Re: Should Publishers Offer Free-Access Services?

From: Thomas J. Walker <tjw_at_GNV.IFAS.UFL.EDU>
Date: Mon, 21 Feb 2000 13:47:51 -0500

Publishers selling, and authors buying, immediate free Web access (IFWA) to
refereed articles is one way that the current system of paying for journal
publication may evolve from the current system, in which researchers and
their supporting institutions pay for subscriptions, to a new system, in
which researchers and their supporting institutions pay publication
charges. The new system would have two advantages, long-recognized in this
forum: (1) free Web access to the refereed literature and (2) substantially
lower total cost.

For this transition to occur, authors and their supporting institutions
must be willing to pay for IFWA, which at first might seem to be a stopper.
However, from data for 7 journals published by 4 biological or medical
societies, I conclude that about 90% of authors currently buy at least 100
paper reprints. The price of IFWA need be no higher than that the price of
100 paper reprints for publishers to profit greatly. Most authors who buy
paper reprints will probably conclude that they can forego them, because
nearly everybody everywhere can print as many electronic reprints as they
want at their desks (or can easily get a friend or colleague to do it).

When (and if) IFWA sales becomes great enough to encourage subscription
cancellations, the price of IFWA can be raised to compensate for declining
subscription revenues. Then, unless sales of IFWA decline, the path to the
new system will be clear.

I believe that the path will be clear because IFWA is becoming increasingly
valuable as more and more journals establish online versions and try to add
value to them by providing hyperlinks to the full text of entries in their
Reference Cited sections.

Those reading an article value immediate access to the works that are cited
by it. Only those works that are freely accessible or for which the
publisher has special access can be so linked. Thus those authors whose
articles are _freely_ Web accessible will especially benefit from increased
employment of external hyperlinks, as will the institutions that support
them. [Publishers will be more likely to hyperlink to PubMed Central
postings than to self-archived articles, because it will be simpler and
because publishers are unlikely to go out of their ways to encourage

The value of IFWA becomes even clearer when one considers the online
versions of major literature indexes (such as Current Contents, Biological
Abstracts, CAB, and Agricola). Users of these indexes would like immediate
access to the full text of their hits. Producers of these indexes will
compete to add value to their products by including as many external links
as possible. Thus IFWA articles should be immediately accessible from
online indexes. Non-IFWA articles (=those with restricted access) cannot
be linked or the links will work only for those who are qualified by having
subscriptions or by belonging to an institution that has a site license.

Do authors want anyone using one of these indexes to have immediate access
to their current articles? Do institutions want such access to the results
of the research they have sponsored? If the answers are YES, society
publishers will be an untenable position if they refuse to offer their
authors that option. And all publishers that offer IFWA will profit from
it, which just might speed the transition to universal free access.

Tom Walker

Thomas J. Walker
Department of Entomology & Nematology
University of Florida, PO Box 110620, Gainesville, FL 32611-0620
E-mail: FAX: (352)392-0190
Received on Mon Jan 24 2000 - 19:17:43 GMT

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