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

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Tue, 19 Dec 2006 12:51:22 +0000

On Mon, 18 Dec 2006, Sandy Thatcher wrote:

> I'm afraid I don't share your "serene confidence that there are
> plenty of available OA hosts, big and small, ready to take on the
> implementation of peer review for migrating established journal
> titles and ed-boards, scaled down to OA publishing."

Dear Sandy,

That's fine. It's all speculation anyway, on both of our sides:
speculation that self-archiving will or won't lead to cancellations,
and if so, speculation about when, and how much; and speculation that,
if much and sudden, current publishers will or won't jettison their
titles rather than downsize; and speculation that, if jettisoned, there
will or won't be OA publishers happy to take over the titles.

What's sure, because already tested and demonstrated, is that
self-archiving is highly beneficial to research and readily feasible,
right now, through mandated self-archiving. Hence self-archiving can and
should and will be mandated at this time. The data-free speculation and
counterspeculation about its possible eventual effects on publishing
has been going on for over 10 years now, so the data-based practical
step is already well overdue.

One point, though, is a point of logic rather than of hypothetical
conjecture: In your reasoning about your hypothetical scenario that you
consider the most probable one (catastrophic cancellations, abandonment
of journals by their non-OA publishers, and failure of the abandoned
journals to migrate to OA publishers because OA costs could not be met and
there were not enough would-be OA publishers able or willing to meet the
demand) you have inadvertently conflated two very different factors: One
is the current cost to universities of hosting their journals' editors'
offices, and the other is the OA publication cost to universities for
their own research article output.

These are two entirely different things. Journal hosting costs have
nothing to do with OA, or OA publishing. Whatever journal hosting
universities are doing today, in the non-OA era, for non-OA journals,
while paying journal subscriptions for whatever journals they subscribe
to, the only change in the OA era, if subscriptions were indeed all
cancelled suddenly, as you hypothesize, would be (1) sudden, substantial
windfall savings for universities, and (2) sudden, substantially lower
publishing costs for journals (because, ex hypothesi, they no longer
sell texts, paper or online, but only perform peer review).

Those lower publishing costs would (again, ex hypothesi) be paid in the
form of OA publishing charges, for each university's article output,
out of each university's subscription savings. This has nothing at all
to do with a university's journal hosting costs!

(Perhaps what you were doing was conflating the university as a journal
subscriber, the university as a research article-provider [with its
associated OA publishing costs] and the university as a potential OA
publisher itself! None of this, except possibly the last, has anything
to do with the free resources many universities currently provide for
hosting the journals -- OA or [mostly] non-OA -- of publishers other
than themselves!)

> Partly I don't [share your confidence in successful migration if
> mandated self-archiving were to induce sudden cancellation] because
> I think, to work most efficiently, there needs to be more structure to
> the system than self-archiving or IRs themselves can provide, even with
> pretty good federated searching.

There is more structure. Indeed the *only* requisite structure: each of
those hypothetically migrating journal titles has an established
editorial board, referees, authors and readers; they all migrate with
the title. So does the implementation of peer review, which is the same
for all journals: only the contents and the peer-review quality
standards differ. All that structure remains with the migrating title.

Search and federation have nothing to do with it (and will be
incomparably more powerful in the OA era).

> The editors of single journals would need to find a
> way to join together with editors of other journals in their
> disciplines, or related disciplines, so as to form a group of
> journals that could serve a whole discipline, or special area of
> interest, well.

I think these are hypotheses again, and actually I disagree: a field is
best served by mostly independent journals: No need to amalgamate except
when it helps increase efficiency and cut costs. (And cost-saving
amalgamation has nothign to do with federated search!)

> That is typically what scholarly societies have
> done, and maybe some of them could take over the journals
> abandoned by large STM publishers-if they don't continue to feel
> just as threatened by OA as the commercial publishers do!

What OA publishers would take on after the hypothetical collapse of
user-institution subscriptions as the means of covering costs is the OA
publishing cost-recovery model: author-institution publication charges.

There would be more than enough to cover these much-reduced costs for
peer-review service-provision only, out of the (hypothesised) windfall
institutional subscription savings.

> An ideal structure would be something like what CIAO and
> AnthroSource represent, respectively, for International Relations
> and Anthropology in the social sciences, which encompass not only
> journals but also monographs, working papers, conference
> proceedings, and grey literature. As director of a press that
> worked with our library and SPARC to help set up such a structure
> for another social science discipline, rural sociology, I can
> tell you that this is no trivial or inexpensive task!

And most of it not necessary for hypothetically migrating journal-titles
only. The author-institution publication charges will cover the
much-reduced costs. (You are here combining journal-specific OA and OA
self-archiving matters with completely independent non-OA matters.)

> Sudden change is very difficult to plan for, and my worry is that
> if such a scenario were to happen, no really adequate structures
> would be in place save for a few like the ones I've mentioned to
> provide for an organized environment of knowledge.

But we are not talking about actual sudden change, but about hypothetical
sudden change, compounded by hypothetical unwillingness of OA publishers
to take over migrating titles. None of those contingencies are based on
any evidence at all: just speculation.

Sandy, what I think research needs now is actual OA, through the
self-archiving mandates that have already been demonstrated to generate
OA and its benefits to research. Hypothesizing and counter-hypothesizing
alas does not solve research's immediate access and impact problem.

I actually emerged (temporarily) from a long-standing, self-imposed
moratorium on speculation about hypothetical after-effects of
self-archiving, in honor of your accession to the AAUP presidency,
Sandy! All of these conjectures and counter-conjectures have been
made before, many, many, many times across the long years. I
deliberately stopped engaging in these speculations because I noticed
that they were slowing the progress of OA: people were speculating
instead of self-archiving.

Now that we have, I think, aired our respective conjectures, I think we
can agree that there is no way to know which ones are correct, and that
all we can do, and advocate, is what we think is most probable and useful,
on the evidence available.

> Possibly, yes, some individual editors would immediately try to
> keep their journals going by setting up their own self-publishing OA
> operations.

No, I don't mean editors, self-publishing (though that is a
possibility). Editors usually prefer to just edit -- i.e., select
referees, adjudicate referee reports, decide what revisions need to be
done, and when they have been successfully done, and to accept or reject
articles accordingly. They don't want to handle the administrative part
-- contacting authors and referees, reminding, tracking deadlines, etc.
The publisher needs to arrange for that, and, as you mention, there can
sometimes be economies of scale from doing this for multiple journals at

> But who would pay for the editorial support services
> that the major STM publishers now provide?

The author-institution OA publishing charges, paid for their own article
output, (out of their own user-institution subscription savings).

> Departmental budgets can be stretched only so far, and these might
> be tapped already for supporting their own authors publishing in other
> OA journals.

Sandy, I am afraid you seem to be double-counting here...

> (This is part of the "free rider" problem that university presses
> have long suffered from, because they do not publish for their
> own university faculty primarily but provide a service to the
> system as a whole. Universities like to fund their own faculty
> first, their presses second, and the same would likely be true
> for editorial offices of journals.)

We are not talking here, particularly, about university publishing. We
are talking about journal publishing, university article output, and how
to cover the costs of publication in the OA era if/when there is a
sudden collapse of subscriptions, and a migration of suddenly abandoned
journal titles.

An OA journal "virtual" editorial office that only provides peer review,
does not generate text, either hard copy or digital, does not store,
does not provide access, etc. is a much lighter proposition than the
traditional journal office...

> Academic editors would need
> to spend more of their time doing the kind of work that
> professional publishing staff now do, at a cost to the university
> that would overall be greater (because faculty are paid,
> generally, better than professional publishing staff).

Not at all. That is what the OA publishing charges would be paying for
(the administration of peer review); and in the virtual world, there
is no reason those administrative functions should be performed at
the editor's university unless so desired. An OA publisher could do it
centrally for multiple journals, as BMC, Hindawi and PLoS do (except
scaled down a good deal more, to peer-review alone).

> Universities would do well to start creating these structures
> now, but I don't see that as likely to happen because most
> administrators, I suspect, share your view of gradual change and
> will think there is plenty of time to prepare.

It's not universities that need to scope this out in advance, but
publishers (current ones and OA publishers). (You are conflating the
role of the university as a journal subscriber, as a research article
provider and peer-review service consumer, and as a potential OA

> Sure, library
> funds once used for purchasing STM journals could be diverted,
> but this is not so straightforward a process as you seem to
> assume, as many libraries now share the burden of subscription
> payments whereas I suspect that the distribution of editorial
> offices will be more highly concentrated in the most-research
> intensive universities where the leading scholars reside-and I
> can't see Ball State contributing its savings from library
> subscriptions to supporting Yale faculty's editorial offices!

Sandy, you have the Escher drawing misperceived! The redirection of
an institution's windfall subscription savings (on the hypothesis of
catastrophic cancellations) is toward paying the publication charges
for that same institution's outgoing research article output (for peer
review and certification). It is not redirected in order to subsidise OA
journals hosted by that university. OA journal costs are to be covered
out of the publication charges, relying no more (nor less) on university
charity (hosting) than before.

You are assuming that the OA publisher to which titles -- hypothetically
released by their prior non-OA publishers because of hypothetical
catastrophic cancellations and unwillingness to downsize to a more
modest OA niche -- will migrate will be universities:

Why? OA publishers will be publishers; some of them may be university
publishers, but that is a different operation (and budget) from a
university qua university. And others will be learned societies,
others will be commercial, and still others will be independent
non-profits. Nothing to do with redirecting university budgets or even
university windfall cancellation savings.

> We at Penn State are doing our small bit by serving as a test
> site for the DPubs "open source" software that is designed to
> provide a platform for managing the editorial and production
> processes not only for journals but also for conference
> proceedings and, ultimately, edited volumes and monographs in
> electronic form. But there should be many other efforts like this
> going on if we are to avoid a very messy transition period if my
> hypothesised scenario of sudden change comes true.

There are; and there will be, if need be.

Best wishes,

Received on Tue Dec 19 2006 - 13:04:29 GMT

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