Re: Other Forms of Publishing?

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Fri, 15 Jun 2001 14:59:15 +0100

On Fri, 15 Jun 2001, Bernard Lang wrote:

> sh> The motivation and justification and method for the "literature
> sh> liberation movement" applies ONLY to the author give-away
> sh> literature (chiefly, the 20,000 refereed research journals
> sh> published annually).

> sh> It does not, and should not, apply to author
> sh> royalty/fee/salary-based writings at all (books, magazine/newspaper
> sh> articles). To conflate the give-away and non-give-away literatures
> sh> is to confuse and cloud the issue completely, and to miss the
> sh> point:

> While I agree with this, I came across an interesting case.
> The author wrote a very large manual regarding all issues of Internet
> Programming ... maybe 1000 pages or more. Which was published, and is
> also available on the web.
> Then he asked to actually turn it into a free book (free as in
> freedom), allowing anyone to republish it. That, the publisher
> refused, though he had already made his profit on the book.
> The interesting part is why the author wanted that. The reason is
> very simple: Internet programming evolves very quickly .... and the
> author could not afford keeping up with it. He wanted to make the
> book free in order to encourage others to keep it up-to-date, in the
> spirit of free software. As it is now, the book is dying... a pity.

True, but this is precisely why we have to bracket the univocal case
of the no-royalty literature. There the case is clear. I, the author,
give away my text (but not of course, its authorship), and all I want --
ALL I want -- is users, readers, appliers, NOT royalty/fee from sales.

That is simply not true of an author who writes a book, has a publisher
publish it, shares the royalties, and THEN when the sales subside, wants
suddenly to make it available free instead! That case is too hybrid to
find any clearcut rule for resolving it.

Whereas in the case of the 2,000,000,000+ articles in the world's
20,000+ refereed journals, there is no such hybrid element at all. The
paper is an author give-away, from start to finish. In the Gutenberg era
(because of its true costs), it still had to be sold, to cover the
real costs (and a fair profit for the publisher). In the PostGutenberg
era the publisher is free to continue charcgng for the on-paper
version, or the publisher's on-line PDF, but no longer has any
justification whatsoever for holding the (digital) text itself hostage
to those optional products. The only essental service is the
implementation of the peer review. That costs about $200 per paper, and
could easily be paid for by authors' institutions out of 10% of their
annual windfall savings on (refereed) serials cancellations -- once this
literature has been freed by author/institution self-archiving;

> side remark:
> regarding the supposed role of publishers for proper selection of
> what ought to be published, I wish there was a law allowing me to
> return books for reimbursement whenever I let myself be abused by
> massive advertising on totally, and visibly, and obviously incompetent
> work, both in content and style. I mean that even a technically
> incompetent publisher could not have been abused.

Again, this is mixing up two literatures that must be considered
separately if any sense is to be made of all of these PostGutenberg
developments. We are NOT talking about books, but about peer reviewed
journal articles only. If anyone is at fault in inadequate quality
control in the latter case, it is the referees (who referee for free)
or the editor (who did a bad selection and mediation job for his part
of the $200 fee!).

This is not about books and the adverts puffing them, but about refereed
research, whose only "advert" is the journal's established name and
quality standards (and the author's).

Apples and Oranges. Please keep books and refereed research separate!

> I have come to trust far more the open information I can collect on
> the Internet regarding the worth of written contribution than anything
> I read in the written press.

But it's no substitute for peer review (in the case of refereed

On books (and software!): Nole contendere.

> Though this is not directly related to scientific publishing, I am
> beginning to wonder ...

The relationship is subtle and indirect. Certainly not the straight
equation implied by the comparison.

Stevan Harnad
Professor of Cognitive Science
Department of Electronics and phone: +44 23-80 592-582
             Computer Science fax: +44 23-80 592-865
University of Southampton
Highfield, Southampton
Received on Wed Jan 03 2001 - 19:17:43 GMT

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