Re: Journal publishing and author self-archiving: Peaceful Co-Existence and Fruitful Collaboration

From: Sandy Thatcher <>
Date: Thu, 14 Dec 2006 18:27:56 EST

Thank you for the welcome, Stevan, and for your helpful and
illuminating responses to various of my comments.

I think that, while our long-range goals are similar, our ideas
about how to get there differ. In particular, we are operating
with different models of change. Yours is a linear model,
predicting gradual change to which the various players will be
able to adjust over time, thus making the transition relatively
smooth for everyone involved, with minimal harm (expect, perhaps,
to a few major STM publishers) and many benefits accruing
especially to researchers. I have a quite different model in
mind, which is nonlinear and predicts a point at which major
disruption to the system could occur, with at least very harmful
short-term consequences.

You are no doubt familiar with the differences in biological
theory between standard evolution and what has come to be known
as "punctuated equilibrium." The first is linear, the second
nonlinear. I'm predicting the latter type of change, whereas you
are predicting the former.

But I really draw my model from what I referred to before as the
"tipping phenomenon." Probably you know that this originated in
economic and sociological theory as a way of understanding the
mass exodus of white urban dwellers ("white flight") once an
urban neighborhood had reached the "tipping point" in numbers of
blacks entering that area (between 10 and 20%, the research
showed). That is a nonlinear effect, which cannot readily be
predicted by looking for "evidence" of the kind you are seeking
regarding the cancellation of subscriptions as OA alternatives
proliferate. And it is not necessarily based on any rational
assessment of potential harm. Was the white urban dwellers'
belief in the harm that would come from the encroaching black
population really "rational," or in fact did this not turn out to
be a self-fulfilling prophecy-the harm ultimately coming from the
effects of "white flight" rather than from any direct impact of
black behavior?

So we get back to the point that Joe Esposito raised about
beliefs being what is really important here, not any "hard"
evidence of actual cancellations. My suggestion is that a
mandated 6-month embargo through FRPAA-type legislation might
turn out to be a real "tipping point," which would lead some
major publishers to abandon the field of STM journal publishing
in the belief (however erroneous) that they could not sustain
their expected profit margins under the new regime thus
legislated. Yes, there might well remain some smaller publishers
willing to step in and pick up the pieces, at least for a while,
but what I'm suggesting is that, with the degree of
conglomerization that now exists in this field (even more so in
the wake of the Wiley takeover of Blackwell), it now would take
the exit of only a few major players to bring about massive
change in the marketplace. Smaller publishers, especially
university presses, simply do not have the capital to launch the
kinds of sophisticated systems that these major players can
provide, so even if there was some uptake among other publishers,
I can't imagine that 10,000+ journals would somehow be able to
find satisfactory homes elsewhere anytime very quickly. So, in my
nightmarish scenario, this "tipping" would occur within a
relatively short space of time and leave a huge vacuum in the
system, which no amount of self-archiving or IRs could begin to
fill adequately in the short term.

So, who is to say whether your "evolutionary" model of gradual
change or mine of "punctuated equilibrium" is the better theory
to apply here? You adduce the lack of "evidence" of cancellations
to support your theory; but that lack does not count against my
theory. On my side, I can adduce plenty of evidence that
businesses in general, and publishers in particular, have acted
in just this way in the past, abandoning entire areas of their
business in one fell swoop. It is not as though Elsevier and
others wouldn't have plenty of other opportunities they could
exploit, even within publishing; they could, for example, decide
to put all their investment into professional publishing (law,
business, etc.) where their main markets are other corporations,
not universities) or into STM book publishing or into high-end
newsletters. Unlike university presses, such publishers have no
inherent reason to dedicate themselves to publishing for the
world of higher education. The same, by the way, could happen in
college textbook publishing: if you read "Books in the Digital
Age" by the astute publisher (Polity Press) and Cambridge
sociologist John Thompson, you'll see that that industry is ripe
for some major shakeup, too.

As I said earlier, I have no major stake in the outcome here,
whichever model happens to be true of this sector-except to the
extent that, if my model turns out to be true, I'm sure I'll have
plenty of professors, administrators, and librarians appealing to
us to expand our journals program, which I will politely but
firmly decline (at least without some guarantee of vastly
expanded capital resources!). But I suggest that it is prudent
for university administrators not to bet everything on the
accuracy of your model as opposed to mine, and to take
precautions just in case my model might be the one that fits the
world of publishing better.

P.S. It is revealing, I think, that in the newly released study
by the MLA of tenure and promotion practices in the field of
modern languages, credit for editing journals is way, way down on
the list of what academics can use to position themselves better
for tenure and promotion in the humanities. This also casts doubt
on any scenario that would see a major rise in support for
journal publishing on campuses were the prediction I am making
come true. Over the last decade, what we have witnessed is a real
decline in administrative support for editorial offices on

Sanford G. Thatcher, Director
Penn State University Press
University Park, PA 16802-1003

"If a book is worth reading, it is worth buying."-John Ruskin (1865)
Received on Fri Dec 15 2006 - 03:44:38 GMT

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