Re: The True Cost of the Essentials (Implementing Peer Review)

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Mon, 7 Oct 2002 17:15:58 +0100

On Mon, 7 Oct 2002, Jan Velterop (BioMed Central) wrote:

> On the issue of spending and money it may be good to point out that even
> if exactly the same amount of money were to be spent on a reverse business
> model (pay for dissemination rather than for access) as is currently
> being spent on subscriptions and access licences in the conventional
> model, the benefits of a reverse model would easily be superior, as it
> would ensure full open access to anyone, anywhere, which the conventional
> model does not. The benefits would be greater for the Have-Nots than for
> the Harvards (to use Stevan Harnad's terminology), but even for the
> Harvards the benefits of open access are substantial.

Jan is quite right about this. To repeat: Even if exactly the
same amount of money were exchanging hands as in the present,
access-toll-based system, that money would still be far better spent from
the author-institution-end, as own-research output costs, rather than
from the author-institution-end, as others'-research buy-in costs --
with everyone's research output thereby becoming openly accessible,
toll-free, to everyone, thereby maximizing its accessibility, visibility,
and usage, and hence also its research impact.

But this has to be put in context too: Since when has this been true,
and why? Only since the online digital access era, and only because
on-line distribution and access is so much more powerful, productive
and ubiquitous than on-paper distribution and access could ever be.

So why don't all journals simply redirect their existing charges to the
right parties, and all problems will be solved, the open-access era
upon us, and everyone far better off then before?

Because there is not necessarily a balance between the providers of
the research output and the users of the research input. An instant
transition could mean windfall savings for some user-institutions and
sizeable new costs for some provider-institutions (the average
charge for publishing an article today being about $2000, summed across
the collective access tolls paid by those institutions who can afford

But, fortunately, that is not all there is to it, for the
online era has not only made it possible to maximize research
access/visibility/usage/impact through open-access, but it has also
made the whole process of peer-reviewed research publication much
less costly, by making many inessentials obsolete: The cost
per paper of the peer-review alone would be only $500. That
leaves a buffer of 75% to balance out any possible inequities
between net provider-institutions and net-user-institutions:

> The fact that a reverse, open access, model doesn't have to cost nearly as
> much as the conventional model (for a start, all costs and efforts to keep
> users out could be scrapped), is a welcome side-effect to all but
> conventional publishers, but not the crux of the matter, at least not for
> scientists and scholars.

I again agree: The crux of the matter for scientists and scholars
is that open access is optimal for their research, maximizing itd
access/visibility/usage/impact. But how to get there from
here? Fortunately, researchers don't have to worry about or wait
around for model-changes (or for the founding of new open-access
journals for those fields not lucky enough to have the Biomed
Central Journals already). They need only self-archive their
research output right now, in their own institutional Eprint
Archives. That will guarantee instant open-access -- leaving
the rest of the transition free to proceed at its own pace:

Stevan Harnad

NOTE: A complete archive of the ongoing discussion of providing open
access to the peer-reviewed research literature online is available at
the American Scientist September Forum (98 & 99 & 00 & 01 & 02):

Discussion can be posted to:

See also the Budapest Open Access Initiative:

the Free Online Scholarship Movement:

the OAI site:

and the free OAI institutional archiving software site:
Received on Mon Oct 07 2002 - 17:15:58 BST

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