Re: Book on future of STM publishers

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Thu, 18 Jul 2002 16:54:33 +0100 (BST)

> Fytton Rowland, Dept Information Science, Loughborough Univ, UK wrote:

> ...In some disciplines, there is a tradition
> of writing journal articles based on one's PhD research -- some of them
> perhaps published before the thesis is written -- while in other fields
> the practice is to turn one's thesis into a book. However, the thesis
> itself, in its original form as an examination document, is usually
> made publicly available in the library of its home university, and is
> indexed in various secondary services such as Dissertation Abstracts. If
> universities in future mostly have OAI-compliant servers, and theses
> are submitted in electronic as well as printed form, there seems to be
> no obstacle to each university mounting its own theses on its server
> for free worldwide access.

There is (and should be) a growing number of Open Access Eprint Archives
for University Theses and Dissertations. I append a list of Universities
that are already providing open online access to their theses in this
way at the end of this message.

> Stevan often makes the point that his concern is purely with the
> scholarly journal literature, which is given away by its authors, and
> which should be available free of charge to other scholars. He goes on
> to say that this argument does not apply to other kinds of publication
> for which authors are traditionally paid, which is the case with books,
> even scholarly books....
> So, if we are in a discipline that uses journals, free access is
> o.k.; free access to the raw thesis is also o.k.; but if the discipline
> is one that has the tradition of a book based on the thesis, then free
> access is not o.k. What do others think of this line of argument?

This interesting puzzle is certainly worth discussing. I can guess the
answer: For 99% of theses/dissertations, the optimal/inevitable outcome
is exactly the same as for 100% of the peer-reviewed research
literature: Open Access.

But for perhaps 1% of dissertations -- those from which their authors
hope to make a book that can make some money for them -- those authors
may not want to provide open access to their dissertation (beyond the
mandatory deposit in their university library, and whatever can be
attained by interlibrary loan, etc.). (I doubt this has much to do with
discipline differences: It has more to do with expectation of sellability,
and whether the author wishes to make a career in research or in writing.)

There is absolutely nothing wrong with this. I see no reason why authors
should be denied possible sales revenue if they wish it.

This topic has already been discussed in this Forum under the thread
"Journal Papers vs. Books: The Direct/Indirect Income Trade-off" and has since
been published as an article: Harnad, S., Varian, H. & Parks, R. (2000)
Academic publishing in the online era: What Will Be For-Fee And What Will
Be For-Free? Culture Machine 2

By way of summary: Hal Varian pointed out that, statistically speaking,
MOST books fail to make money for their authors. I replied that where
there's life there's hope, and that hope of sales revenue is what drives
a good deal of human creativity and productivity in certain areas. With
no hope of sales revenue, some things simply would never get written in
the first place.

Having said that, it is also true that even non-give-away authors
sometimes give away their early work in order to publicize it and to build
a readership for later work. This would certainly apply to thesis-work
too. In addition, the book version is often much more readable than the
thesis, so a give-away open-access thesis might serve as an advertisement
for the non-give-away, toll-access book version.

And finally, thesis authors can make their own decisions on the
trade-off between maximizing the research impact of their theses through
open access and maximizing their sales income from toll-access.
I doubt that many thesis authors believe they have a potential best-seller
on their hands and, on reflection, and in the context of the 99% of theses
that will be openly accessible, more and more will opt for open access.

But this is their choice. No coercion is necessary. On the contrary, any
hint of coercion will only work against the cause of open-access for the
remaining 99%

Now, the growing list of Open Access Archives for Theses and

    Virginia Tech Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Collection

    Networked Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations (NDLTD)

    Caltech Electronic Theses and Dissertations

    CCSD theses-EN-ligne


    Dissertations and other Documents of Gerhard-Mercator-University Duisburg

    Hong Kong University Theses Online

    LSU Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Archive

    MIT Theses

    OCLC Online Computer Library Center Theses and Dissertations Repository

    SLU Swedish University of Agricultural Science

    UBC Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Archive

    University of Edinburgh, Thesis and Dissertation Collection

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 Jul 18 2002 - 16:54:33 BST

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