Re: Should Publishers Offer Free-Access Services?

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Fri, 5 May 2000 19:51:08 +0100

On Fri, 5 May 2000, Eric Hellman wrote:

> Stevan,
> You're typing too fast.
> This is a business model that should be thoughtfully considered. It
> is closely related to the free-to-read, pay-to-publish model
> pioneered by journals such as the MRS Internet Journal of Nitride
> Semiconductor Research ( The pay-to-unfetter
> model is attractive to publishers that want to transition their
> existing journals to free, unfettered access business models but
> don't have the financial and technical ability to do so right away.

The pay-to-unfetter model is unnecessary; I can already self-archive for
free. Why pay when there's no need?

And although I too favour a kind of "pay-to-publish" model (pay for the
implementation of quality-control -- peer review -- and certification
QC/C), I believe the way to scale down to that much lower cost is to
PHASE OUT the needless ones (like archiving and access), NOT to offload
them to the author. Moreover, it's not the author who needs to pay the
up-front charges, but the author-institution, and the money to pay from
that will come from the cancellation of serials S/L/P
(Subscription/Site-License/Pay-Per-View). Adding on a needless
eprinting surcharge to the author now goes in the opposite direction,
continuing to hold the literature hostage to access tolls (levied on
the author now).

> It is attractive to authors who believe in free, unfettered access to
> their work, but see value in traditional "brand names" and the
> accompanying prestige. It is attractive to readers for obvious
> reasons. Most importantly, it has the potential to change the
> mind-sets of important academic communities. Once they see the
> benefits of free, unfettered access, they will insist on it.

My subversive proposal (self-archive the pre-refereeing preprint, then
self-archive the refereed final draft) does give unfettered access to
the brand-name product.

> With regard to Open Archives, I note that there is absolutely nothing
> to stop the Entomological Society from becoming a participating
> archive. If you believe that Open Archives are valuable then you must
> recognize that smart publishers will try to add value like that to
> the package of services that they offer their authors.

Anyone can add value and then try to sell whatever they like, and
whatever the market will buy. But I don't want my give-away refereed
research papers to be held hostage to that "added value." The only
relevant added value is the refereeing itself, and it is subversive
self-archiving that will force the whole system to scale down to
providing, and charging for, that, and only that. The rest of the stuff
can be add-on options, if you like; but those must compete with the
no-frills self-archived (but refereed) version. (Recall, referees
referee for free too.)

> >And NO price is fair for something one can have for free.
> You have perhaps purchased a bottle of water in your life? Or hired
> someone to do something that you could do yourself FOR FREE!? The
> price is of course always an issue. $50 for a bottle of Perrier is
> excessive, even at 25% off.

My bet is that the give-away home-brew will be infinitely preferred to
the price-tagged, added-value alternative. All I ask is that no one try
to stop people from giving away their (QC/C'd) home brew. While they
are prevented, it's no contest. But if barriers (both real and
perceived) to self-archiving of refereed papers are removed, and
authors self-archive, and people still want to keep shelling out for
the bottled deluxe version, you can be sure I won't be squawking any
more. My battle is over (and won) when all the home-brew's online for

> By the way, have you tried Napster?

Unfortunately it seems to be geared toward the wrong literature. My
focus is only refereed journal papers...

Yours prestidigitally,

Cheers, Stevan

NOTE: A complete archive of this ongoing discussion of providing free
access to the refereed journal literature is available at the American
Scientist September Forum (98 & 99 & 00):

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Received on Mon Jan 24 2000 - 19:17:43 GMT

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