Re: June 27 2004: The 1994 "Subversive Proposal" at 10

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Mon, 13 Sep 2004 15:00:17 +0100

On Mon, 13 Sep 2004, [identity deleted] wrote:

> I was wondering if you knew of any good examples of publishers commenting on
> the Open Access movement in the early days (mid to late 1990s perhaps).

I alas didn't collect quotes, though there are published articles by
publishers and publisher advocates, some on the web, some rebutting my
own writings of the early and mid-nineties. Some shrewd boolean searches
should net them.

Many publishers (and non-publishers) kept making the same prima facie
points over and over. Just about all of the categories of response are
in the self-archiving FAQ's list of 31 prima facie objections I gathered
across the years:

Two points I'd make:

(1) The early nineties were still a time when the issue of online access
and what we have since come to call "open access" (OA) were confused. Online
access has since prevailed; open access is next. The early dismissals
and scepticism was not just about OA, but about online access and
storage itself, as a medium.

(2) I myself was mixing the two up initially too, but have sorted them since.

(3) The other thing I (and others) mixed up was (what has since come to
be called) OA self-archiving versus OA publishing. It was unnecessary,
and a strategic mistake on my part, to stress the OA publishing at that
early time, particularly its author-end cost-recovery model (of which I
was -- I at this point regret to say -- one of the first formulators and
proponents). In hindsight it is clear that the OA publishing model was
much further from adoption and a much longer shot than OA itself, through
self-archiving. Moreover, it is now much clearer that OA self-archiving
is not only the path to OA, but also the eventual path to OA publishing
(but only after 100% OA itself has prevailed -- through self-archiving)

So all that needless speculative talk about the OA publishing model
simply distracted from the immediately reachable goal of OA via
self-archiving. (It was provoked, though, by critics' equally speculative
prophecies of economic doom if there were OA!)

(4) In general, it was a strategic mistake to focus on publishing
or publishers *at all* early on. It is now crystal clear that OA
is really a peer-to-peer matter between researchers and researchers
(as both authors and users, not to mention as peer-reviewers!). The
librarians sounded the alert to the need for OA, without realizing it,
as a consequence of their perpetual battle with journal publishers over
prices. But then that tail (or nose) wagged the dog, and OA got embroiled
in the economic and ideological war between libraries and publishers (a
war which is merely the usual consumer/producer, supply/demand battle,
ceteris paribus). What makes OA different is precisely that the research
community (which is the true provider as well as the true consumer in
this special case) is in a position to take the matter in its own hands
(because of this dual role) -- but only via OA self-archiving, not via
OA publishing!

So whereas it is interesting for historical reasons, it is probably not
useful at this time for strategic reasons to re-activate the irrelevant
shadow-boxing there has been in the past with publishers: It is (and
always was) simply an irrelevant and time-wasting distraction from the
real OA-provision issue, which is and always was between researchers
and themselves, and no one else.

I believe publishers realized this all along, by the way: If the research
community really wanted OA for their peer-reviewed journal article output,
they could provide it themselves: There was no need to pressure publishers
to do it for them or to moralize about OA as if it were somehow
connected to the supply/demand curve's outcome for journal pricing, hence
that publishers were somehow guilty of a triple crime: over-pricing,
parasitism, *and* charging the wrong party (the user-institution instead
of the author-institution).

The OA cost-recovery model is a speculative hypothesis until it has been
tested across time and shown to be sustainable and scalable. To pressure
publishers to adopt it a-priori is not only foolish but unfair. Moreover,
there are (likewise speculative) reasons to believe that the motivational
climate and economic prospects for the OA cost-recovery model would
be very different when there was already 100% OA (from self-archiving)
compared to what they are now, when there is only 10-20% OA.

So publishers understandably resisted the pressure for converting to
OA publishing (gold). However, they did respond constructively to the
research community's increasing expression of desire for the benefits of
OA: by converting to green:

Publishers should be given due credit for that, instead of being
reviled for misunderstanding both the online medium and OA initially
(as almost everyone else did too), and for understandably resisting
the pressure (from both librarians and researchers) to pay for the
sin (of some of them) of overpricing, by adopting a risky, untested
cost-recovery model -- especially when even the research community itself
is not yet putting its motion where its mouth is, by reaching for that
OA that they purport to want and need so much, and that is already fully
within their grasp (by self-archiving their own articles).

It looks, historically, as if it will be researchers' funders and
employers that finally induce them to do the right thing for themselves
-- self-archive their own articles to make them OA -- by mandating that
they do it. Here too, the reasons will be murky, but the outcome will
be the right one. (The real reason for OA is that it is to *everyone*'s
advantage to maximize research impact: it's not just so the tax-payer
can read the health-related articles he has funded!)

> Oh, I hadn't realised that. Is there a particular reference on the web you
> can point me to where you first formulated the author-pays?

Here's one from 1995 (though it's not necessarily the first place I
wrote it! and I doubt I'm the very first or only one to have thought of or
written about this rather banal and obvious option!):

    "Publishers could adopt a revenue model that is more compatible with
    esoteric publication: The true per-page costs of publishing (well
    below 30 percent of their current costs, by my estimate) and a fair
    profit would be recovered in the form of page-charges to the author,
    paid for by publication grants or institutional subsidy. The author's
    end coverage of the costs of publishing would amount to such a small
    annual sum for even the most productive author that it would become
    a standard markup for research grants as well as academic positions
    to include the page-charge subsidy as part of the scholar/scientist's
    research funding."

Harnad, S. (1995) Electronic Scholarly Publication: Quo Vadis? Serials Review
21(1) 70-72 (Reprinted in Managing Information 2(3) 1995)

And here's another, still earlier (1991) reference (though a more
inchoate one):

    "It is a foregone conclusion that the revolution will come; my selfish
    concern is with getting it underway while I am still compos mentis
    and in a position to partake of its intellectual benefits! Allies in
    hastening its coming will be (1) research libraries, whose budgets
    are overburdened with the expenses associated with the print medium,
    (2) learned societies, whose primary motivation is to get refereed
    scholarly information disseminated to the peer community as quickly
    and fully as possible, and (3) the scholarly community itself, who
    will surely realize that it is they, not the publishers who merely
    give it the imprimatur, who are the controllers of the quality of
    the scholarly literature through peer review -- not to mention that
    they are also the creators of the literature itself. (A strategic
    pro-revolutionary alliance among libraries, learned societies and
    universities may be in order. One hopes that governments, too, will
    be far-seeing enough to realize that the benefits of subsidizing
    the intellectual highways for all scholars and scientists will far
    outweigh the costs.)"

Harnad, Stevan (1991) Post-Gutenberg Galaxy: The Fourth Revolution in the Means of
Production of Knowledge. Public-Access Computer Systems Review 2 (1): 39 - 53
(also reprinted in PACS Annual Review Volume 2 1992; and in R. D. Mason (ed.)
Computer Conferencing: The Last Word. Beach Holme Publishers, 1992; and in: M.
Strangelove & D. Kovacs: Directory of Electronic Journals, Newsletters, and
Academic Discussion Lists (A. Okerson, ed), 2nd edition. Washington, DC,
Association of Research Libraries, Office of Scientific & Academic Publishing,
1992); and in Hungarian translation in REPLIKA 1994; and in Japanese in "Research
and Development of Scholarly Information Dissemination Systems" 1994-1995.

Stevan Harnad

UNIVERSITIES: If you have adopted or plan to adopt an institutional
policy of providing Open Access to your own research article output,
please describe your policy at:

    BOAI-2 ("gold"): Publish your article in a suitable open-access
            journal whenever one exists.
    BOAI-1 ("green"): Otherwise, publish your article in a suitable
            toll-access journal and also self-archive it.

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Received on Mon Sep 13 2004 - 15:00:17 BST

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