Re: Napster: stealing another's vs. giving away one's own

From: Dr. John R. Skoyles <skoyles_at_BIGFOOT.COM>
Date: Sun, 21 May 2000 09:36:47 +0100


You miss my points which concern how anarchist-type programs such as
Napster are changing the revenue survival of traditional publishers leaving
them only, as you note, a role as quality control service providers [which
we both agree is their fate].

My first point was inspired by the recent Nature News feature (11 May) on
'Souped-up search engines' about ResearchIndex that, 'gatherers fragmented
scientific resources from around the web, and automatically organizes them
within a citation index. .. Hundreds of thousands of scientific papers can
be located quickly in this way. ... And unlike most search engines,
ResearchIndex retrieves PDF and postscript files and uses simple rules
based on the formatting of a document to extract the title, abstract,
author and references of any research paper it finds. It recognizes the
various forms of representing bibliographies, and by comparing these with
its database of the articles can conduct automatic citation analyses for
all the papers it indexes'.

ResearchIndex changes how we look at the future development of reprint
archiving. Traditional publishers seek
Subscription/Site-License/Pay-Per-View S/L/P access tolls. Self-archiving
removes that. But only in part. As important is the interface that provides
access to papers. ResearchIndex-like engines can find and sort out
self-archived papers even without the aid of meta-data-tagging. The next
generation might do even more -- for example, imagine the possibilities if
latent semantic analysis was done across papers and the results used to aid
paper and topic searching. These possibilities suggest that companies will
arise in the near-future to exploit self-archived papers and open archives
by competing to set-up the most user-friendly sites with novel add ons
[such as LSA based searching] for accessing them. Los Alamos Eprint Archive
let us be blunt is not very user friendly -- at least in my experience --
there is much room for improvement in this direction. The take over by such
start-ups could be rapid: as the Nature piece noted, 'in less than a year,
the Google search engine has become the most popular on the web'. In a
year, companies might be offering competing user-friendly interfaces
piggy-backed on top of open archives.

My second comment has nothing to do [as you imply] with proposing changes
to quality control. It has to do with the morality of scientific publishers
taking what economists call a 'rent' from the reputation that journals have
built up over the years through the freely given labours of editors,
reviewers and contributors. Publishers can charge libraries vast sums for
journals, not because these reflect the costs of quality control, but
because they are 'must-buys'. That demand which enables publishers to
charge above cost has nothing to do with their investment or labours, but
the accommodated freely given time and efforts of scientists that have
given these journals a strong reputation. It is a thief by commercial
organizations of what came originally from the scientific community. Its
existence is a key part of the debate about shifting publishers to their
proper role as quality control service providers. They will face a major
loss of revenue: they would like others in government and even the courts
to feel sorry for them, for surely they will argue such a loss has occurred
because of 'thief'. By pointing out that the superprofits they had been
able to obtain in the past had nothing to do with them but an advantage
they had over the scientific community, they are less likely to get a
sympathetic hearing -- and more easily be eased into their quality control
service provider role.
Dr. John R. Skoyles
6 Denning Rd,
Hampstead, NW3 1SU
London, UK

In the autumn, I will be at the London School of Economics, Centre for
Philosophy of Natural and Social Science.

Check out my Golden House-Sparrow award winning homepage
Received on Mon Jan 24 2000 - 19:17:43 GMT

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