Logic of Page Charges

Hitchcock & Harnad, 4/28/99


NO, definitely not. The APS journals continue to charge for the paper edition and for the On-Line edition (with many added enhancements) that they sell. But the LANL version is free. This is a critical point. The overlays are a service to the authors, in that they can submit directly to the journals by depositing the Preprint in LANL. They can also deposit the final accepted draft (but not the proprietary APS version, with the enhancements, which only comes from the paid APS Archive).

As you can no doubt guess, I am betting that Users will be mainly using the free version. If there is still a market for the paid version, that's fine, but irrelevant to the goal of providing the entire corpus online for free.

S/L/P are possible, but I am opposed to them because, by definition, they mean toll-barriers instead of a free refereed journal literature.

But let us make some critical distinctions: As long as authors can and do self-archive all their unrefereed preprints AND refereed reprints, the goal is archived. S/L/P are only objectionable if they in any way prevent that. Of course if there is a free Archive, a parallel fee-based one with added enhancements is perfectly fine, if there is a market for it. So I certainly don't oppose S/L/P for that.

But there is one critical interdependency: In order to appear in refereed form in the free archive, a paper needs to have been refereed and accepted by a journal. How is that quality control to be paid for? For if it is not paid in any way, the quality control and journal system collapses. <http://www.cogsci.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/nature2.html>

It is conceivable to pay for the quality control via S/L/P in PARALLEL (i.e., there is a free version in the Public Archive and a fee-based version in paper, and in the Publisher's Online Archive), and there is no reason anyone should object to that, except that it makes no sense: Why would anyone want to continue paying for what they can get for free?

On the other hand, to attach an S/L/P price tag to the FREE version would make it no longer free, so that is out of the question.

So page-charges are my candidate for how everyone could have their cake and eat it too (assuming that people will not long want to keep paying for what they can get for free):

(1) Quality control continues to be paid for, hence it continues to be provided, and publishers continue to have their niche (albeit a much scaled-down one).

(2) Libraries save their entire 100% serials budget, in exchange for redistributing <30% of it to their institutional authors' publication Funds.

(3) Authors draw on the publication funds to pay their page charges up-front.

Now do you see the logic of why it does not make sense to recover that 30% directly via S/L/P barriers?

I hope the above has clarified this: It is a logical fact that you cannot have something for free that you pay for by S/L/P. "L" stands for "License," and a License, whether Individual, Institutional, Consortial, or National is an access toll to be paid -- or not paid. Those Individuals/Institutions/Consortia/Nations that cannot pay it do not have access to the literature in question.

The logic of L is precisely the same as the logic of S and P. And the publishers know it; which is why Arnoud de Kemp at Springer regularly delights in informing audiences at which we both talk [at loggerheads!] that we are in fact BOTH for the same outcome: A seamless, interconnected, global, online literature, free for all, paid for "up-front": All that's needed is a Global Site License! So just pay us the 100% now, and if there are indeed economies to be made that will scale it all down to 30% or lower, we will make those economies, and pass them on to all of you...

But what this is envisioning is something that would I think make Adam Smith convulse in his grave: A Global Consortial Monopoly on the part of all publishers, where they name the 100% figure, and their sole, inelastic customer shells it out obligingly up-front, and leaves the rest to the market-free beneficence of the Monopoly.

Nonsense. Better to have the "market forces" distributed, but not via S/L/P, with its access barriers, which is how they are distributed now, but via author page charges, which has the virtue of calling a spade a spade. For once there is a free public archive for accessing the papers themselves, it is clear that the only product/service that online-only journal publishers are providing is quality control. The customer for that service is the author and, more specifically, his institution, for quality-controlled publications are the measures of research productivity on which their funding is in turn largely based. Referees actually do the quality control for free, but implementing it costs a little money, and that's what the page charges are to pay for. And but a small portion of the 100% annual savings from the termination of all S/L/P is the natural source for these funds.

You said this a bit confusingly, but if you meant more or less what I said above -- free unrefereed preprints + free refereed final drafts + paid final drafts with publisher add-ons -- then the answer is yes, and the contingency is that assuming that the paid version under these conditions will not find a market, the only way to pay for the quality control (the "Invisible Hand") behind the no-frills, vanilla version (the refereed, final draft) is up-front author page-charges.


The market decides whether it is worth paying for publishers' proprietary add-on enhancements. Peer-review itself needs to be financed in any case. But I also suggested that the Online community will develop powerful free search/link enhancements for its Archive for free. So I don't expect much of a market for proprietary enhancements by primary publishers (and that is even truer for the secondary publishers -- abstract, index, citation services -- who will have more trouble finding something of value to add once the entire corpus is online for free [which includes its abstracts, keywords, reference lists, and full texts!]).

You also suggest that it is desirable if many existing journals, esp. prestigious journals, can adapt and attach to the archive, and to this end that the E-Biomed proposal aims to bring publishers on board, if possible:

This is fine until we get to perhaps your most contentious statement:


I hope it is not the case that journals just become tags. I would not argue that journals should remain the same, but what incentive is there for publishers to cooperate in allowing journals to be reduced to this? I think there has to be scope for journals to add value, and they have to have some way of exploiting that value. Are the physics 'overlay' journals just 'tags'?

Perhaps I should have said: "Implementers of quality control and its certification via a tag, the journal name."

But if you don't like that, then you don't like the online incarnation of the refereed journal corpus. For, absent paper, and absent also the need to provide the archival version online, that is indeed the only ESSENTIAL service that publishers can provide.

(Add-ons are anyone's game, but I'm betting the community will do it better, and for free, than paper publishers, re-tooled as online-service-enhancers will be able to do. Remember one critically important thing: We are only talking about this highly anomalous subset of the entire world literature, namely, refereed learned journals. In this peculiar domain, authors GIVE AWAY their work for free. This is not true of books, popular magazines, or just about any other product, online or otherwise, literature or otherwise. That give-away reward structure -- where authors want to make maximal impact on the eyes and minds of their peers, not to extract dollars from their pockets for their products -- is what leads inexorably to the conclusion that quality-control certification is the only thing that needs to be provided or paid for in this very nonstandard "market.")