Re: Harvesting open-access data as commercial add-ons

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Thu, 18 Apr 2002 15:26:20 +0100

On Thu, 18 Apr 2002, Steve Hitchcock wrote:

> There is a saying in business, for those who want to try and
> divine the future, "follow the money". We want open archives, but we want
> them to be economically sustainable. The ability to make the self-archived
> peer-reviewed literature freely available to users is predicated on
> absorbing the costs of running these services. In arXiv's case it attracts
> funding because it is incredibly efficient, whether viewed in terms of
> presentation (cost per paper) or usage (cost per user). But it still costs
> something.

That is one of the many reasons why I favour distributed
instititutional archiving rather than central:

"Central vs. Distributed Archives"

Count the reasons:

(1) Distributed institutional self-archiving distributes the archiving
load and cost. At the individual university level, the cost per paper
of permanently archiving (reliably and interoperably) all its annual
research output in OAI-compliant Eprint Archives will be a negligible
part of the university's existing annual network infrastructural costs:
so small as to be not worth talking about.

(2) Distributed institutional self-archiving focusses the
costs/benefits of the self-archiving of institutional research output
on the relevant natural entity that is involved: That entity is not the
"discipline" as a whole, which is no entity at all, nor the publisher,
who is a service-provider rather than a research stake-holder, but the
researcher's own institution, the one that shares with the researcher
the benefits of research impact, and the costs of its loss, because
of toll-based access barriers.

(3) Distributed institutional self-archiving is structured exactly along
the reciprocal "golden-rule" lines that are the most natural ones for
inducing researchers to self-archive: "Give in order to receive." In
exchange for providing open access to their own research output,
institutions all gain access to one another's research output.

(4) Central archiving got the ball rolling in physics, but it is
growing too slowly even in physics, and has not generalized across
disciplines. Research institutions (i.e., universities) cover all

(5) Central archiving encourages old, proprietary ways of thinking about
this anomalous, giveaway research literature, including misleading
analogies to publishing, which also happens to be a centralized concept.

> Institutional funding support may offer more options in future, or
> commercial companies may fund services.

This is far too vague. The scenario for institutional self-archiving
and its support is clear. How (and why) commercial companies will or
would cover archiving costs is another matter.

But even apart from that, there is the question of how to get the
peer-reviewed research archived in open access archives in the first
place. Distributed institutional self-archiving has both a natural
motivation and an existing means for doing this. How do the current
re-uses that are being made of what little open-access content has been
self-archived to date (the subject, after all, of Steve Hitchcock's
posting) connect with the matter of archiving costs at all (negligible
as they are, on the distributed model)?

Note that two forms of "parasitism" are latent in all this

(i) the parasitism of self-archived peer-reviewed papers on the
peer review provided (and funded) by the journals publisher

    "Clarification of "parasitism" and copyright"

These costs are currently covered by the toll-access system
(subscription/license/pay-per-view) that still exists in parallel
with the nascent open-access system. The scenarios for the transition
to covering the essential costs in other ways, if/when it becomes
necessary, have already been discussed many times:

    "The True Cost of the Essentials (Implementing Peer Review)"

    "Distinguishing the Essentials from the Optional Add-Ons"

    "The True Cost of the Essentials"

(ii) the parasitism of commercial re-use of self-archived papers by
commercial services

Here the parasitism is in the opposite direction, but irrelevant.

> But if I were to paint a scenario
> in 10 years in which the majority of open archives were managed or owned by
> a monolithic commercial entity, you would be concerned.

And that is one of the (many) reasons I am advocating distributed
institutional self-archiving rather than central. So stop worrying.
(And why paint needless scenarios?)

> In such a case you
> can be pretty sure that if the open access model was not serving the
> business plan its future would be reconsidered.

I think it is a good policy, in general, when there is a job to be done,
and a clear way to do it, to waste as little time as possible raising
needless, far-fetched worries. We have a job to do, namely, getting
the peer-reviewed research up there, open-access.Let's do it, and
stop jousting with bugaboos of our own invention.

> The wider issue here - and I must admit, I didn't set out to address it on
> this occasion, nor via all of these lists, but have been drawn in - is not
> about "commercial-publisher-baiting" but debating the principle of who
> funds open access, and about the implications of possibly surreptitious,
> possibly not, incursions into open access archives by commercial interests.

BOAI Strategy 1, which is open-access through self-archiving, can be
implemented and funded in two ways, centrally, or distributed across the
institutions producing the research output. The only ones who need to be
drawn into questions about central archiving costs are advocates of
central archiving. (I think they will easily find adequate answers.) But
I am not an advocate of central archiving, and I have already given my
answer, at the individual university level.

Moreover, this question is premature. The immediate challenge is still
to get the content up there in the first place. Even the whole world's
entire annual peer-reviewed research output is so tiny as to make this
whole issue a bit risible. But please, let's not sit worrying about who
will pay for archiving it all in the long term when almost none of it
is archived yet at all! Get the content up there and the future will
take care of itself.

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):

Discussion can be posted to:

See also the Budapest Open Access Initiative:

and the Free Online Scholarship Movement:
Received on Thu Apr 18 2002 - 15:31:51 BST

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