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

From: Arthur Smith <apsmith_at_APS.ORG>
Date: Mon, 12 Nov 2001 14:25:31 -0500

Stevan Harnad wrote:
> On Fri, 09 Nov 2001 Arthur Smith <> wrote:
> > According to Stevan scholarly publishing has no analogue
> Incorrect. It is refereed research (journal article) publishing
> that has no analogue.

Ok, substitute "refereed research (journal article)" in my previous
letter for "scholarly publishing". It was what I had meant.

> 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 I was not arguing based on the medium of communication. My argument
was on motivations, which seems to be at the core of any "give-away" vs.
"non-give-away" distinction no matter what the medium. The fact is that
the primary goal of essentially all authors is communication, of
thoughts, ideas, concepts, scenarios, from the author's head, to that of
the audience. Whether that happens in a journal article, a book, mass
media, through television specials, musical performances, or whatever.
We have a goal that is in many respects common. Our audience, whether
other scientists, journalists, or the general public, has a limited
quantity of time to pay attention to us, and we want to reach them.

And the other very important commonality is that most scientific
authors, just as with most "trade" authors, are relatively unknown. The
famous ones, already established, can pretty much do whatever they want
- the real question is what do those who are less well known do, how do
THEY get their important contributions out there and appreciated?

> > 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.

I didn't advocate ignoring all differences, I was trying to suggest that
starting from the common ground and TAKING ACCOUNT of what differences
there are, in a reasonable manner, was more likely to result in the
right answer.

In dealing with a new physical system it is often fruitful to treat the
new system as a perturbation on an old one about which we may know much
more. System properties can usually be expanded as a series in powers of
the degree of perturbation (difference). There are occasionally times
when this fails - for example in treating bound states, the perturbative
approach fails and you have to solve for them more directly. But you can
also tell from the perturbative side that something is going on, because
the power series diverges.

So in essence, my argument is that we can learn a lot from the
perturbative approach (with, say, trade book publishing as a reference)
to this "refereed research (journal article)" problem; Stevan claims
that that's what everybody's doing, and it's wrong because (in physical
terms), the power series diverges, there's a singularity, and the
"refereed research" give-away literature is on the other side of the
singularity and completely different. But I don't see any real proof of
this - so far things seem to be moving in directions far more parallel
than not, between book publishing and the refereed literature in the
online world. The analogies may be even more clear in the music world
(since musicians generally get far more of their income from live
performances than from "published" copies of their music), so that might
make a better reference point. Is the refereed research literature
really so "anomalous" that none of the changes in these areas can
provide any guidance?

> [...] 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.

Does it? One of the two highest impact news sites on the internet is the
New York Times, even though it (1) has advertising, (2) requires
registration and probably tracks personal use, and (3) charges for
access to older articles. Even though the first two are not financial
"tolls" for readers, they should count as something that "blocks access"
but seems not to "block impact". Any physics paper we publish that gets
cited in the New York Times gets many times more attention than just
putting it up in our own journals (and we do provide at least free
abstracts for all our papers). That, by the way, was part of what I
meant by "advertising" as applied to refereed research. And even any
physics paper that gets published in Physical Review Letters will on
average receive many more serious readers than it would from having been
posted in any other location (including the arXiv). One can argue
details via citation impact factors etc. (we publish a lot more physics
papers than any other set of refereed physics journals, so you have to
factor that in). We do have an "access toll", but it seems not to "block

We also have a free journal (on Accelerators and Beams, funded by
sponsoring labs) which seems to be doing ok, but despite our best
efforts at "advertising", just being free doesn't seem to convince
authors that it has any greater "impact".

> Moreover, the direct rewards from text-sales do not even go to refereed
> research paper authors, but only to their publishers!

Moreover, the direct expenses for these publications are not even paid
by authors anymore, but only by their publishers!

> [...]
> 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...)

So DO most authors give their books away, or do they not? If you only
define authors to include those who sell their books for money, the
answer is pretty clear... And anyway, DO most scholarly authors give
their refereed research papers away on their web sites, or do they not?

> 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 likewise the same: publicly self-archiving them online!

Great - so we have some things in common after all! And is this actually
working for them in the book world to gain impact? Does it work for
musicians who post free selections at, or via Napster? The
conclusions I've heard have generally been that the two modes (free
distribution, and distribution with "tolls") work hand-in-hand to
enhance impact, despite strong opposition by publishers. My belief is
that this is true in the refereed research literature as well... but I
think the analogies are worth a lot more analysis beyond the naive
economic ones we have heard here.

> [...]
> > 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.

Hmm, I wonder what they do think? "Denied access" is a bit too strong a
word, since articles are always available via interlibrary loan or
document delivery. But whatever the price of the journal article itself,
the much greater price generally is the cost of time and attention paid
by the
person reading; every article, every piece of communication, once it
reaches its audience, demands its attention. If a researcher's time is
worth $20/hour and he/she has to spend an hour reading and understanding
a particular paper (since abstracts are generally available free, I
assume it is full text article reading that we are talking about) then
that's a $20 "barrier"; far more than the $1.00/article that the library
may have had to pay for a journal, and probably more than most document
delivery fees as well. A good publisher, a good refereed journal, gains
that reputation by reducing these reading barriers, reducing the amount
of time/money wasted in this process, bringing the things that are
important to the forefront. And deciding which of those services are
actually worth the "tolls" asked is certainly a role for the library.

> [...]
> 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!

Is this some new economic theory, that all you have to do is remove the
price paid for something, and change nothing else, and everything is
wonderful? This is the sort of place where analogy with other media is I
believe useful. Free music sites have had to move to joint agreements
with recording companies, for legal and financial reasons, so that they
provide both free and paid content. Online trade book publishing has
experimented with quite a variety of models - personally I like the
policy at Baen books, a science fiction publisher, which provides the
first few chapters of a book for free online, and lets you then pay for
the rest of the content if you actually want it. But that doesn't seem
to be a real high-impact solution; there are also the publishers who
advertise through web site banners and the like, which probably has no
analogue in refereed journal publishing (but who knows?). The highest
impact experiment in online book publishing has probably been the online
customer reviews at A very interesting case, in the context
of peer-reviewed literature; of course for the most part the content
there is not actually available for electronic download, you still have
to get a physical book.

In short, where I believe the future lies is in a mix of free and "toll"
content, both within the "refereed research (journal article)"
literature and more broadly; I also believe we can understand this
future much better by doing a more thorough analysis of our similarities
and differences with other publication media, and of where each of those
seems to be going in the online world. I'm not proposing that I have any
final answers here, but I feel the need to disagree with Harnad's
dismissal of this line of inquiry.

> [...]
> 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.

Just because something is online free does not make it worth reading.
Publishers are and will continue to be paid for helping readers cut the
massive expenditures of their own time that is required to understand
the literature and read what is worthwhile. Free and for-fee publishing
are not in irresoluble conflict. Author self-archiving can progress as
much or as little as the authors themselves want.

> 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?...

If they are so different, I wonder why "refereed research" authors still
post so few of their articles online free? We've been at this for 3
years now in this forum, close to 10 years in others; why is it taking
so long? I think the similarities will tell us as much or more about
this issue as the differences...

Received on Mon Nov 12 2001 - 19:59:37 GMT

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