Re: Should Publishers Offer Free-Access Services?

From: Thomas J. Walker <tjw_at_GNV.IFAS.UFL.EDU>
Date: Mon, 6 Nov 2000 17:17:16 -0500

In a 15 Sep posting (copied below), I reported that, in January 2000, the
Entomological Society of America (ESA) initiated a new service: for 75% of
the price of 100 paper reprints, authors could have unlimited use of the
PDF files of the archived version of their articles and ESA would provide
immediate free Web access (IFWA) by making the articles freely accessible
on its server.

During the first six months, only 14% of authors in ESA's four journals
bought the service. For the Jul-Aug issues, sales increased to 35%. This
posting is to report that 41% of authors bought IFWA for the Sep-Oct issues.

Many authors like the service and ESA is profiting from offering it.

Would anyone care to suggest if other scientific societies will start
offering (at a fair price) what all of their authors would like to have
[IFWA]? [or has some other society already started?]


Copy of 15 Sep 2000 posting:

In an earlier posting, I explained how the transition to universal free
  access to journal articles could become market-driven if publishers would
  only sell Immediate Free Web Access (IFWA) to authors who want it. The
  publishers would deliver IFWA by posting freely accessible PDF files of
  articles concurrent with publication. The price of this service would be
  very low at first, but would increase as paper copies on library shelves
  (and site licenses to electronic versions) became superfluous. Publishers
  would replace revenues from libraries with revenues from authors and their
  supporting institutions, but only to the extent that authors and their
  institutions wanted this to happen. (See "An IFWA transition" in the
  archives of this forum at See also

  Later I reported that the Entomological Society of America (ESA) was
  offering IFWA to its authors for 75% of the cost of 100 paper reprints.
  . (See "Should Publishers Offer Free-Access Services?" at

  Here I report that the initial results of selling IFWA suggest that the
  transition to universal free access may indeed be speeded and smoothed by
  such sales.

  First some background: ESA, like many other scientific societies, partly
  depends on revenues from its journals to pay for other member
  services. Because of this, and because publishing high-quality refereed
  journals is expensive, ESA has been reluctant to provide free Web access to
  the articles in its journals. For example, in 1997, when ESA began to
  offer its authors "PDF reprints," it chose to sell them by the download and
  to charge the same price for downloads as for traditional reprints. [PDF
  reprints were created by making PDF files of the articles and posting the
  files on ESA's server with a counter to track the number of times the files
  were downloaded.] In 1998, ESA sold PDF reprints for 8% of the 690
  articles published in its four principal journals. In 1999, sales dropped
  to 5% of 618 articles. Evidently, most authors did not think that
  counter-limited PDF reprints were worth the price that ESA was charging.

  In December 1999, ESA's Governing Board voted to sell IFWA in the form of
  "unlimited PDF reprints" and set the price for that service at 75% of the
  price of 100 paper reprints. For example, for $90, the PDF file of a
  7-page article would be immediately freely available on the Web and could
  be downloaded without limits. Furthermore the author could post the PDF
  file of the article on any server and could print copies of the articles
  from the PDF file to satisfy needs for paper reprints. During the first
  six months (Jan. to June), authors bought IFWA for 14% of the articles
  published in the society's four journals [58 of 405 articles]. During July
  and August 2000 (the most recent bimonthly issues), authors bought IFWA for
  35% of the articles (44 of 127). This rapid increase in the sale of
  unlimited free electronic access to articles suggests that ESA's authors
  consider the current price a fair one.

  Previous sales of paper reprints suggest why unlimited PDF reprints are
  selling well. More than 90% of ESA authors have traditionally bought at
  least 100 paper reprints of their articles. ESA authors who are willing to
  forego "official" reprints can save money. Authors who don't buy paper
  reprints can print near equivalents from the freely accessible PDF files
  and can avoid storing paper reprints and fulfilling reprint requests by
  mail. [Currently about 60% of those who buy IFWA buy paper reprints as
  well, but I predict that such purchases will quickly decline.]

  As far as I can determine, high rates of purchase of paper reprints are
  characteristic of all journals in the biological and biomedical
  sciences. Therefore, I would expect members of societies in those areas to
  lobby for their societies to offer IFWA at a price no greater than 100
  paper reprints. Because the societies as well as their authors would
  benefit from such sales, their leaders should have no basis for refusing to
  initiate such sales.

  Andrew Olyzko has recently pointed out that growth rates rather than
  absolute numbers are the best indicators of the e-publication future ("The
  rapid evolution of scholarly communication" at On this basis, sales of
  IFWA may be more important in the transition to universal free access than
  many have previously thought.

  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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