we're in trouble! - (2 points)

Paul Schlosser SCHLOSSER at ciit.org
Tue Jul 5 09:07:34 EST 1994

In <94182.232605U58563 at uicvm.uic.edu>
<U58563 at uicvm.uic.edu> (Mike Serfas) writes:


>2) I never meant to suggest that people were getting rich from publishing.  The
>inefficiency is in the system itself, much as communism is an inefficient
>system for distributing automobiles.  To make an illustration, suppose everyone
>who was NOT going to subscribe to Cell next year were somehow identified and
>allowed to access and copy an electronic form freely.  How much would the
>magazine lose?  Not a penny.  In the case of specialty journals with extremely
>small circulations, the degree of inefficiency becomes almost infinite.

Under this scenario, Cell would not loose money *next* year, but what about the
year after.  If you had a subscription, and knew that those who where not going
to subscribe where allowed free access, would you continue to subscribe?
Probably not.  Yes, information has the property that the marginal cost for
distributing each extra 'copy' is very small, once you get past the 1st one.
Copyright laws are set up so that someone will have the insensitive to produce
the 1st one.  And it is unreasonable to expect the individual buying that 1st
copy to cover it's entire cost--better to spread the cost out over all readers.
Or, you can have the government (via NIH and/or NSF) pick up the tab, in which 
case everyone pays for it thru taxes.

I'm not saying that journals shouldn't become electronic.  The possible
benefits are enormous.  And if printed versions are completely eliminated,
then the efficiency would go up quite a bit (cost per published page would
drop).  But there will still be costs for personnel, maintaining the server
on which the info. sits, etc.  The question is, how should these costs be
covered?  One possibility is to have NIH/NSF to provide these information
services, with the expenses coming out of their budgets (leaving less for
grants).  Then there would not be a direct user fee and the service would be
perceived as being "free".  Anyone in the US [the world?] could log onto the 
server and fish around the files for as long as he/she likes.  This will 
require plenty of connections, since, without a fee, lots of people will be 
using it, so the cost to NIH and/or NSF won't be trivial.  Researchers will 
compete for access with anyone and everyone.

The other way to pay for it is to charge a user fee, and only allow access to 
those who pay the fee.  The cost would have to come out of a researcher's 
grant, but would not come out of NIH/NSF's operating budget.  This is the
way things work now.

The fee structure, as it stands, in which one must pay a large subscrition
fee for unlimited access for a year *could* be adjusted, so that someone who
just wants to use a service once in a while (the inquisitive high school
student) could pay the equivalent of a long-distance call or three, and be 
able to perform a single search.  The fees would be such that anyone using 
the service regularly would be better off w/ a full subscription.  This would 
be like buying a single issue of a magazine at the newstand rather than 

BTW, one important aspect of journal publication is the peer review process--
when you find something in a reviewed journal you have some additional 
confidence in it's accuracy.  To replace this we will need electronic
services where only reviewed articles appear.  While NIH might insist that
every grant recipient publish a report on the product of their research, and
could provide "free" access to this, that can't *insist* that it pass peer-
review since some efforts will not make that criteria.  Should NIH have a
listing of reports without peer-review?

schlosser at beta.ciit.org

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