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

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Sun, 14 Sep 2003 05:30:37 +0100

In Open Access News
Peter Suber quotes Walt Crawford from the October issue of Cites & Insights

> WALT CRAWFORD: "If all current journal literature was replaced by
> open access 'author-fee' literature at $X per article, would that
> be an overall savings? I rarely see [this] question discussed. I
> suspect that the answer to [this] question is that if X is 500,
> there might be an overall saving --and if X is 1500, the total cost
> of scholarly article access would be higher. Given that $500 and
> $1,500 are the price points for today's most prominent experiments
> in up-front financing, that's significant."

The question has been much discussed, starting from the 1998 launch
of the American Scientist Forum on what has since come to be called
Open Access:
    "Savings from Converting to On-Line-Only: 30%- or 70%+ ?"
Other threads include:
    "The True Cost of the Essentials (Implementing Peer Review)"
    "Journal expenses and publication costs:
    (with an excellent and pertinent matchbox-cover estimate by
     David Goodman of costs and savings under various assumptions)

To cut to the quick: It all depends on what you reckon to be the essential
costs. Assuming you drop all paper-related costs, do you need to produce
a text (e.g., a PDF) at all, or can that be off-loaded onto the author
(as 95% of the text-generation already is)? Do you need to provide
archiving, or can you off-load it onto the author's institution? That
leaves only the cost of implementing peer review. $500 was the highest
estimate anyone ever made for that. (That is about 1/3 of the average
cost per paper currently being covered out of the total toll-revenue
that is being paid by those institutions that can and do pay the tolls.)

But this is all too hypothetical. What will reveal (indeed shape) what
the essentials and their costs turn out to be, empirically and
practically, will be the outcome of the competition between the authors'
self-archived open-access versions and the publisher's toll-access
versions of the same articles. Here are the two main possible outcomes:

    (1) No change. Researchers at those institutions that can afford
    to pay the tolls continue to use the toll-access version, as now,
    and researchers at institutions that cannot afford the tolls,
    use the open-access version. The cost per paper remains the same,
    and continues to be paid the old way, via access tolls.

    (2) Cancellation pressure forces cost-cutting and downsizing by
    toll-access journals: What will be cut? Paper version, archiving
    (offloaded onto Institutional Archives) and text-generation (offloaded
    onto author's word-processing). What is left? The cost of implementing
    peer review (and possibly some copy-editing, though with an online
    open-access corpus, even reference-checking can be automated and
    offloaded onto the author's software). That essential cost will be
    covered via open-access publishing (author/institution peer-reviewe
    and certification charge, possibly paid out of the institutional

My own prediction: (2), and at a cost of <<$500.

No need to commit to this in advance though -- unless you found a
pre-emptive open-access journal: then you have to make a pre-emptive
choice as to the essentials and their costs. But for everyone else,
just self-archive and then let nature take its course.

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 & 03):

Discussion can be posted to:
Received on Sun Sep 14 2003 - 05:30:37 BST

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