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Re: Publishers' Roles: was, re: STM April white paper comments

The general intent of my remarks is not that different from Tony's views.

When I guessed that the eventual survival would be in the range of 50%, I
meant this to say that I was guessing that journals *would* remain
important, that they would *not* completely disappear, and that those
saying (as some prominent individuals at NIH and elsewhere do) that only
one or two print journals need survive, are probably *wrong*.  However,
any commercial or society publisher that imagines that all their journals
are excellent and will be survirors is not being realistic.

I do think Tony is unduly pessimistic about the technology. I suggest that
the provision for adequate equipment will be part of basic library
facilities, and that the overall quality will improve.

I suggest that the subject of validation and peer review is really a
separate issue. We can have printed journals without peer review; we can
have informal posting with added layers of peer review. We can have the
current pattern of secret peer review; we can have open review; we can
have alternative validation schemes. This is a fascinating question in
academic policy, but it does not depend on the form of publication.
Similarly questions about tenure and grant funding are separate; they are
highly important, but can be managed (well or poorly) with any form of

What is important to both Tony and myself, and is easily neglected by some
administrators, is that libraries continue to provide information in the
available forms while encouraging better systems.


Tony Ferguson wrote:
> David covers a lot of territory so any comment is incomplete but here
> goes:
> Cutting edge researchers do not rely upon journals for information.  We
> collect for their students and for researchers getting an initial
> understanding.  The importance of the validation function for research
> should not be underestimated. No validation means no money for research,
> no tenure, etc.  No research means no need for journals.  Let's not be too
> quick to embrace the death of the journal.  E-journals are superior
> communicators but until everyone can print all the pretty pictures, until
> everyone has superior band width, until everyone can afford to advance
> every three to four years with improvements in cpu's, monitors, printers,
> etc, we shouldn't get rid of all our print subscriptions.  I think that
> day will come for a number of subjects, but let's not count out John Cox
> and the entire STM publishing industry as not knowing anything.
> Tony Ferguson, Columbia University
> ___
> David Goodman wrote:
> > John Cox, and probably the membership of STM in general, have an
> > understandable desire to preserve the basic structure of the STM
> > publishing industry. The views he has expressed, however, do not show an
> > understanding that the basic principles governing STM journal publishing
> > have changed. At the risk of repeating what should be elementary concepts:
> >
> > The primary function of publication is that of making the material
> > physically available; secondary functions are that of validating,
> > organizing, and preserving the material. The role of publishers (society
> > or commercial) in this process is to provide the organization necessary
> > for production and distribution. The role of libraries is to facilitate
> > and provide the necessary organization, instruction, and preservation to
> > give individuals access to the material.
> >
> > Until recently, the only practical method of carrying out the primary
> > function, distributing scholarly material, has been publication on paper.
> > This is a capital-intensive process, and unless carried out on a very
> > small scale requires elaborate financial and organizational support, thus
> > requiring the development of the publishing industry. Even here, the
> > economic requirements do not necessarily support the present financial and
> > copyright arrangements: Since the subscriptions for scholarly journals are
> > always payable in advance, there is no financial risk, short of outrageous
> > mismanagement or insistence on continuing unprofitable titles. This
> > altogether removes the traditional justification for large profit margins
> > (in the publication of popular books the returns on the few very
> > successful titles must pay for the others, and the publisher must retain
> > the copyright because it is only successive editions that give these large
> > returns).
> >
> > The basic distribution of scholarly texts no longer requires paper. This
> > eliminates the absolute need for the entire present distribution and
> > production network, and gives the potential for a much simpler system.
> > The most basic distribution, the posting of submitted papers prepared in
> > appropriate electronic formats and the access to them by author, title and
> > keyword, is extremely inexpensive, partly because it makes use of
> > available capacity on already existing networks. If one wishes to provide
> > the continuation of the traditional paper products, and also the
> > availability of equivalent electronic versions and appropriate
> > enrichments, it could be very expensive (though the experience of some
> > societies has shown that if properly reorganized it need not be as
> > expensive as conventional modes of commercial printed journal production).
> >
> > The secondary functions are also important. In the existing system, the
> > costs for the validation of material by peer review and editing are
> > generally not borne by the publishers. These functions are performed by
> > the same group of people who are the authors; they do this work for
> > prestige and similar recognition rather than direct monetary remuneration.
> > In the existing system, the costs for organization and education are not
> > borne by the primary publishers either. The provision of indexing is done
> > by generally separate organizations; the funding of these comes from the
> > same available pool of money as that for primary publication. The
> > provision of access and instruction is done by libraries; to some extent
> > the funds available for organization and instruction compete with the
> > funds available for purchasing publications. In the existing system, the
> > costs for preservation are also borne by the libraries. To some extent the
> > funds available for this, as buildings and their maintenance, also compete
> > with the funds available for purchasing publications.  None of these
> > functions require the continuation of print publications or their
> > electronic equivalent.
> >
> > The question then becomes which works are appropriate for what form of
> > publication. The absolutely limiting factor is that the available money,
> > at least in the United States, is not increasing significantly. It is of
> > course theoretically conceivable that the benefits of an improved system
> > might lead policy makers and funding bodies to provide increased financial
> > resources, but there have certainly been no signs of this. On the
> > contrary, it seems to be the case that the readers and authors consider
> > the most basic form of electronic publication sufficient, and funding
> > beyond that level unnecessary, as seen in high energy physics where 90% of
> > the literature use is through the free electronic repository.
> >
> > Estimates I have seen for the continuing role of conventional publications
> > seem to be based upon the reading habits of the individual making the
> > estimate. Some researchers, who already use primarily informal means of
> > communication and read only one or two printed journals, think that only a
> > few news and review journals can or should survive. Seeing the widely
> > varying work patterns of users, I suspect that it will be more like 50%.
> > At least half of formally published material is never cited. Although it
> > may be worthwhile to distribute it for the record, at least this much
> > material would seem to be more suited for informal electronic publication.
> > I would add to this material in esoteric fields or serving very small
> > research communities. There will remain a need to formally publish, in
> > both print and online, the equivalent of the major journals in each
> > subject area, and a wide variety of review and news journals.
> >
> > To replace the disappearing primary function, publishers have recently
> > been offering to assume some of the secondary functions. To the extent
> > this does produce a system that would replace rather than add to elements
> > of the present system, it might provide an opportunity to combine
> > functions and save total costs.  The integration of primary and secondary
> > publication is a particularly useful possibility here, though I wonder if
> > the increased participation of commercial publishers, and the likely
> > fragmentation by publisher, would decrease total costs. (I think a more
> > promising path will be to make use of the spread of electronic publishing
> > for such cost savings techniques as the automatic generation of citation
> > indexes, though this might not provide a opportunity for conventional
> > publishers.) The potential for electronic distribution to replace physical
> > libraries is another possibility.  Although some librarians have the same
> > fears here as publishers do, I consider that the actual skill of a
> > librarian should be seen not as the physical but the intellectual
> > organization of material; we librarians will need to reconsider the
> > organization of our work but our teaching skills will be needed all the
> > more. With respect to preservation, a commercial organization subject to
> > profit requirements or a professional organization without secure funding
> > are not suitable bodies to operate an archival repository, print or
> > electronic.  to assure the survivability and necessary technical updating
> > for an archival electronic repository. With print, safety lies in the wide
> > dispersal of resources; with electronic resources, this is not necessarily
> > the case as both the physical existence and the technical updating must be
> > secured, and the appropriate organizational model is still to be
> > developed.
> >
> > In the past, publishers have been quite satisfied that they are doing
> > their part if they can hold price increases to under 10% a year. With
> > library budgets increasing at a slower rate than that, what could they
> > have possibly expected to happen? What is happening, now that the
> > technical capability has become available, is that the publishers are
> > becoming increasing irrelevant.
> >
> > What can they do, since they will not likely persuade the establishment to
> > increase their funding. They can continue to ignore reality and continue
> > some variant of what they are doing.  This may permit the more efficient
> > and innovative publishers to continue a little longer at the expense of
> > the others, but the resulting monopolies will remove all vestiges of price
> > competition rather than eliminate the price spiral.  I suggest they need
> > to accept that their role and size will be more limited: They no longer
> > need will material that cannot be published at prices that anyone will pay
> > given that there are now alternatives. They will instead concentrate of
> > the relatively smaller number of truly high-quality journals, print and
> > electronic, that contain a sufficiently large but manageable number of
> > important articles that people will actually want to read, and to buy.
> > And they will return to publishing books.
> >
> > --
> > Dr. David Goodman
> > Biology Librarian,
> > and Co-chair, Electronic Journals Task Force
> > Princeton University Library
> > dgoodman@princeton.edu         http://www.princeton.edu/~biolib/
> > phone: 609-258-3235            fax: 609-258-2627

David Goodman 
Biology Librarian, Princeton University Library 
dgoodman@princeton.edu         http://www.princeton.edu/~biolib/
phone: 609-258-3235            fax: 609-258-2627