"Overlay Journals" Over Again...

From: Stevan Harnad <harnad_at_ecs.soton.ac.uk>
Date: Fri, 26 Jun 2009 00:31:51 -0400

The "overlay journal" notion is and always has been an inchoate,
incoherent idea. Physicists thought that since they were happy just
using the Arxiv version of preprints and postprints, the "journals"
could be phased out, and the peer-review could be "overlaid" on
But the journals are sustained by subscriptions, and therefore the
costs of implementing the peer-review are paid by subscriptions. What
does it mean to subscribe to an "overlay"?

The answer is obvious: An "overlay" is just the service of peer
review, its outcome certified by the journal-name and track-record.
So why not call it what it always was: peer review, not "overlay
journal." We all understand the difference between a print text and
an online one, and we don't much care any more.

And with nothing to subscribe to, it is also obvious that the
(minimal) expense of peer review per paper will have to be paid
up-front, on what is now called the Gold OA model.

So far so good. The journal-name persists, as the quality-level
"brand-name," and the peer-review is paid for via Gold OA peer-review
service charges. But where is the resultant paper archived and made

For the papers in Arxiv, we know; but that's just 500,000 papers in
18 years, in a few fields. There are 25,000 peer-reviewed journals,
across all fields, publishing 2.5 million articles per year.  Where
are the papers on which the peer-review is to be "overlaid"?

The natural candidate is: in the authors' own institutional
repositories (IRs). The unrefereed preprint is deposited in Closed
Access (or maybe even darker, so that even the metadata are not
publicly visible until and unless the paper is accepted by a
journal). The submission to a journal goes pretty much as it always
did, except that instead of mailing the journal a manuscript, you
email the URL and password, so the editor and referees can access it
in your IR (while it is dark to everyone else).

If and when the paper is successfully revised and accepted, the
lights are turned on, it becomes OA in the IR, and is tagged as
published by the journal that accepted it.

Then you don't have "overlay-journal" articles; you just have journal
articles, as you always did, peer-reviewed by the journal that
accepted them. Yes, they are online only, but we're all used to that.
We don't call the online edition of print journals "overlay
editions." And we don't call the growing number of online-only
journals, who no longer generate a print-run at all "overlay
journals," with the overlay being on top of the journal's own online
archives, or the archive of the libraries subscribing to them.

In other words, once the shock and romance of online editions is
behind us, we realize that peer-reviewed journals have always been
(trivially) "overlay journals," in that peer-review and revisions
were always "overlaid" on the original unrefereed draft, regardless
of whether it began or ended on paper or on-line.

Nor is this mere semiology; for thinking in terms of "overlay
journals" rather than just peer-reviewed online-only journals with
distributed archiving and access-provision, we miss the fact that the
only real substantive components are the fact that articles need to
be OA, and there needs to be a way other than subscription fees to
pay for the cost of the peer review.

On even more exotic ideas, such as 

      Harnad, S. (2007) The Green Road to Open Access: A
      Leveraged Transition.  In: Anna Gacs. The Culture of
      Periodicals from the Perspective of the Electronic Age.
      L'Harmattan. 99-106.

Stevan Harnad

PS Please don't even get me started on "disaggregated
journals"... http://bit.ly/S7

On 25-Jun-09, at 10:26 PM, Sue M. Woodson wrote:

      But didn't the commercialization of peer-review came
      because scholars didn't find it worth their time to
      organize and
      run the peer review-process. The Max Plancks of today
      don't edit
      journals they way he edited Annalen der Physik.
      Physicists today
      are willing to do the reviewing but they are not always
      to do the organizational work -- finding the reviewers,
      them to get the work in, etc. And, if you think about it,
      not really a good use of their time. The questions
      remain: Who
      will do that work? and Who will pay to have that work

      Sue Woodson
      Welch Medical Library

      -----Original Message-----
      From: owner-liblicense-l_at_lists.yale.edu
      [mailto:owner-liblicense-l_at_lists.yale.edu] On Behalf Of
      Stern, David
      Sent: Tuesday, June 23, 2009 5:25 PM
      To: liblicense-l_at_lists.yale.edu
      Subject: RE: Article on arXiv

      There is a basic tautology in the comment that the
      portion of arXiv demonstrates that there is really no
      impact from
      e-prints on publishing and commercial publications. The
      is that we are observing two separate processes:
      distribution and
      peer review.

      The distribution of physics material is fairly well
      handled by
      arXiv, and the basic researcher population does not
      require commercial publishing.

      The peer review process is what keeps the commercial
      viable.  The minute a viable peer-review overlay is added
      to the
      arXiv server there will no longer be a need for the
      journals. The other aspects of commercial publishing
      editing, added-value branding, etc) might be worth
      but it does not seem important for the researchers who
      willingly adopted arXiv as their new choice.

      You will see a drastic drop in commercial subscriptions
      minute a well established set of editorial boards offer
      peer-review overlays on top of arXiv. What is required is
      a far
      less expensive editorial board cost model, one in which
      profit is
      removed and only the minimal costs for the infrastructure
      justified and covered by some alternative and reduced

      E-prints will impact the viability of commercial
      journals, but
      not until peer review is addressed.

      David Stern
      Associate University Librarian for Scholarly Resources
      Brown University
Received on Fri Jun 26 2009 - 05:38:53 BST

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