Re: Journal Papers vs. Books: The Direct/Indirect Income Trade-off

From: Arthur Smith <>
Date: Sat, 10 Nov 2001 12:05:17 +0000

> MODERATOR'S NOTE: As the topic of the following posting has
> been extensively discussed in this Forum before, it is being
> linked to its original thread, which was:
> "Journal Papers vs. Books: The Direct/Indirect Income Trade-off"
> and which also appeared as:
> Harnad, S., Varian, H. & Parks, R. (2000) Academic publishing in the
> online era: What Will Be For-Fee And What Will Be For-Free?
> Culture Machine 2 (Online Journal)

Well, into the fray again, for a bit at least...

Stevan persists in emphasizing the contrast between scholarly
literature and "everybody else" (see the quotes below from a recent
commentary), but I'd like to revisit it once again because I am
becoming more and more convinced that the distinction that is
continuing to be drawn here is not only inaccurate, but harmful to our
understanding and acceptance of what the future will hold for us all.

First: we reason best when we reason by analogy. According to Stevan
scholarly publishing has no analogue ("this small, anomalous ...
literature", "most of what there is to give away [other than scholarly
give-aways] ... [is] not worth getting.", "for those anomalous
authors...") and therefore nothing we know about publishing and human
communication in other contexts really has any bearing on the matter. I
agree that there are SOME differences between scholarly and "trade"
publication (more on that below), but it seems obvious that working
from the point of view of the similarities, rather than the
differences, is the best way to get a first picture of where things are
heading. Not that there is any clear answer in the new electronic
business models for the trade literature either; even more reason to
try to find the similarities and get an overall picture of the broad
range of possible paths, rather than focusing on the differences and
where each narrow path is leading now.

Second, what exactly are the similarities and differences? Stevan's
emphasis is on motivation ("give-away" vs. "for-pay"), so what is the
self-avowed motivation of a "trade" author? Here's one Q/A from an
interview with J.K. Rowling

    Q: Did you ever expect Harry Potter to be so successful?
    A: I would have been crazy to have expected what has happened
     to Harry. The most exciting moment for me, against very stiff
     competition, was when I found out Harry was going to be
     published. It was my life's ambition to see a book I had written
     on a shelf in a bookshop. Everything that has happened since
     has been extraordinary and wonderful, but the mere fact of being
     able to say I was a published author was the fulfillment of a
     dream I had had since I was a very small child.

Obviously she's made a lot of money from it, but was that the
underlying motivation? Doesn't sound like it to me. Any writer who
writes merely to make money will have trouble finding the passion to
write something people actually want to read. Maybe once you've hooked
the readers with the first book you can think about the money, but my
perception is that's not a road that most authors can follow very far
without losing their audience again. At least from what I know, "hard
cash" is not a significant motivation for the vast majority of trade

On the other hand, do scholars get no economic benefit from
publication? The phrase "publish or perish" has currency for a reason.
Are our scholars' motivations entirely pure? And most of them make
quite a bit better salary than your average trade author earns from

What about the argument that scholars want their work to be read by as
many eyes as possible, and for-fee publishing puts up a barrier they
don't want? There is certainly truth in that, but most of the barriers
to communication have nothing to do with the price. Trade authors also
want their works read by as many people as possible, and not simply
because that increases their royalty payments: the doctrine of first
sale means physical books may reach many eyes without multiple royalty
payments; libraries encourage very extensive book sharing. This may not
make publishers happy, but I cannot imagine any authors who would want
a physical copy of their book destroyed after the first reader had
finished reading it.

What are these other barriers to communication I mentioned? Reading
takes effort; readers have only finite time to spend on absorbing
information, communicated in whatever form; in the current world they
have to be highly selective. This barrier, for the author, of gaining
the reader's attention for that 1 minute, 10 minutes, or 60 minutes or
more needed to communicate the information they have carefully prepared
is very difficult to cross. How do you get the reader's attention?
Advertising, reviews, publisher reputation, context (which journal was
an article published in, which section of which book stores is a book to
be found in?), word-of-mouth recommendations, direct exchange of copies
between readers, search/lookup indexes, library copies, reports and
interviews on the radio and in newspapers, etc. are all ways, in varying
degrees, of overcoming this barrier, almost all of which apply in very
much the same way to both "give-away" and "non-give-away" literature.
The overall theory of communication is very complex - just look at the
huge number of models listed in, for example:

(select Mm in the index there).

Obviously there are vast differences between J.K. Rowling at one pole,
and your typical unknown graduate student at the other. But that
doesn't mean there are not also some interesting similarities, and
between the poles there are significant overlaps in the interests,
motivations, and barriers awaiting both give-away and non-give-away
authors. Wouldn't it be of great benefit to try to understand the whole
range of communications in the context of the new electronic media,
instead of discarding all previous experience and analogies and
starting from scratch?

Arthur P. Smith email:
Research and Development The American Physical Society
1 Research Rd. Box 9000, Ridge, NY 11961-9000 phone: +1-631-591-4072


    In "The Metaphysics of Thought (Comments on Casati:"
    Stevan Harnad wrote:

> But just as important in this context is
> another mental distinction, namely, whether or not the author of the
> mental content wishes to give that content away (the
> give-away/non-give-away distinction).
> [...]
> I personally think that the basic human reward system (hard cash) will
> not change significantly from medium to medium for books, so that's
> boring too. The exciting developments will be in what is and always
> has been the small, anomalous, but important literature of give-away
> refereed research.
> What about other give-away literature? I think the oral tradition (and
> impulsion) launched by language in our species -- and including much
> more of idle chatter, Hyde-park posturing and outright crack-pottery
> than art or science -- always yearned for digital immortality in some
> form, especially in our exhibitionistic/voyeuristic age. Hence most of
> what there is to give away on-line will not be worth getting. So let us
> not worry too much about how to sort and navigate the entire Global
> Graffiti Board all at once.

> [...]
> I think the metaphysics (and metempsychosis) of human thought is such
> that it wants to materialize and transmit itself, regardless of medium;
> and that transmitting thoughts can be both an end in itself and a means
> to an end. For most members of our species, transmitting thoughts,
> whether on-air, on-paper, or on-line, is an end in itself. For some it
> is also a way to make a living, and will continue to be so in the
> PostGutenberg Galaxy. Those who want to give away their thoughts will
> continue to do so on-line; and those who want to sell them will
> likewise continue on-line, or they will find another way to make a
> living.
> But the real revolution will be for those who had wanted to give them
> away all along, but had instead had to make the Faustian Bargain of
> allowing access to be blocked by a price-tag, because of the economics
> of the Gutenberg medium. For these anomalous authors especially, the
> on-line age will prove to be a golden one.
Received on Sat Nov 10 2001 - 12:05:46 GMT

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