More thoughts on subversion

From: Chris Armstrong <>
Date: Mon, 19 Nov 2001 11:45:13 +0000

More thoughts on subversion

Chris Armstrong <>

I have read and, indeed heard, Stevan's Post Gutenberg Anomaly with its
selfsame nine steps to frustration and its Subversive Proposal on
several occasions. We have even had a small email discussion on the
latter to do with authority and version control (and how the poor
researcher - or his mother! - is supposed to decide which version is
the article of record, the definitive version to cite), although I do
not think my points were ever really answered by Stevan. But, be that
as it may, there is clearly an anomaly surrounding journal charging
that publishers, libraries and, to a lesser extent, authors have to
face and address.

Maybe I am too timid or stick-in-the-mud to attempt the self-archiving
route or maybe I just cannot believe that there is any point. Will such
a recourse really stop publishers in their tracks? I doubt it - there
is too much invested in the print publishing model. Certainly, I agree,
Universities are finding that they can afford fewer and fewer journal
subscriptions (and I suppose this might suggest insufficient funds to
begin and maintain an eprint archive) - this is beyond question - but,
as I have said elsewhere in these discussions, work needs to be done at
the library-publisher interface.

The gradual move to electronic journals offers a unique opportunity
that is so far being largely squandered. There were in 1999, according
to one source, over 10,000 e-journals available - over 1.2 million
issues or 21 million articles but 66% of publishers then offered free
electronic access with print subscriptions and only 47% of publishers
sold the electronic version on its own - 53% were still only bundling
it with print.

We - meaning publishers and librarians, both - seem largely unable to
move beyond the paper-based model despite waxing lyrical over added
value, access and reduced shelf-storage and vandalism. Why do journals
still have volumes and issues? Why has some enterprising publisher not
taken the electronic bull by its virtual horns and developed a
just-for-you journal that lands on my electronic desktop replete with
only and all the day's articles that will interest me? The answer I
suspect is the one that might ultimately be responsible for Stevan's
subversive proposal - they cannot come up with a pricing model that
will satisfy all parties.

Let me offer, not a subversive but a surprising, proposal. Journal
aggregators such as ingenta could, instead of bundling journals in a
way that frequently means University libraries have to subscribe to
journals they neither need or want in order to acquire those that they
do (a license that, incidentally, removes collection development
decisions from the librarians best able to take them), offer
just-for-you, personalised e-journals to academics. The SDI model is
not new, after all! The scholarly, peer-review process remains in the
hands of the journal publishers who would still be able to sell
subscriptions but an alternative revenue stream is provided for
publishers while readers are better served.

The model could largely free University libraries from their huge
journal budgets, leave in place the basis of scholarly publishing, and
provide a better, faster, more targeted service to readers. It is
radically different in approach and will exercise publishers' minds in
developing an acceptable costing and profit model. There are also other
issues to be dealt with - such as the anomalous position (in the UK, at
least) of value added tax which is levied on electronic but not print
publications, causing the bundling of print and electronic versions as
a way to avoid it. Some sort of parameters would need to be set up to
prevent a library from creating a profile so broad in scope that it
would, for one license fee, capture every article printed!

So lets not get locked into the eprint archive as being the only
solution. Publishers and libraries are two links in the same
information chain; surely it is not beyond the wit of man to come up
with an economically-viable and -acceptable delivery model?
Received on Mon Nov 19 2001 - 11:45:36 GMT

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