Don't Conflate Self-Archiving with Self-Publishing, or Buy-In with Buy-Back

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Sat, 12 Apr 2003 15:30:20 +0100

Excerpt from:

    "Alex Halavais has posted his notes
    on the fifth Scholarly Publishing
    and Archiving on the Web symposium
    that was held last Tuesday at the University of Albany. "

Alex Halavais' notes are not a bad summary of the Albany symposium,
but there are a few major errors in them that could mislead readers.
The biggest is that the summary refers to *self-archiving* as
"self-publishing," whereas nothing could be further from the truth:

Self-archiving is the depositing of *published* papers, both before
and after peer review (preprints and postprints) into the researcher's
own university eprint archive. Calling that "self-publishing" gets it
all wrong, and omits the all-important role of peer-review, which is
the essential service that refereed-journal publishers (20,000 of them)
provide today, and will continue to provide, even when all papers are
accessible toll-free through author self-archiving. It is what
distinguishes refereed-journal publishing from vanity-press publishing.

Toll-access revenues average $2000 per paper (the sum of the contributions of
those universities that can afford the tolls for that particular journal),
and that provides access only to those would-be users whose universities
can afford those tolls. But all researchers want *all* their would-be
users (not just those whose universities can afford the tolls) to be able
to access their work, so they can read, use, cite, apply and otherwise
build upon it. That is "research impact" and it is why these authors do
and give away their research in the first place.

Researchers can prevent the needless and obsolete impact-loss caused
by toll-access barriers by simply self-archiving their own research,
before and after peer review. The journals provide only one essential
service in the online age, and that is the peer review itself. (And they
only *implement* the service, as autonomous, 3rd-party service providers
for authors and readers; the peers themselves do the actual peer review
for free -- with very few exceptions: some economics journals do pay
referees something.)

The cost of implementing peer review is at most $500 per paper. If and
when (but *only* if and when) self-archiving should reduce the market for
the journals' full toll-access product to where it can no longer cover that
essential $500 expense, universities will then already have more than enough
annual windfall savings from each one's (former) contribution to the
collective $2000 tolls per *incoming* paper to now pay the $500 per
*outgoing* paper to cover the peer review. Publishers will then cut
costs and downsize to become providers of only that one essential

But that is all just hypothetical speculation about a future "what if".
What is immediately needed now, to stop the needless and
counterproductive loss of research impact from would-be users whose
universities cannot afford the tolls -- no university can afford anywhere
near all of the 20,000 refereed journals, most can afford only a tiny
subset -- is to provide an open-access version of all research output for
those who cannot afford the toll-access version, via self-archiving.

That's the corrected version of my own talk, which recommended that
universities and research-funding bodies mandate the self-archiving of all
university refereed research output to maximize research impact and
benefits for all.

The point about peer review is that there is no reason that, in exchange
for open access, the *quality* of the peer-reviewed research that we
want to make freely accessible should be put at risk or compromised in
any way by linking it in any way with untested schemes for alternatives
to peer review. Self-archiving has been tested for over 12 years, and
it works, and works dramatically. Peer-review alternatives (like the
"guild" system, and many other such speculative proposals) have not been
tested, and are merely notions. Moreover, they are 100% unnecessary. We
can have 100% open access without tampering with peer review in any

Self-archiving is a *supplement* to the current journal system, not a
*substitute* for it. And especially not for peer-review, which is its
most important component: Demand for on-paper publication may well diminish
with time; demand may well also diminish for the publishers' proprietary PDF
page images and online add-on enhancements. But the need for peer-review
(until/unless a better alternative is found, tested, and proved to work
at least as well) is here to stay, and that will be the invariant
feature of research journal publishing even in the online era. Peer
review is medium-independent. So is the need for it.

So self-archiving is about authors' universities providing open access
to their own *peer-reviewed* (= published) research output, to maximize
its impact; not about "self-publishing" non-peer-reviewed preprints
only or any other in-house publishing schemes.

Along these same lines, the talk by Catherine Candee of U. California
Digital Libraries seems to have conflated (a) the university's self-archiving
of peer-reviewed, published research output with (b) the university's
self-publishing of its own research -- as well as with (c) the
university's becoming a conventional journal publisher (of research
from any university). Some new university "in-house" journals may indeed
be possible, but they cannot and will not replace the 20,000 autonomous
peer-reviewed journals that exist already, for two simple reasons, one
pertaining to (1) self-vetting of in-house journals for the university's
own research output, the other to (2) creating new online university
journals for other universities' research output:

(1) Universities cannot be their own peer-policemen: No university
has sufficient in-house expertise or objectivity, and self-vetting
would quickly be recognized as self-serving and unreliable. Peer
review depends on independent worldwide expertise, implemented by a
reliable, disinterested 3rd party, mediating between authors and readers,
certifying an established quality-standard). One cannot write one's own
recommendation letters.

(2) There are already 20,000 refereed journals, most of them
toll-access. We certainly don't need more toll-access journals, even if
they are cheaper because they are online-only. And creating new
open-access journals will be an uphill battle (competing for authors
with the established toll-access journals, as well as having to
charge for peer-review before any windfall toll-savings are available to
pay for it).

Universities mix up the self-archiving and self-publishing agendas
because of revenue problems: They spend huge amounts for toll-access to
journals. They (mistakenly) call this "buying back what we give away."

But this is completely incorrect! They don't bay back what they give
away. They *have* what they give away *already*, and no journal publisher
has or can have any objection to in-house uses by the author's institution
(only) of the author's own work! So universities are not spending their
serials budgets to "buy back" the research output they give away -- though
it is indeed true that they give away their own research output. They
*buy-in* -- through publishers' access-tolls -- the research output
of *other* universities, research output that those universities have
themselves likewise given away (to their journal publishers).

So the "buy-back" lament is the wrong one (though there is a rightful
lament to be made -- just not *that* one). The rightful lament is that
*access* to universities' own giveaway research by would-be users at
*other* universities is being blocked by access-tolls (which are no
longer necessary in the online era). But the remedy for that is not for
universities to go into either (1) self-publishing or (2) the toll-access
publishing business (even if their tolls are lower)! It is to self-archive
their own refereed research output (both their pre-peer-review preprints
and their post-peer-review, published postprints), thereby making it
all accessible toll-free to all would-be users. The resulting enhanced
research impact is already reward enough for that. (It means enhanced
research productivity, funding, prestige, prizes.)

But possibly -- and only possibly -- it might also lead eventually to
windfall toll-access savings on universities' overburdened periodical
toll-access budgets, if/when open-access shrinks the market for
toll-access, tipping the transition to up-front peer-review service
charges, per outgoing paper, instead of the present toll-access charges,
per incoming paper. Self-archiving is reciprocal across institutions.

[Moreover, I seriously doubt that even a system as big and important as
the University of California actually *provides* 10% of the
journal-content it buys in! (It would be very valuable if Catherine
Candee could provide the data on that.) And the fact that U of C's
own researchers are the editors of 12% of the journals it buys in, if
true -- I think that may be an overestimate too! -- is also completely
irrelevant, as those journals are independent, 3rd party journals,
not U of C in-house journals; nor should they be, if peer-review is
to continue to be an independent, expertise-based system, rather than a
local self-vetting system.]

Not just U of C, but also Michigan and Rochester, in their presentations
at the conference, seem to be conflating the important and immediate and
clearly solvable problem of research impact loss owing to access-denial
-- solved completely by self-archiving -- with various other university
revenue-generation schemes, such as the founding of new in-house journals,
profiting from new online economies. There may indeed be room for a few new
journals to add to the existing 20,000, if they can establish sufficiently
high-quality peer-review standards in their niches, but that is not the
solution to the global access-denial problem (if the new journals are
likewise toll-access); and it is still a rather risky and scarcely tested
proposition if the new university-based journals are to be open-access
journals, charging author-institutions for peer review (before the
windfall toll-cancellation savings from the existing 20,000 have had a
chance to build up to pay the peer-review costs). This is more likely
to be the stable end-game, gradually taking root only after open-access
itself has been achieved through self-archiving, not before.

So the message is: Don't mix up university self-archiving with univerity
self-publishing (or even just university publishing), don't tamper with
peer-review until/unless you have a tried and true alternative, and in
the meanwhile, don't delay with the self-archiving of your own research:
Your research impact is being needlessly lost daily.

(The URL for the free eprints archive-creating software is incorrect
in Alex Halavais's summary: It should be: )

Stevan Harnad
Received on Sat Apr 12 2003 - 15:30:20 BST

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