Re: The DIGITAL technology and economics of scholarly communication and scientific publishing - Re: costs of publishing

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Tue, 31 Oct 2006 18:18:43 +0000

On Tue, 31 Oct 2006, Armbruster, Chris wrote:

> The WWW Galaxy heavily favours the severance of the certification of
> knowledge claims from the dissemination of research papers.

Separating peer review from access provision. So far, so good (though perhaps
it should be from *exclusive* access provision).

> Underlying this shift is the emergence of an academic cyberinfrastructure based
> on open transmission protocols and open-source software that, in turn,
> favours open content and open access.

To the extent that "knowledge claims" refers to new research findings,
reported in peer-reviewed journals, what's new is the Internet, and the
possibility of supplementing the existing ways of providing access to
peer-reviewed research (viz, journal subscriptions) with new ways (viz,
making a version freely accessible online).

> "Openness" is fundamentally
> compatible with the knowledge-based economy if market profits are made
> from nonexclusive rights.

This is a bit too general, but if you mean nonexclusive rights to provide
access, then that sounds fine (for peer-reviewed research).

> The present conflict between scholars and
> commercial publishers around "open access" is based on a misunderstanding,

The conflict is not particularly with commercial publishers alone, if we are
talking about the same conflict, because noncommercial (learned society)
publishers have been as vocal in their attempts to oppose or minimize OA as
commercial publishers have been.

    Berners-Lee, T., De Roure, D., Harnad, S. and Shadbolt, N. (2005)
    Journal publishing and author self-archiving: Peaceful Co-Existence
    and Fruitful Collaboration.

But the real obstacle is not publishers (of either kind) at all: The obstacle
is and always has been the inertia of the research community itself. (And the
remedy for that will be the extension of the publish-or-perish mandate to:

> for business models in scientific publishing that are based on the pursuit
> and enforcement of exclusive intellectual property rights will not persist
> because technological and economic conditions disfavour them strongly.

In scientific publishing? Does that include books, and textbooks? For if
it's again just journal articles, then we are back to the same, one special
case (and its not just science, but peer-reviewed scholarly journal
articles too.).

> The compatibility of open science and the knowledge-based economy may be
> enhanced if the dissemination of research articles is severed from their
> certification.

It is severed if it is the certified research that is disseminated, but if
it is uncertified research, then it is hanging by a skyhook.

> As the marginal cost of digital dissemination plummets,
> there is a case for the public funding of the electronic dissemination
> of research articles. Public funding could ensure effectively that
> dissemination is free to authors and readers - while reaping savings of
> several orders of magnitude as first copy costs in the WWW Galaxy fall
> to 1/10th or less of the cost in the Gutenberg Galaxy.

I couldn't quite follow: Certified (peer-reviewed) articles can be made
available free on the web by their authors. Yes. But "first copy costs" are a
print-run issue, and hence they are publisher matters, not author matters.

> This is, however,
> not true for the certification of knowledge, especially by peer review,
> which is likely to become more costly if it is to be of any service to
> readers and authors.

Why more costly? The peers review for free. The journals implement
the peer review, and the cost of that is covered out of subscription
revenue from selling the paper edition and the publisher's online edition.
"Non-exclusivity" merely requires that authors be able to make their own
peer-reviewed final drafts accessible free online for those who cannot
afford the publisher's version.

And if ever the institutional subscription demand for the paper edition
and the publisher's online edition should fall to unsustainable levels,
the cost of peer review can be covered out of the very same institutional
windfall savings on subscriptions. And those costs are likely to be a
lot lower than what is being spent on subscriptions now because the
hypothesis is that demand for the paper and publisher's online edition
vanishes (and with it the associated costs).

> On the assumption that the decoupling of certification and dissemination
> is desirable and likely, research articles should be disseminated with
> a nonexclusive copyright license. This does not require any changes in
> law, but merely a different contractual arrangement whereby certifiers
> (e.g. publishers, learned societies, institutional repositories and
> whatever new organisations might emerge) will not be able to claim an
> exclusive copyright.

Indeed. But we are getting a bit ahead of ourselves, because the demand
for the paper edition and the publisher's online edition have not only not
vanished, but they are paying the costs of peer review too. Whereas
what is missing is OA! So what is needed now is not decoupling of
certification and dissemination, but the self-archiving of the authors'
peer-reviewed drafts.

> Presently publishers collect monopoly rents because
> authors transfer the copyright of their papers to the publisher. If
> copyright for the article is no longer transferred exclusively, but
> licensed non-exclusively, then a competitive and efficient market for
> knowledge services will emerge.

Sixty-nine percent of journals have already given their green light to
immediate author self-archiving. For the remaining 31%, the
immediate-deposit/delayed-access mandate (plus the semi-automatic
email-eprint-request button) is the solution. Copyright retention and
nonexclusive licensing are a good idea where the author is willing and
able to negotiate them, but they are not a prerequisite for providing
free access today:

> Economic modelling of the potential impact of the open access
> dissemination of research results is under way. In a first estimate it
> is valued at roughly $2bn for the UK, $3bn for Germany, $6bn for Japan
> and $16bn for the USA ^ assuming a social return to R&D at 50% and a 5%
> increase in access and efficiency (Houghton and Sheehan 2006). This
> lends salience to the anticipation of the emergence and growth of a
> new knowledge industry around the certification of knowledge and the
> provision of services to readers and authors. This new industry will
> sit atop the open access dissemination of research articles and further
> contribute to growth and innovation.

I would say that the implications of those (and other) estimates of the
economic benefits of OA are not for the publishing industry but the research
community and the public that funds them: They do not imply that publishing
reform is the immediate priority today, but that providing OA is. And
this can be done, and will be done, by self-archiving, and by mandating

    Harnad, S., Carr, L., Brody, T. & Oppenheim, C. (2003) Mandated
    online RAE CVs Linked to University Eprint Archives: Improving
    the UK Research Assessment Exercise whilst making it cheaper and
    easier. Ariadne 35 (April 2003).

    Harnad, S. (2005) Making the case for web-based
    self-archiving. Research Money 19 (16).

    Harnad, S. (2005) Maximising the Return on UK's Public
    Investment in Research.

    Harnad, Stevan (2005) Australia Is Not Maximising the Return on
    its Research Investment. In Steele, Prof Colin, Eds. Proceedings
    National Scholarly Communications Forum 2005, Sydney,

Stevan Harnad
Received on Tue Oct 31 2006 - 18:27:04 GMT

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