Re: Online Self-Archiving: Distinguishing the Optimal from the Optional

From: Arthur P. Smith <>
Date: Wed, 4 Dec 2002 02:29:08 +0000

On the "Faustian Grip" article
- basically this boils down to the way a free market works - people
do what's in their self-interest, there's a division of labor, and
money/resources change hands. While there are various "optimal" solutions
a central authority could propose, the market generally evolves to find
a pretty good solution everybody should be happy with.
Now there are some monopolistic practices and profits being extracted by
the for-profit companies - on the other hand, on average, overall total
cost to (all) readers per published article for commercial journals is
not that much more than for non-profit publishers, and eliminating the
commercial publishers would do little more than the one-time benefit
from switching to entirely electronic publishing.

Nevertheless, librarians have been unhappy, though perhaps not as much
as we have liked to characterize here (I recently attended the Charleston
conference of acquisitions librarians).
Clearly as Robert states, the volume and total cost of material libraries
should subscribe to has been increasing faster than their budgets. Why
exactly is this?

Total cost per published article (the $500 - $4000 number we have
heard around here) is not what has changed. What is different
is the total number of scholarly articles to acquire. From what
I've heard (second-hand), individual scientists/scholars are publishing no
more now than they did 30 years ago, when multiple-author papers are
allocated as fractions rather than whole. So the total effect
seems to be attributable purely to a rise in the number of researchers.

Now from our own numbers, article counts from the United States
(in physics) have been stable since the early 1990's, matching
the stablization of research funding (increasing about with inflation).
The rise in our article counts recently is purely from overseas
researchers, from Western Europe and Asia.

If this is generally true, then the reason for the library serials
crisis is a historically unique situation: the rise last century in
the level of total science funding in the US, and the continuing rise
in research activity levels around the rest of the world. Given that the
publication costs should also start to be better compensated by world-wide
subscriptions (or whatever other funding model pays for it) the cost
for publishing world-wide research which has fallen disproportionately
on US libraries, should start being shared more equitably, and the
crisis should come to an end. Electronic distribution helps a lot here
by allowing more research to be disseminated to more institutions at a
cost that rises linearly, rather than as the square (as it had to be in
the past) of total world-wide research activity.

Now, this is based on some evidence that I have heard only second-hand
- I would be interested in seeing if there is more wide-spread support
for this explanation of the problem...

                        Arthur Smith (
Received on Wed Dec 04 2002 - 02:29:08 GMT

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