A.Dixon 5-7-99

I read your paper and the subsequent comments with great interest. I am not in the habit of agreeing with Stevan Harnad and Paul Ginsparg on certain issues, but in this instance I do support quite a few of their comments.

With 4 years' experience of delivering the sort of system you envisage I must comment that I feel that it is too reliant upon the successful implementation of too many (often interlinked) events, and that it takes no account of the vast costs or resources which would be involved.

The scholarly community indeed has the expertise to *model* such a system, but not necessarily the experience, finances or indeed the will to implement a full-scale working version.

I also feel that the US-centric view could well be eventually damaging to non-US territories (especially when the full costs emerge). An important consideration is the interim period, whilst the model was tested and before it could become ubiquitous; I cannot see the commercial publishers giving up online opportunities in journals publishing in the interim (and indeed maybe not at all).

Reliance on easy-to-use inputting tools and standards will not remove the real costs of handling authors' works. Of course one can set rules (as xxx.lanl.gov does), but not all authors in all disciplines will accept them. Authors want their publishers to serve them.

The section on Editorial Boards seems to infer that these will be self-organising, enthusiastic groups who will voluntarily devote large amounts of time, and indeed be born of spontaneous combustion. Most referees and Board Members report that they are increasingly unable to devote time in this way, especially when administrative assistance is declining, the need to publish increases and teaching loads rise. Most publishers can report extensively on how difficult it is to establish strong Editorial Boards for new enterprises. If you are also asking them "to establish standards for document preparation" (presumably in a way which means that every single boards' output dovetails with the homogenous database you also intend to build), then this is an onerous task indeed, requiring huge collaborations between the boards.

You also propose that "any paper may be accepted for inclusion in Multiple 'journals'". I would think that this would prove confusing to readers, indexers, abstracters, particularly in terms of the quality levels associated with that journal. I see that you are also expecting the Consortium to grant recognition to all of the world's conferences. Publishers of conference proceedings can comment more accurately than I, but I would imagine this to be a huge task .

In the Document Preparation Section you propose that a directory of technical writers and editors handle the preparation of manuscripts; this would not seem to be a global solution if it is US-based. You also propose that author's PAY for these services. But we all know that authors really hate page charges and similar fees.

In the Access and Registration section you expect readers to acknowledge terms of use - in our experience this is certainly not well liked. Similarly registrations (in this case to comment) are also not favoured. The resources and costs of this activity alone, given the proposed scale, would be huge.

The Server maintenance and Support Systems section proposed that "University libraries within the Consortium will be made responsible for maintaining the servers containing preprints, journals, proceedings and abstracts". This would cost many billions of dollars if one expected all or even some of the world's scholarly output to be included and indeed, by doing so in one (probably national) depository, would risk the longevity of that material. Similarly those multiple depositories mentioned in the archiving section would have huge costs attached to them and again favour the hosting nation.

Under Standards and protocols you propose that "the Consortium must invest in original work to design and develop an easy-to-use platform to support a variety of activities within the model". That's exactly what publishers do now.

Resource discovery - you want to use "the best available technology". This is expensive. With the number of records you are proposing I would be surprised if you could find a search engine to cope (we will be nudging 50M records ourselves by this Fall and the hardware and software manufacturers cannot always guarantee performance levels at that rate).

In Data Security you state "automatic mirroring technology...will ensure against catastrophic data loss". This may be true (but much less so if it was US-only mirrors) but imagine hosting x number of mirror databases, hardware, software and search engines and the costs involved in that would be HUGE.

Finally you mention multimedia formats - perhaps you are unaware that very many publishers already publish large amounts of authors' multimedia material, and indeed work with "archiving standards and processes". A spin-off from this activity - which is also expensive to fund - is the amount of author assistance it requires.

So, in conclusion. Publishers actually do a rather good job of pretty much all you describe. There could be economies of scale if larger groups existed, it is true and if some of the current players gave more of their time freely or if Governments funded publishing more then further costs could be made. Of course the scholarly community would rather that publishers did not retain any excesses from their activities. But to replace such publisher activities with a scheme run by groups whose main interest is not dissemination but education would seem to be reinventing a well-worn, but reasonably efficient, wheel. I agree that change is desirable, and that is why IoPP has experiemnted so widely with a variety of interesting models, and will continue to do so. At least I can live in the hope that publishers *skills* will always be in demand!

I hope my comments have been useful.


Anne Dixon

Anne Dixon
Assistant Director, Journals


Tel (44) 117 929 7481


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