Re: Should Publishers Offer Free-Access Services?

From: Stevan Harnad <harnad_at_COGPRINTS.SOTON.AC.UK>
Date: Fri, 8 Jun 2001 01:08:11 +0100

Stevan Harnad recently identified six roads to free access to the
journal literature. One of these roads could be named "sales", that is,
sales by the publisher, to authors, of immediate [no delay], free
[toll-free], Web access. Publishers would sell, to those authors
willing to pay the price, complete freedom for their refereed, edited,
formatted articles. This would include the publisher posting one or
more electronic versions of the articles, toll-free, on one or more Web

As Stevan has pointed out, the principal problem with this road is that
of some 20,000 refereed journals perhaps only the four published by the
Entomological Society of America (ESA) currently offer the service.

Here are four reasons to believe that IFWA sales will remain a seldom
trodden path:

(1) All publishers fear loss of subscription revenues above all else,
and they perceive that selling IFWA may lead to universal free access
for journal articles and to the loss of all subscription revenues.

(2) Commercial publishers, who publish most of the journals, will never
sell IFWA because it would endanger the competitive advantage they gain
from high-priced library subscriptions.

(3) Most authors are evidently satisfied with the status quo in journal

(4) Authors who aren't satisfied are not interested in spending their
research funds to make things better.

Here are eight reasons to believe that IFWA sales may become a
superhighway to freely accessible journal literature:

(1) Publishers are under siege to make the electronic versions of
refereed articles more accessible--for example, by the Public Library
of Science initiative. Selling free access, at a profit, may seem the
best way to survive.

(2) Researchers increasingly want their refereed, edited, formatted
articles to be freely Web accessible. To illustrate, for the first four
years that ESA was asked to sell IFWA, few if any members seemed to
care, but by 1999, members were actively lobbying for such sales

(3) Scholarly societies that publish journals can hardly refuse to
offer their members a service that many members want and that needs no

(4) If most society-based publishers begin to offer IFWA and most of
their authors begin to buy it (as ESA authors have), commercial
publishers will be forced to offer IFWA to avoid losing many of their

(5) IFWA sales will be market-driven. Publishers need only sell at a
profit a service that many or most of their authors want (and may
demand). Authors need buy the service only if the benefits seem to
justify the price. IFWA sales (or lack thereof) will depend on the
price of the service and the value that authors and their sponsors
place on it.

(6) Authors who have traditionally bought paper reprints will realize
that switching to buying IFWA will save them the time and inconvenience
of having to store and distribute paper reprints.

(7) Authors who have been creating postprints by linking "corrigenda"
files to their previously archived preprint files will enjoy the
convenience of paying journal publishers to make their complete,
formatted articles readily accessible to all. They also will anticipate
that those interested in their articles will appreciate that the
toll-free, complete, formatted versions of the articles are easily
found. And they will be delighted when publishers make citation-links
lead to the toll-free, complete versions of their refereed articles.

(8) Initial successes with IFWA sales, may create publicity that will
make other publishers and their authors aware that such sales, at
prices fair to both seller and buyer, may lead to universal free access
with a maximum of convenience for authors and a minimum of disruption
to publishers.

It is possible, but by no means certain, that IFWA sales will speed the
transition to what Stevan has eloquently termed "all papers in all
fields, systematically interconnected, effortlessly accessible and
rationally navigable, from any researcher's desk, worldwide for free."

In keeping with (8) above, The Scientist is publishing in its 11 June
issue a commentary explaining IFWA sales illustrated by a figure that
contrasts free access and for-fee access
( Nature earlier published an
abbreviated version of the same commentary as part of its Web debate on
93Future e-access to the primary literature 94

Thomas J. Walker
Department of Entomology & Nematology
PO Box 110620 (or Natural Area Drive)
University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611-0620
E-mail: FAX: (352)392-0190
Received on Wed Jan 03 2001 - 19:17:43 GMT

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.3.0 : Fri Dec 10 2010 - 19:46:08 GMT