reader than the
firewalled one despite the inconvenience of having to look at
corrigenda instead of the clean drafts in some cases.

> As subscriptions begin their inevitable decline as more and more authors
> buy IFWA, the fair price of IFWA will increase. Members will learn that
> their societies must continue to pay the costs of quality assurance and of
> continuing to publish paper issues (until members are willing to forego
> them). However, so long as paper issues are published and many libraries
> and members are subscribing to them, the fair price of IFWA should no more
> than double.

Tom has given no reason to believe in any "inevitable decline" in S/L/P
in his scenario; he has only described an extra source of publisher
revenue, which might or might not be passed on by publishers in the
form of lower S/L/P prices. S/L/P cancellations have always been
compensated by rises in S/L/P prices, not declines. S/L/P cancellation
pressure would only come if enough of the literature were available
free so that readers and their institutions had nothing to lose
by cancelling S/L/P.

Self-archiving, being cost-free, is a sure thing for freeing the
literature eventually, and and has no costs to deter it; pay-your-way
o-prints are at least as uncertain as the source of the revenue to pay
for them (and whatever they will actually prove to cost, especially
under S/L/P cancellation pressure!). Tom resolves that uncertainty by
speculating about what authors will/would do. But if he is wrong, then
we have been led along a dead-end path: nothing "immediate" about that.

In contrast, the path of self-archiving is already tried and true, as
nearly of decade of Los Alamos experience has demonstrated:

It is true that Los Alamos self-archiving has not put an end to S/L/P
in Physics yet, but in a sense that does not matter; the objective is
to free the refereed literature for users immediately; the rest can
sort itself out in time. (Chances are that S/L/P cancellations will
only become substantial when the literature has been freed across
disciplines, and not just in a portion of one discipline.)

> Two of the attractive things about this scenario are
> (1) It is market driven. Authors who don't want IFWA don't buy it.
> Societies who sell it can profit from it, but they must convince their
> members and their authors that the price they charge is fair.

Market driven only if we forget about the self-archiving option. Free
always beats fee; and no charge is fair for something (legal) that one
can do for free.

> (2) It provides a smooth transition to e-only publication. Societies need
> not abandon paper and subscription revenues until they see a way to
> fiscally survive without them. If commercial publishers don't begin to
> offer IFWA, authors who want it can choose society-published journals or
> violate the copyright releases they have signed and self archive.

I am afraid that the coherency of the paid o-print proposal diminishes
the more we unpack its ramifications: Authors can self-archive whether
or not societies offer IFWA! And if self-archiving is countenanced by
the Walker proposal in any way, then the Walker proposal is
"confrontational" too!

Nor do I see any smooth transition here, only a gratuitously expensive
and indirect way of self-archiving (and only if/when journals get
around to offering it). For now (in keeping with the "immediacy"
condition Tom himself is proposing for the theme of this Forum, the "I"
in the IFWA), it is self-archiving that is immediate and ongoing, and
publisher o-prints that are still out of reach, and a pig in a poke!

Nor is there any reason to imagine that anyone would ever voluntarily
abandon S/L/P revenues, which, after all, are medium-independent, and
can be used to keep the literature hostage online just as it was on

> In my Sept98 article, I used the term "electronic reprints" rather than
> IFWA. Perhaps that was that why earlier efforts to get this forum to
> address the desirability and/or possibility of an e-reprint transition
> failed. I'll soon try again and use IFWA instead.

IFWA admirably covers both of our proposals; the difference is that
IFWA via self-archiving is immediately available and has face validity,
whereas IFWA via paid o-prints is not immediately available and (as a
means of freeing the literature) of uncertain efficacy.

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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