Re: Access, Dissemination, and Peer-Review Costs

From: Peter Suber <peters_at_EARLHAM.EDU>
Date: Sat, 5 Jan 2002 14:49:19 -0500

      Thanks for your lengthy comments. Here are some replies.

At 11:26 PM 1/3/2002 +0000, Stevan Harnad wrote:
>On Wed, 2 Jan 2002, Peter Suber wrote:
> >
> > Re: Excerpts from FOS Newsletter
> >
> >
> >
> > Dissemination fees, access fees, and the double payment problem
> > First let's distinguish access fees from dissemination fees. Access fees
> > pay for access. Subscriptions and licenses are the primary examples but
> > not the only ones. There are secondary examples in micropayments and other
> > forms of pay-per-view. By definition, access fees make access unfree. So
> > if we want free online access, then we must find a way around access fees.
>[...]However, Peter's partition is not quite complete: One can indeed
>separate the costs of access and the costs of dissemination. But there
>is a third cost, the cost of quality-control (peer-review), which is
>not part of either cost, but is typically recovered through one or the
>other (S/L/P access fees or dissemination fees -- mostly the first).

      I agree that peer review is a cost, but to me it is a cost to be
covered by dissemination fees, not a cost above and beyond them.

>In addition, Peter describes the partition as if all the costs were
>essential, and hence that the same amount must be recovered one way or
>the other. This is incorrect. The access model is a PRODUCT acquisition
>model: The product is the text, and that is what the S/L/P tolls
>pay for accessing (either on-paper or on-line).

      It's true that I didn't talk about the distinction between the
essential and the inessential, and perhaps I should have. But it doesn't
follow that I treat all costs as essential, in effect denying this
distinction. But I could have been more explicit: at least during the
transition period when funds will be tight, dissemination fees should only
cover essential journal expenses. Journals may charge access fees for
inessentials if they like, provided that the basic texts are still online
free of charge, subsidized by the dissemination fees. Stevan and I might
disagree on what falls into the essential column (mark-up? hosting?
preservation?) but that's another conversation.

>But there is an alternative to this if we consider only the on-line
>text (as we should): The on-line text is (1) an OUTGOING product (and a
>give-away one, at that), from the author (more accurately, from the
>author-institution), rather than (2) an INCOMING product, to the
>author-institution, as on the S/L/P access model. Let us call the model
>in which the outgoing product is free (1) a "service" model, where the
>service purchased is quality-control (peer review), and it is purchased
>by the author-institution, as a 3rd party evaluation, to inspect,
>improve and certify the quality of its (give-away) outgoing product:
>its (peer-reviewed) research papers.
>What about dissemination then? On an outgoing, service-based model, the
>(free) product-provider-institution pays for the quality-control
>service and provides the "dissemination" too. But what does this
>dissemination amount to? Nothing more that the Web-archiving of the
>quality-controlled product, freely accessible to all!
>The token that has to drop in our minds if we are to understand this
>PostGutenberg reality is that institutional self-archiving DISTRIBUTES
>the "dissemination" burden across provider institutions by covering it
>for each outgoing article AT SOURCE, instead of bundling products
>willy-nilly from disparate institutions and trying to "disseminate"
>them all jointly as a 3rd party venture, as Gutenberg journals did.
>That 3rd-party bundling was necessitated by the on-paper
>dissemination-medium. But the PostGutenberg (on-line)
>dissemination-medium no longer requires it at all! Gutenberg
>dissemination, if you like, was analog and dynamic. It required
>physically distributing a physical object worldwide. PostGutenberg
>dissemination is digital and "static": The provider need merely archive
>the text on the Web. Search engines, harvesters, and user downloading
>take care of the rest (provided the text is made interoperable, hence
>harvestable, through OAI-compliance).

      It's confusing to see all this in a reply to my analysis as if I
didn't fully agree. I do.

>So it is misleading to speak of access costs versus dissemination costs.
>Dissemination costs shrink to almost zero (the archiving cost per
>article is virtually zero) if the "dissemination" is done at source,
>by the provider-institution (i.e., the researcher's own university),
>leaving only the essential quality-control cost (per article) to be
>paid for -- likewise by the provider-institution.

      If we limit our discussion to self-archiving, then it's true that
dissemination costs are almost zero, which of course is one of the primary
arguments for self-archiving. But I was thinking of FOS journals, not just
self-archiving. They have legitimate expenses (i.e. for "essentials"
including peer review) that are somewhat above zero. However, I don't want
to be seen as insisting that the costs are high; they are not. The
dissemination costs of an FOS journal are very much lower than (1)
dissemination costs for a journal that wants to block access to some
readers and (2) access fees for priced literature.

>Nor is this apparent double-dipping the unjustified burden to the
>long-suffering provider institution (which is already providing the
>research for free, and always has been!) that is sounds like on first
>hearing! For the provider-institution's annual windfall savings from
>the huge and needless expenditures for S/L/P access tolls (once they no
>longer need to be paid, because all costs have been covered at source)
>will be more than enough to cover the much smaller quality-control (and
>virtually-zero "dissemination) costs (at source)!

      I agree, of course, that the investment represented by the double
payment will be amply repaid after the transition period has passed, and
offered my own argument for this conclusion. My point was that the double
payment is nevertheless a deterrent, which therefore requires us to find
strategies to help universities get through the transition period.

> > Dissemination fees pay for dissemination (publication, distribution) rather
> > than access. If they pay the full cost of dissemination, then the provider
> > has completely covered its costs and can offer access free of charge. So
> > dissemination fees solve the problem of free online access, if we can find
> > the money to pay them.
>True, but, in light of the above, this is an over-simplification,
>omitting the most important details of the actual quid-pro-quo
>involved: what is paid for? why? and by whom? separate answers are
>needed for the the Gutenberg and the PostGutenberg medium. And what
>remains essential (peer review) and what (like paper, or the
>publisher's PDF) becomes merely optional, PostGutenberg?

      As I said, I didn't use this piece to discuss what counts as
essential. But if we understand that dissemination fees only apply to
disseminating the essential, then there is no over-simplification.

> > Who will pay dissemination fees? There many potential sources and in the
> > best future many different funding models might co-exist. Authors might
> > pay dissemination fees,
>On the face of it, this sounds like adding insult to injury! Authors
>already give away their refereed research (to publishers as well as to
>all users) for free: Should they now have to PAY for that privilege?

      I made it very clear that I don't equate dissemination fees with
author fees and that I don't support author fees.

>But of course, once we realize that the PostGutenberg "dissemination"
>fees per peer-reviewed online article are almost zero, this question
>becomes trivial. The nontrivial question is "Who will pay the
>peer-review service fees?" (which are likely to be between $200 and
>$500 per article)?
>There are several possible candidates, but the poor author certainly
>should not be one of them! As we are contemplating here a system in
>which there are no longer any S/L/P access tolls, those who are no
>longer paying those access tolls are now the beneficiaries of (their
>portions) of the collective institutional windfall savings of $2000 -
>$5000 per article (that is the average total amount that those of the
>planet's institutions that can afford it, currently pay for their
>access in S/L/P tolls, if you add all their contributions together, per
>Who are making those windfall savings once there are no more S/L/P
>tolls? The erstwhile payers of those annual S/L/P tolls were of course
>the authors' institutions! Hence it would seem to make the most sense
>that they should be the ones to redirect a small portion of their
>annual windfall savings (10-30%) on their now-obsolete purchases of
>peer-reviewed journal articles from authors at other institutions, paid
>for as incoming products, to pay instead for the peer-review service on
>their own authors outgoing articles.
> > and so might their employers (universities and
> > labs) or their funders (foundations and governments).
>Authors' employers (institutions) are already subsidizing the
>dissemination of their research by buying it (and everyone else's
>research) back through their annual library serials budget. (This
>"buy-back" scenario is often evoked by libraries, tearfully, but
>without noticing the critical fact that it is mostly not their OWN
>institution's research they are buying "back," but one another's!)
>Hence the 100% savings on this annual S/L/P "buy-back" look like the
>most natural pot from which to draw the smaller (10-30%) costs of the
>up-front "buy-out" of the peer-review costs for each institution's
>own outgoing research.

      Yes, but this ignores the temporal sequence problem, which I was
trying to point out. Libraries won't realize this savings in the
short-term, but only in the long-term. So in the short term, dissemination
fees for new FOS journals will require funds above and beyond the current
budget for journal access fees.

>The other funders of the research -- when there is indeed a research
>grant, for it is not clear what proportion of the annual [perhaps] 2-4
>million articles published in the planet's 20,000 peer-reviewed
>journals is actually supported by a research grant -- are indeed the
>research foundation and government grants (from which the institution
>is often also a receiver of overhead costs).

      Agreed. In my piece on the same subject in FOSN for 9/6/01, I made a
similar point. Foundations are a natural source for dissemination fees
--but only for funded research. Far more research in the natural sciences
is funded, for example, than in the humanities.

> > For me one the
> > most hopeful possibility is journal endowments. If a journal is endowed
> > and can pay its dissemination expenses from the interest on its endowment,
> > then it needn't hustle funds from any source ever again, creating a very
> > stable, long-term solution. Since dissemination costs for online journals
> > are low, the needed endowments are correspondingly low.
>Yes, but where are those journal endowments (for 20,000 peer reviewed
>journals worldwide, mind!) to come from?

      Of course I was only listing possible, not actual, sources of
funds. Endowments are at the top of my list of possibilities because they
provide the most stable, long-term solution. When we've imagined very
satisfying solutions to problems, then we can get to work trying to make
them happen.

> > If there are many potential sources of funds to pay dissemination fees,
> > then we shouldn't assume that authors must pay. I've argued against author
> > fees in the past (FOSN for 9/6/01), but we shouldn't make the mistake of
> > thinking that the objections to author fees apply to every kind of
> > dissemination fee.
>First, the "dissemination fee" is a red herring, as the dissemination
>costs per peer-reviewed article are nearly zero, thanks to the Web.
>It is the $200-$500 peer-review service costs per article that need to
>be covered, and the only natural source for that (the only one that
>does not envision redirecting committed funds from elsewhere) is the
>prospect of a portion of the windfall savings (if and when they occur!)
>-- from the $2000-$5000 per-article currently paid collectively by all
>subscribing institutions as S/L/P access-tolls for each incoming
>article -- at each individual institution being redirected to cover the
>peer review costs for its own outgoing articles.

      I agree that this is a very natural source of funds. But as I
pointed out, this is only a long-term solution which doesn't help the
short-term need. The problem is not the adequacy of the long-term solution
but helping institutions handle the transition.

> > BMC does not depend on authors to pay its processing fees, although it once
> > called these fees "author charges"
> > ( Its latest thinking
> > emphasizes universities. By offering to waive processing fees for authors
> > employed by universities with institutional BMC memberships, BMC is
> > appealing to universities to see the economy of paying small processing
> > fees for free online journals rather than paying large subscription
> > fees. Despite this, I'm sure BMC would be delighted if foundations made it
> > a practice to include funds for article processing fees in every research
> > grant.
>Alas, charging service fees for outgoing articles now, before
>institutions have the S/L/P savings to pay them out of, may be
>premature (although perhaps some foundations will be willing to tide
>them over for a while, as an investment in the transition toward free
>online access).
>But to cast these charges as "dissemination" fees rather than the
>peer-review fees that they really are would be to perpetuate the Gutenberg
>practise of wrapping the optional add-ons in with the essentials:
>Archiving and dissemination are trivial, and can be done much more
>cheaply by the institutions themselves, on a distributed basis, without
>paying journals any more money (no double payment). It is only the peer
>review service costs that need to be covered. (That may require some
>further downsizing by free-access journals such as BMC: It is not enough
>to become online-only. The archiving/dissemination may be best left to
>the distributed provider-institutions, if it entails larger costs when
>covered instead by the publisher.

      As I said, I regard peer review costs as part of dissemination costs;
to pay the full costs of dissemination is to pay for peer review. If this
perpetuates Gutenberg thinking or confuses the essential with the
inessential, then I have to hear more on why this is so.

> > But let's focus on the pitch to universities. It's true that universities
> > would save significantly if they paid for journals with up-front
> > dissemination fees (subsidizing their authors) rather than back-end access
> > fees (subsidizing their libraries). However, this savings will only
> > materialize in the long run, after priced-access journals have been driven
> > out of the field by competition with free-access journals. Until then,
> > universities will have to pay twice, first in processing (dissemination)
> > fees and then in subscription (access) fees. The problem facing BMC is to
> > find a way to help institutions get past the short term loss to the long
> > term gain.
>Exactly. So tide-over subsidy may be the only hope for new start-up
>online-only free-access journals like BMC (while self-archiving subverts
>the rest of the system until either the institutional windfall savings become
>available or free online access becomes the norm for all). I am afraid
>all this means is that the alternative-journals route to free-access
>faces certain financial obstacles that the self-archiving route to the
>same goal does not.

      Yes. I was trying to identify a problem with the launch and support
of FOS journals. It's a problem I hope we can solve, but in any case it
does not arise for self-archiving.

> > So insofar as FOS is embodied in journals, dissemination fees are
> > the long-term solution. But since traditional journals charging access
> > fees will not disappear immediately, and since no university will want to
> > cancel all its subscriptions to them immediately, there will be a
> > transition period in which universities face a daunting double payment
> > --first, for the desirable new journals representing the future, and
> > second, for the important existing journals.
>Again, there is the implicit assumption here that the future we desire -- all
>20,000 peer-reviewed full-text journals accessible online for free for
>all -- requires a transition to new journals, rather than freeing
>access to the existing journals! The new-journals route is the one that
>entails the problem of double-payment. [...]

      No, I don't assume that we must launch new journals rather than free
access to existing journals. At this point in the exposition I'm examining
the problems of launching new journals. Below I explicitly say that
freeing access to existing journals ("converting" journals) is one
attractive solution to the problem.

> > First note that there is only a double payment here because (during the
> > transition period) universities will have reason to support two sets of
> > journals when it now supports only one, not because universities would ever
> > pay twice for the same journal. When a university pays dissemination fees
> > through its authors, it would support journals that provide free online
> > access. When it pays access fees through its library, it would support
> > traditional journals that limit access to paying subscribers. The new
> > dissemination fees must come out of a budget already strained to cover
> > access fees.
>To put it another way: Their S/L/P budget currently only pays for that
>small subset of the annual 20,000 that they can afford to buy in. If
>that same money could buy in all 20,000, that would be all the better.
>If the 20,000 were accessible without having to be bought in, and could
>be had by simply redirecting each institution's total current S/L/P
>expenditures to its own annual outgoing papers -- and perhaps even
>saving 70% or more -- all the better. But paying out MORE money now, in
>order to have "free" access to a few more (new) journals just does not
>seem like a very inviting proposition...

      That's the problem.

> > If all universities simultaneously agreed to pay processing fees through
> > their authors, and stop paying subscription fees through their libraries,
> > then the funding paradigm would shift as quickly as institutional inertia
> > allows.
>Alas it would not. Instead, it would lead to a rather confusing
>cost-redirection problem, because paying per-outgoing-article
>per-journal is not the same as paying S/L/P per incoming
>article/journal! The payment is not for the same product, even though
>the consumer (the institution) is the same. Earlham might subscribe to,
>say, 2000 of the world's 20,000 journals, paying, let's say, E dollars
>annually. Now how do we switch from paying for those 2000 annual
>products to paying for outgoing Earlham articles? First, do those
>submissions go to the same journals? If the two are not identical (and
>not simultaneously duplicated at all the other institutions that are
>currently subscribing to and submitting to those same journals) then we
>simply have a rather complicated coordination and redirection problem.

      This is why I said "all" universities. If all the institutions that
employed publishing researchers paid the dissemination fees for their
employees' research articles, then all research literature from that point
forward would be funded by dissemination fees and could be made available
to readers free of charge. Clearly this would not be the case if only some
universities joined the movement.

> > Of course, this won't happen and BMC isn't counting on it to
> > happen. But because this won't happen, the BMC strategy faces a classic
> > freeloader problem. If affluent and far-seeing universities A, B, and C,
> > join the revolution and start paying dissemination fees, then less affluent
> > or less far-seeing universities D, E, and F will have reason to benefit
> > from the ABC investment without joining it.
> > Another way to put this is that the strategy faces a prisoner's
> > dilemma. Universities will have a motive to defect against cooperators
> > (freeload on early adopters and lengthen the transition period),
> > cooperators will be vulnerable to defectors (early adopters will subsidize
> > freeloaders and pay double payments for a longer period), and yet mutual
> > cooperators will be best off (by shortening the transition to single
> > payments).
>Correct, so why are we even contemplating it, instead of doing and
>promoting something doable that does not face this dilemma?

      We are contemplating it so that we understand the problems facing the
launch of a new generation of FOS journals. We needn't launch a new
generation of FOS journals in order to have FOS, of course; but it would be
desirable to do so if we could only solve the (now understood) problems
they face.

> > Perhaps the simplest way to put the dilemma is that all institutions may
> > prefer low dissemination fees to high access fees (partly to save money and
> > partly to get free access), but none wants to adopt this model first. All
> > want to wait until enough others have adopted it to make double payments
> > unnecessary. This pattern looks familiar. There are many other situations
> > in which everyone wants to make a certain choice but no one wants to go
> > first. For example, all merchants in a town may want a day of rest (say,
> > on Sundays), but the first to close on Sundays will lose customers to those
> > who do not. Or, all the states in the U.S. may want a relief fund for the
> > poor, but the first to raise taxes first in order to provide one will lose
> > businesses, hence taxes, to those that do not.
>It is more complicated, for even in prisoner's-dilemma form, the
>best outcome can only be redirection of 100% of S/L/P, not downsizing
>to the essentials. But if we await the benign resolution of a prisoner's
>dilemma here, we will be waiting a long, long time! Institutional
>self-archiving has the advantage of being free of these restraining
>trade-offs and leading naturally and directly to the optimal outcome,
>now, with no prisoner's dilemma to solve first!

      These comments would make more sense if I were arguing that
self-archiving should be put on the back burner while we try to launch a
new generation of FOS journals. But I'm not. I'm examining the problems
that face the launch of new FOS journals, problems that don't arise for
self-archiving. Of course we should pursue self-archiving. But in
parallel, if we can, we should try to solve the problems facing new FOS
journals so we can have them too.

> > Finally, if only to show that there are many paths to FOS, remember that we
> > can have FOS without journals. Peer review is essential for reliable
> > scholarship, and journals traditionally provide peer review, but journals
> > are not essential for providing peer review. There are many other
> > conceivable ways to do so, especially in an era interactive digital
> > networks. If we get peer review without journals, then self-archiving can
> > give us free online access to the peer-reviewed literature at essentially
> > no cost beyond the network infrastructure already present at every
> > university --plus the cost, if any, of the peer review service provider.
>Unfortunately, there are some misleading assumptions here too: A
>journal, medium-independently (i.e., independently of whether it is
>on-paper, on-line, or what have you) IS just a peer-review service
>provider and certifier! Speculations about whether we can retain
>peer-review but dispense with "journals" become incoherent once
>we think of journals as being online-only!

      I don't follow this. It's precisely because peer review is a service
that it is separable from what we now call journals. If we *define*
"journal" as the provider of this service, then you're right of course, but
only because of the way you define "journal". I agree, by the way, that an
online-only journal is very little more than a peer-review provider. But a
non-journal peer review provider could, for example, provide an imprimatur
or endorsement, which could then be used by a self-archiving author.

> > The double payment problem is a real one, but two conclusions give grounds
> > for hope. First, it can be solved by any of several strategies, including
> > coordinated action, external funding, and journal conversion. Second, it
> > can be bypassed to the extent that dissemination fees are paid by anyone
> > other than the libraries and universities that now pay access fees.
>The double-payment problem is an artifact of the alternative-journals
>route to free access. It can be bypassed either by finding tide-over
>subsidies for all or some or most of the 20,000 established journals or
>their new successors, in exchange for free online access, or it can be
>bypassed by institutional self-archiving.


> > The economics of FOS are easy compared to the economics of the
> > transition. But the transition doesn't have or need to have a single,
> > optimal strategy. Let it be a patchwork of makeshifts. If different
> > disciplines, nations, or decades have different resources and constraints,
> > let local experimentation adapt these general strategies locally.
>Let's hope it won't be another decade!
>Stevan Harnad

      Yes! One solution to the problem (self-archiving) is ready to hand
and essentially costless. So let's pursue it immediately. Another
attractive solution (new FOS journals) faces certain problems, with a
limited number of solutions, which I've to identify. While we pursue
self-archiving, can we also make progress on solving the problems that face
new FOS journals? Here's hoping.


Peter Suber, Professor of Philosophy
Earlham College, Richmond, Indiana, 47374

Editor, The Free Online Scholarship Newsletter
Received on Sat Jan 05 2002 - 20:30:52 GMT

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.3.0 : Fri Dec 10 2010 - 19:46:22 GMT