A Role for SPARC in Freeing the Refereed Literature

From: Ken Frazier <kfrazier_at_library.wisc.edu>
Date: Mon, 19 Jun 2000 20:07:48 +0100

I am taking this opportunity to offer a personal response to Stevan
Harnad's recommendations regarding the future direction of SPARC. My
comments don't necessarily represent the views of the SPARC membership,
but I feel that I have some knowledge about the origin and history of

For example, it is relevant, I think, that Stevan Harnad has never
agreed with the fundamental mission and strategy of SPARC. From the
beginning, SPARC has sought to create partnerships with publishers to
help create a more financially sustainable system of scholarly
communication. Then as now, we consider non-profit and many for-profit
publishers to be potential allies. We support, among other things, new
technological models for disseminating knowledge that offer cost
savings, alternative economic schemes to pay for editing and quality
control of journal articles, and publishing systems that give authors
and the academic community great control over their intellectual

Stevan Harnad, on the other hand, favors the complete transformation of
scholarly communication, one in which publishing, as we know it, would
be "eliminated."
He has often referred to such a system as "optimal and inevitable."
With equal frequency, he has described the current publishing system as
a "house of cards" that is on the brink of collapse. He may be right
about the outcome. He has certainly been wrong about the timing.

I think that any real solution to the crisis in scholarly communication
will require the cooperation of publishers. In my opinion, there are
more good guys than bad guys in publishing. Much of publishing is not
broken and does not need to be fixed. Indeed, it is an established fact
that many learned societies and professional associations continue to
provide academe with excellent information resources at bargain prices.
Such publishers add substantial value to scholarly work and receive
modest compensation in return for their contribution to the diffusion of
knowledge. Some of them are even using their resources to create more
efficient and timely distribution systems for research and scholarship.

While it may turn out that all scholarly publishing will someday be
displaced by radically different systems of scholarly communication,
there isn't much evidence that it is happening yet. On the contrary,
the market value of authenticated knowledge is increasing. Information
consumers seem to be ready and willing to pay for quality and

SPARC's strategy is to use market forces to improve scholarly
communication. Any workable system will require the work of skilled
professionals and feature costs that must be rationally distributed.
SPARC isn't opposed to the competitive action of the marketplace
(ultimately that will work to our benefit), but to the consolidation and
monopolization of the commercial publishing industry to the detriment of
the academic community.

Finally, I would argue that SPARC is making progress. Commercial
publishers have moderated their price increases (for the time being),
producing great savings for libraries and universities. Working in
partnership with others, SPARC has succeeded in raising the profile of
scholarly communication in the academic community. At my university and
others, the academic culture is slowly but perceptibly changing. And, I
dare to hope, authors and editors are prepared to take greater
responsibility for management of the intellectual property that they

SPARC is fair game for criticism. Time may prove that our efforts were
too slow, too little, or too late. We have always recognized that we
may fail. But from the outset, SPARC was committed to creating a
serious, credible, collective effort to improve scholarly communication
in the sciences. We've delivered on that promise to our members.

Ken Frazier, chair
SPARC Steering Committee
Received on Mon Jan 24 2000 - 19:17:43 GMT

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