Journal Papers vs. Books: The Direct/Indirect Income Trade-off

Stevan Harnad harnad at cogito.ecs.soton.ac.uk
Mon Jul 12 17:09:10 EST 1999


:On Mon, 12 Jul 1999, Hal Varian wrote:

> This is what strikes me as peculiar in your position. You argue that
> the dramatic change in costs will have a big effect on the academic
> publishing model, and yet the same S/L/P model "is still fine" for the
> trade literature.
> 
> Doesn't it seem strange that the same change in costs will have such a big
> effect in one area and a tiny effect in another? 

(It's not academic vs. trade publishing, but refereed journal papers
vs. everything else: including books -- both academic and trade -- and
magazine articles.)

I think it has become clear why this disagreement persists. I can't
bring myself to believe that books are really a give-away literature,
in the way journal-papers always have been (for their authors). 

The data you adduce in support of your position consist of the
statistics on how little it is that book authors ACTUALLY make for
their texts, on average, and I do not contest that, but I don't think
it's the decisive evidence (and NOT just because I am a psychologist,
concerned only with authors' hopes!).

I think the fact that books have always been commissioned with
contracts specifying royalty payments (even if in most cases the
royalties are tiny or never materialize at all), whereas refereed
journal articles never have been, is evidence in my favour.

So too, I believe, would be the results of the following 3 thought
experiments: 

How many (1) book authors would have instead signed contracts that
promised them limitless public archiving in perpetuo on the Web, in
exchange for signing away all royalty rights? -- compared to (2)
journal article authors offered the same proposition?
[Prediction: (1) few; (2) all]

How many (1) book authors would be willing to PAY
(and how much) to ADD to their existing, royalty-based contracts the
right to self-archive in perpetuo? -- compared to (2) journal
article authors offered the same proposition? 
[Prediction: (1) few (and little); (2) most (and surprisingly much)]

How much would book authors demand to be PAID in order to alter their
existing, royalty-based contracts, so as to add a clause that this work
can NEVER be archived free for all? -- compared to (2) journal article
authors offered the same proposition?
[Prediction: (1) suprisingly little; (2) (more than it is realistic
to imagine anyone could ever afford to offer)]

> I argue that the change
> in costs will also have a dramatic effect in the trade literature with
> lots of free publication of unvetted material (see the Web) with people 
> paying for filtering/vetting. Hence the business model for the two 
> literatures will tend to become more similar.

I accept that an increasing number of things, including texts, will be
(and are being) given away on the Web for free, over and above refereed
journal papers!

But we are talking about conditional probability here, not raw
probability: What is the probability that an item will be a Web
give-away-wannabe, GIVEN that it is a book, vs. the probability that it
will be a Web give-away-wannabe, GIVEN that it is a refereed-journal
paper? 

I predict that the latter will be 100% whereas the former will be much,
much lower (and even if we don't add the "in perpetuo" clause, allowing
temporary web-archiving for promotional purposes); and when electronic
book technology becomes more friendly to linear bed/bath/beach
reading, the discrepancy will become bigger, not smaller!

As to modular "vetting" -- I haven't a clear enough case in mind, other
than peer review, so I'm not sure what would be on sale here: movie
reviews?

> But, as you well know, peer review varies dramatically in its quality.
> There are good journals (which tend to be more selective) and bad journals
> (which tend to be less selective) under the current system. If authors
> pay to get published, there will be a natural tendency to increase the amount
> published and reduce average quality.

Please see prior postings on peer review: The journal quality hierarchy
will remain in place. Their respective peers will continue to perform
(independently, and for free) as now. High rejection rates will
continue to prevail at the top; vanity-press, pay-your-way-in at the
bottom. And everyone will continue to know the difference, as they do
now. 

So the effects you describe will only be felt at the bottom of the
hierarchy, where they already are now.

>sh> Heaven forfend! The worst of all possible worlds! You have to pay to
>sh> read AND you have to pay to be published! Insult upon Injury!
> 
> But you are paying for different things: authors are paying for
> the hosting, readers are paying for the filtering. 

Hosting expenses have not even come up. They are part of the academic
infrastructure already. I don't reckon the pennies it costs to archive
my papers on my institutional server any more than I reckon the pennies
it would cost to archive my personal photo albums there (as many do).
Same is true with self-archiving on Los Alamos, E-Biomed or CogPrints.
The marginal cost per paper is negligible. Hosting costs are a red
herring (for academics).

The ONLY author (institution) costs I have ever mentioned have been
those of quality control/certification (QC/C).

I don't believe for a minute in reader-end QC/C costs: QC/C costs are
like the Cheshire cat's smile. They are all that is left of journal
publication costs once production and dissemination are offloaded on
public Archives. It is not at all clear what the READER would be buying
if he wanted to buy THAT! It's a service (to the author-institution);
its OUTPUT -- the refereed paper -- is already in the public archive
for free!

> This makes sense
> since the authors value being published (as you repeatedly emphasize)
> and the readers value selectivity. 

I'm afraid this doesn't make sense to me at all! I know what the
author-institutions are buying: the vetting and certification of their
"product." But what are the reader-institutions supposed to be buying,
given that that "product" is archived for free for all?

Yes, readers value selectivity. And it is (in part) because readers
value selectivity that authors value the service of QC/C!

> I think that your 1/3 figure for 
> refereeing process is about right (I have made the same estimates in my 
> papers), so it's the same total amount paid, by essentially the same people,
> in either case.

Yes, but if that same 1/3 amount is paid at the reader-institution end,
then only the readers at THAT institution get access, whereas if it is
paid at the author-institution end, ALL readers get access (including
those at less solvent institutions). And, as we agreed, that enhanced
visibility is a benefit to author-institutions! And since we're talking
about the same institutions spending the same 1/3 in both cases, it
seems to be a choice between spending it the access-blocking vs. the
access-enhancing way. What possible advantage can there be to the
former? (Please don't revert to the vanity-press argument!)

> And if there are those that don't want to pay for filtering, they are welcome
> to go out and search for the material they want on their own, spending time
> rather than money. But if there are those that want to pay money to have
> the searching and filtering done for them, why should you object?

You keep imagining, basically, a refereed literature, paid by S/L/P,
plus a free unrefereed literature, whereas what I am advocating is a
refereed literature (first) FREED by self-archiving (of refereed
papers) and then, when S/L/P revenue dwindles because users prefer the
free archive, QC/C FUNDED up-front out of 1/3 of the S/L/P savings.

Your view is simply reader-centred. You keep seeing the text as the
PRODUCT instead of seeing it as like a free ad, with the
quality-control/certification being the SERVICE to be paid for.

And as we saw, the only dividend of continuing to see it your way is
that the very same 1/3 expenditure, paid by the very same institution,
is, on your model, paid for BLOCKING access to everyone outside the
author's institution who cannot pay, whereas on my model, it is paid for
OPENING access to everyone outside the author's institution who cannot
pay.

> My argument is that you seem to think that you can take the existing 
> refereed journal literature, reverse the payment system, and have nothing 
> else change.
> To a social scientist, this is highly unlikely. The existing payment
> system influences incentives, and changing the payment system will change 
> the incentives.

That would certainly be true if referees were paid, but they are not!
The payment is just for implementing the refereeing system. 

And the implementation is ultimately answerable to objective quality
indicators constraining QC/C such as impact factors; so we agree that
journals that dropped standards (selected less rigorous referees, for
example) would soon be caught out and would lose their place in the
quality hierarchy to more rigorously refereed journals. (So much for the
vanity-press argument.)

[I am conscious that I come up for a drubbing below over what I said
about Learned Inquiry and commercial factors, so let me say more
carefully here that QC/C implementation is not "directly" influenced by
"1st order" commercial factors -- such as maximizing the number of
author-institutions paying the publication fees, or even of maximizing
the publication fees themselves; it's more like a museum trying to
maintain its standards by collecting only the very best art -- in a
system where the best artists also want their art to go into the very
best museums. -- Except that they GIVE it to them rather than SELLING it!]

But I am not saying that there may not be some surprises in the
transition from S/L/P to up-front QC/C. That's why I think it needs to
be planned in advance. See the thread "The Urgent Need to Plan a Stable
Transition" in the 1998 file of:
http://amsci-forum.amsci.org/archives/september-forum.html

> > The way for a reader to vote is not with his (institution's) S/L/P
> > dollars, but with his eyes, his citations, his refereeing, and his
> > research! This is not commerce we are talking about, but Learned
> > Inquiry.
> 
> Hmm. I thought we were talking about the economics of learned inquiry.

You got me on that one. (I'm just a psychologist!)

> I'm not talking about post-publication peer commentary; I'm talking
> about post-publication peer review, just as you describe in the following
> excerpt:

But my point in the prior excerpt was that post-publication "peer
review" (which I called, I think quite correctly, peer commentary,
because that's what it is!) is not a viable substitute for
prepublication peer review! 

It's as if all the food is put on the market and then people have
to listen to the cacophony of consumers to decide what's safe to eat!
I'd rather sell (and buy) my eggs already graded by reliable experts!

> Here, I think, is a difference in our conceptions. You think of the "R"
> [Tag for "Refereed"] and "U" [Tag for "Unrefereed"] as being bound to
> the archive. But that seems rather limited. Why not have different
> organizations providing the "R"s and "U"s with pointers to the
> archive?

See the analogy above. I'd rather have my eggs graded by reliable
experts, ONCE. Otherwise who will grade the "experts"?

> This way you get competition for rating services, with the appropriate
> incentives for keeping quality up and price down. Some reviewing
> services may charge for their services and some not; let the users
> decide what they want.

But then who will rate the services for me? And meanwhile, what do I do
about treating my ailing grandmother, or just getting eggs for tonight's
omelette?

I think the current QC/C, though it could stand some improvement, is
good enough so I would be satisfied with freeing the current journal
literature SUCH AS IT IS now. QC/C reform schemes can be tested
empirically, but for now, I want to stick with the current egg-grading
methods...

> Certainly figuring out which institutions can afford journals
> involves looking at how much they are paying now vs how much they would
> have to pay for online access.

Correct, but we have already agreed provisionally on the 1/3 of current
S/L/P expenditure figure and we know the bottom line: That SOME won't
be able to afford it. But if those who can afford it pay it up-front,
instead of as S/L/P, then all the have-nots will get the access anyway,
and everyone will be better off.

> > You focus on capturing the available money (via S/L/P), whereas I ask
> > "Why not give it away for free for all, and pay the small remaining cost
> > -- quality control -- out of the S/L/P SAVINGS?"
> 
> This is misreading of my claim. I don't have any quarrel with giving
> the writing away for free, and having the authors pay for posting.
> ...The question is who will pay for the filtering? 

Posting WHAT? I am talking about posting (self-archiving) the REFEREED
(= "filtered") papers. (And there is no cost to speak of for the
self-archiving, just for the refereeing QC/C.)

> Just as the authors benefit from being published,
> and will pay to do so, the readers benefit from filtering and will pay
> for high quality filtering.

(Let me first us lay to rest the author "payment" for self-archiving,
because there isn't any. )

Now, self-archiving WHAT? Unrefereed preprints? Fine. But why would I
want to stop there? What do I want everyone, everywhere to see: just
the raw draft, or the accepted, certified final draft? The latter, of
course. 

Now it's true that readers prefer the final draft too, and it's true
that the QC/C will cost 1/3 of current S/L/P and will be paid by my
institution either way. But if it is paid up-front, I, the author (and
my institution), get the further benefit of infinite reach for my work.
Whereas the only advantage to keeping payment on the S/L/P end is some
hypothetical one that I can't even quite articulate! (Again, it sounds
like no contest to me!)

> Of course, if the authors are willing to pay for the filtering (as you
> assume), there is no need for the readers to pay. But the incentives
> are poor in that system---I think that it would tend to degenerate into
> the vanity press you correctly deride.

I think that is as far as we will get with this one, I'm afraid. We
agree on the amount. We agree on who pays (the author's institution
either way). But if it is paid up front I claim that it frees the
literature for all without loss of quality, whereas you claim that it
will compromise quality.

I think this can only be settled empirically. I will continue to try to
promote self-archiving (of both unrefereed preprints AND refereed
reprints). I expect you will want to be cautioning against the
latter...

> In your system, the authors pay the journals to have their papers published.
> The analogy is that the drug companies would pay the FDA to have their
> drugs approved. Do you see a problem with the latter business model?

I actually have no idea how the FDA works; perhaps I shouldn't have
mentioned it. It was just meant to be an example of a (reliable?)
quality controller. But I do know how peer review works, and I know
referees are not paid, and as long as they are not, they are
incorruptible (incorruptible by how the implementation of peer review
is funded: I am not claiming peer review is perfect, or could not be
improved).

Peer review is what it says: Specialised work is reviewed by qualified
fellow specialists with no financial incentive. I would have hoped that
was how drugs were reviewed too, but of course there is a critical
difference there: Drugs (like books, and unlike journal articles) are
produced to be SOLD not to be given away. If you want to look to a
source of corruption, look there!

--------------------------------------------------------------------
Stevan Harnad                     harnad at cogsci.soton.ac.uk
Professor of Cognitive Science    harnad at princeton.edu
Department of Electronics and     phone: +44 2380 592-582
Computer Science                  fax:   +44 2380 592-865
University of Southampton         http://www.cogsci.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/
Highfield, Southampton            http://www.princeton.edu/~harnad/
SO17 1BJ UNITED KINGDOM           ftp://ftp.princeton.edu/pub/harnad/




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