S. Harnad to Arthur Smith, 5/8/99

Arthur Smith works for the American Physical Society (APS), the publisher that is (to my knowledge) by far the most benign and progressive of all large learned journal publishers today.

My minor differences with Arthur should be weighed in this context, for if all publishers today had the APS's policy, the free global online archive would be a matter of course, and would be with us in extremely short order (in Physics it's well on the way already, with LANL).

The minor differences have to do with a way of thinking that Arthur repeatedly lapses into despite himself. (It has happened in this discussion before.) I can't think of a better name for it than S/L/P thinking, or reader-end thinking. He just doesn't seem able to sustain the concept of selling a product to readers instead of a service to authors, no matter how ardently he tries!

Read on: The first parts below will just be evidence of the enlightened and admirable policy of APS, which one can only hope will soon be emulated by other publishers too. The legocentrism comes a bit later.

> sh> (2) Is the distinction between allowing free self-archiving of the final draft on the
> sh> "home" server and on the "global" server coherent and enforceable?

AS> Here's what I understand of the current official policy (I was given some more
AS> information on this today):

I think the APS's commercial restriction is fully justifiable: As long as APS is footing the bill for it all, there is no reason whatsoever why anyone else should be able to sell the product and profit from it. The author's interests are fully served by having only free distribution rights.

Very reasonable to require the copyright notice and the clear tagging as an APS-certified paper. However, the interpretation of the difference between my institutional server and, say, the LANL server, is incoherent: I control my LANL paper too; I can delete it any time. Meanwhile, I DON'T control cached versions of my own institutional server, which are automatically generated everywhere. So the LETTER of this distinction turns out, at bottom, to be illogical, not just impracticable. But the SPIRIT of it all seems fine.

Fine. It is clear that the APS has the true interests of its authors and of science at heart, and that these formal details can be worked out. Would that all or even most publishers felt and behaved in this way!

Unfortunately, no matter how benign we are, we have to be protected from ourselves in such matters. I have no doubt that APS will never have any unreasonable mark-ups; I haven't the same confidence in many other publishers.

But that is not the only issue: As long as one is creating a product with more features wrapped into it than necessary, the costs will be higher than necessary. Quality control is the only essential service that learned journal publishers will perform in the online era. That is an author-end service. As long as one persists in thinking of creating (and selling) a reader-end product, expenses will not shrink to the essentials: for the reader-end product is itself an inessential, once authors can self-archive all their papers!

Up to this point, this analysis of switching to the delivery of an author-end service is all sensible and feasible. Now comes the following regression onto reader-end thinking.

This has become a Mobius strip! What on earth does "pay per view," which is a reader-end concept (the "P" in S/L/P), have to do with an author-end service?

There is no need to "adjust" the author-end costs for quality control; they will be low enough (once we're really down to only the essentials) so that all institutions will be able to afford them. Once it is evident what the LOGICAL role of author-end payment is in the whole "perestroika" process of restructuring for the sake of a free refereed online literature, if S/L/P savings should prove insufficient to cover the publication costs of the happy institutions that are that prolific, it will also become a natural part of the overhead from research grants: The lion's share of these are dedicated to performing the research; reporting it is already mandated; covering its minuscule publication costs is as natural as covering conference costs...

AS> But if they do nothing, don't bother with consortia, all institutions will still save
AS> something like (G - g)/G of their budgets. The savings are there whether we make
AS> it author-based pricing with free-viewing-for-all or not - as I've argued here
AS> previously.

Tell that to the institutions and individuals who cannot afford or access the product; for even (G-g)/G times 0 = 0. (And see the above, about whether g can ever expect to reach its global minimum as long as it is sold as a reader-end product rather than an author-end service.)

This is all reader-end, access-toll-based thinking: The tolls need to be paid, or the papers are simply not accessible. And that means they have to be paid journal by journal, institution by institution (and "L" "solves" only one of these problems, and does so by simply putting all the tolls on one bill; see the earlier thread about Arnoud de Kemp and the "Global Site License"). Are the immeasurable advantages of the free-for-all archive over this access-toll-based system not clear? But they are only realizable if we drop all thinking about providing a reader-end product and think only of providing an author-end service.

AS> the actual implementation of S/L/P is a tiny fraction of total costs so that's not
AS> where the savings (g) will come from. The savings will come from improved
AS> processes throughout that have basically nothing to do with how the journal is
AS> being funded.

But they have everything to do with what is actually being sold, to whom; and that is ineluctably a matter of "how the journal is being funded."

Let me put it another way, then, as I have no wish to be guilty of that commentator's suspiciousness (although I could reply that we have actual evidence of some publishers' rapaciousness already; no need to speculate): I have no paranoia whatsoever regarding APS, for example. I simply believe that you need to be protected from yourselves: As long as you persist in thinking in terms of providing a reader-end product, your "g" will be needlessly (even if unwittingly) inflated by expenses from inessentials wrapped into that product.

As soon as you think in terms of providing only the author-end service of quality control, the incentive to wrap in those inessentials vanishes. The free public archives, together with authors themselves, will take care of "adding value" to the papers through links, indexing, search, alerting, etc. Best to keep primary publishers out of the secondary/ tertiary enhancement loop (especially because it will be much harder for those who are stuck with secondary/tertiary publishing as their SOLE product to find a niche once the primary archive is online and free).

The reason authors publish so much is partly because there is a lot more learned inquiry going on than before, but partly also because there is increased publication pressure, as publication is a measure of research productivity, and hence the basis for rewarding it, both through salaries/honours and through the funding of further research and university overheads, etc.

Publication pressure itself will ensure that the modest funds needed to pay publication costs will be found; covering them is as much in the interest of universities as research and publication themselves are.

So if more papers are written, there will be more papers in journals, and probably more journals (and there would have been anyway). That has nothing whatsoever to do with anything at issue here. Journals will still be in the business of quality control (indeed, that will be their ONLY business), and that means maintaining standards (impact factors, author quality, etc.) regardless of volume.

In general, more papers means more contents for the lower ranked journals, and, if anything, a tightening of standards ( = rejection rates) at the top. But if there ARE more papers that meet the current standards of the top journals, I am sure the journals can rise to the occasion: Remember, it is not fatter, more expensive issues we are talking about any more; that's reader-end thinking again! We are talking about the same referees, refereeing papers as before, and picking out the ones that meet the standards. And the journal is paid to implement this; that's what the quality-control costs are meant to pay for. And if there if the number of acceptable papers should increase, their quality control costs will each be paid by each author's institution, which will each benefit from their increasing research productivity, as attested to by their increased volume of publication.

That's the author-end view.

Cheers, Stevan