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

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Sat, 10 Nov 2001 12:09:13 +0000

On Fri, 09 Nov 2001 Arthur Smith <> wrote:

> Stevan persists in emphasizing the contrast between scholarly
> literature and "everybody else"

No, it's not scholarly literature and "everybody else." It's refereed
research papers (all of which are author give-aways, written for
research impact, not text-sales income) and books (most of which are
not author give-aways, and are written for text-sales income, not
research impact).

> According to Stevan scholarly publishing has no analogue

Incorrect. It is refereed research (journal article) publishing
that has no analogue.

> I agree that there are SOME differences between scholarly and "trade"
> publication

That is not the distinction at issue here. The authors of scholarly
books hope for income from text-sales too (even though their hopes
are often not realized!). They do not give them away as the authors
of refereed research papers do. The give-away/non-give-away
distinction aligns itself almost exactly with refereed research
papers vs. books (whether "trade" or "scholarly").

Arthur Smith's entire response, on the analogies between trade and
scholarly publishing, is based entirely on the usual conflation between
refereed research publication and book publication.

> 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.

And it seems just as obvious that (a) it IS the similarities that
everyone is focused on (Arthur's own confusion is a direct result of
having been misled by the similarities), and that (b) the picture this
focus on similarities yields and the direction it points are utterly
confused and unilluminating. That is why it is the differences that
must be seen and understood clearly: to show why and how and where the
similarities are misleading. (And I am speaking about the real
differences now, not the trade/scholarly differences to which Arthur
misdirects his attention.)

> 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 fulfilment of a
> dream I had had since I was a very small child.

Utterly, utterly irrelevant! The fact that success takes many aspiring
book authors by surprise (and eludes many others), and the fact that
some (or even many most) book authors may initially aspire only to get
read, has no bearing whatsoever on the motivations of refereed research
paper authors, who always aspire only to get research impact, an indirect
reward, not text-sales-income, which, far from being a reward, is in
fact a BLOCKER of the indirect reward, because access tolls block
access, and whatever blocks access blocks impact.

Moreover, the direct rewards from text-sales do not even go to refereed
research paper authors, but only to their publishers! (Not that these
anomalous authors would ever want to trade their research impact for a
cut from those text-sales.)

In short, the disanalogies so outweigh the analogies that one day we
will wonder why we ever spoke of these two kinds of authors and texts
in the same breath. (Reminder: This is not about trade book authors
versus scholarly book authors, it is about book authors versus
refereed journal-paper authors; the two can even be the same author,
wearing a different hat.)

> 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
> authors.

Let's not get into the psychology of human endeavor. It is a much more
complicated topic than the refereed-research/book distinction (and
that is needlessly proving complicated enough!) I think the fallacy in
Arthur's conjecture here is the same as Hal Varian's, when this was
discussed earlier in this Forum:

The working of the human psyche is based on hope of reward. To a new
book author, being read may be reward enough initially; they may even
be happy to give all their first print run away as "comps," if only to
get it read. But -- and we are both being quack amateur psychologists
here! -- I suspect that if they were guaranteed never to make a penny
of revenue from the sale of their writing, the creative urge might just
weaken or even come to a halt in most aspiring authors.

And in any case (and here we are not speculating or psychologizing),
most book authors do NOT give their books away, even initially, even
though most of them never make much money from them (as Hal Varian
pointed out). (I am not counting here the [possibly much larger
number of] would-be "authors" who, until the on-line era, could not
afford the vanity publication that would have been required to make
their words and thoughts public and permanent: In this exhibitionistic
age, perhaps everyone thinks their musings are worthy of public notice,
perhaps even Viva Voce on Reality TV...)

And all of this is irrelevant anyway. Because those books that their
(bona fide) authors DO want to give away gratis in perpetuo, belong on
the give-away side of the give-away/non-give-away distinction just as
much as all refereed research papers do -- and the optimal solution for
them is then likewise the same: publicly self-archiving them online!

> On the other hand, do scholars get no economic benefit from
> publication? The phrase "publish or perish" has currency for a reason.

Yes, and that reason is (1) refereeing and (2) impact. Nothing whatsoever
to do with access-tolls or sales revenue.,1294,42377,00.html

Do this search in and you will retrieve all the
prior threads on the relation of publish/perish to refereeing and
impact in this Forum (this is also a good way to search the Forum's
archives in general!):

"american scientist forum publish perish impact"

> Are our scholars' motivations entirely pure? And most of them make
> quite a bit better salary than your average trade author earns from
> royalties...

This is the biggest (and most disfragrant) red herring of all, being
based on an almost willful distortion of the true line of causality
in the research reward system:

Researchers' motives are as impure as anyone else's. But the indirect
rewards they get (salaries, research funding, prestige, prizes) come
from the research impact of their refereed research papers, not from
the revenues from the journal-sales-receipts for those papers! On the
contrary, the fact that tolls are being charged to access them at all
is DIMINISHING those indirect rewards, because access-blockage means

    1.2. Distinguish income (arising from paper sales) from impact (arising
    from paper use)

> 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.

Is that so? Tell that to the majority of researchers, at the majority
of universities and research institutions, who are denied access to the
majority of the 20,000 refereed journals published annually, because
their libraries cannot afford the access tolls.

> 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.

And the counterpart of this with refereed journals? "Qu'ils bouffent
de la brioche?" (This is precisely why it verges on sophistry to keep
equating these two radically different literatures!)

> 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.

Utterly, utterly irrelevant! All these users' guides and pointers are
pointless if the paper sought is behind a financial access-barrier the
would-be user cannot afford to cross! Remove that financial firewall
and all these pointers (or rather those of them that make any sense)
are still there to point, but the paper itself is accessible, free for
all, too!

(1) advertising (nonsense for refereed research papers)
(2) review (fine -- even better if they are online and free too!)
(3) publisher/journal-name (fine)
(4) bookstore section (nonsense for refereed research papers)
(5) recommendations (fine)
(6) direct exchange (fine)
(7) indexes/search-engines (fine)
(8) library copies (useless if your library can't afford them)
(9) radio/newspaper reports (marginal for research impact, but fine)
(10) Omitted but most important of all, along with (3):
     (10a) online visibility and accessibility
     citation impact and download impact

I have just itemized these pointers from the point of view of the give-away
refereed research paper and its author. The picture would be very different for
the non-give-away book and its author (but is left as an exercise for
the reader). The point is again underscored that it makes no sense to
try to treat these two vastly different kinds of literature the same
way (and that the pertinent dichotomy is refereed journal papers vs.
books, not "trade vs. scholarly publishing").

> Obviously there are vast differences between J.K. Rowling at one pole,
> and your typical unknown graduate student at the other.

But not as vast as the difference between the work on either side of
the give-away/non-give-away divide itself.

> 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?

No. Quite the contrary. The superficial similarities are in fact blinding
us to the profound differences, and their implications. In particular, they
are slowing our progress to the optimal and inevitable outcome for the
give-away refereed research literature, which is that it can and should
and will be self-archived online free for all by its researcher-authors,
thereby maximizing its visibility, accessibility, navigability and impact,
to the eternal benefit of research and researchers.

The very same option is also open to book-authors, of course, but I
rather doubt that many will choose to take it. If they are so
similar, I wonder why?...

Stevan Harnad

NOTE: A complete archive of the ongoing discussion of providing free
access to the refereed journal literature online is available at the
American Scientist September Forum (98 & 99 & 00 & 01):

You may join the list at the amsci site.

Discussion can be posted to:
Received on Sat Nov 10 2001 - 12:11:44 GMT

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.3.0 : Fri Dec 10 2010 - 19:46:17 GMT