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Re: ALPSP statement on e-publishing.

Chuck raises a very valid question about the real costs of electronic

During the last decade, the University of Chicago Press made a substantial
effort to retool the publishing process used for the American Astronomical
Society journals. By going to an electronic-first concept -- meaning that
the articles were converted to archival quality SGML as soon as they were
received -- and deriving the paper and electronic screen versions
automatically from the SGML, we have made significant savings in the
publishing process. The AAS now produces both electronic and paper
versions at a cost less than was needed to produce the paper version alone
ten years ago.

It took a significant effort and a substantial amount of time to achieve
this, but we are publishing faster, better, and cheaper than we used to.
But not all journals will fall into this mode. The AAS journals are
expensive journals to produce -- that is, they contain significant amounts
of complex math and they are more heavily copy edited than many other
journals. Under these circumstances, and with authors submitting
near-perfect manuscripts using our well defined LaTeX macro package, it is
possible to achieve cost savings by going electronic.

Yet, I see publisher after publisher claiming that adding an electronic
version costs them more. In many cases I am skeptical, and would hope that
by retooling their time-honored processes they could add the electronic
version far much less than they are charging.

The other benefit of going to archival quality SGML for storage of the
articles comes in maintaining and providing access to the back issues. In
our case, the screen version is automatically derived from the SGML at
very little cost. This means that making technological updates to the
older articles becomes very simple. Moreover, the cost of storage and
compute power is dropping much faster than the volume of pages to be
served is increasing. So, in sum, and even including the increasing number
of older pages, the overall costs to serve a journal to subscribers should
be decreasing. Maintaining and serving the past issues is a minor
extension to the work of serving the current issues. Chuck is right in

The underlying assumption I am making here is that the journal is designed
for easy maintenance, using a good, robust version of HTML (or perhaps
XML). If a publisher does that, and uses automated tools and translation
programs, then maintaining the complete backlist should have very little
cost impact.

Yet I do not see either of these outcomes happening. Publishers in general
are charging additional costs for producing electronic versions of their
journals which range from small to exorbitant increases. And, they are
claiming that the cost of maintaining an electronic archive is overly
burdensome. Going by our experience, I find it difficult to believe either
of these claims. We, for one, are paying for the long term preservation
out of current revenues (probably less than 1% of current revenues). Yes,
serving electronic journals takes some effort, but once you are doing it
for your current journals, adding the long term preservation and access is
really trivial.

I don't think electronic journals in the sciences should cost more than
their paper counterparts used to cost ten years ago.

--Peter Boyce--
At 10:48 PM 4/25/2002 -0400, Hamaker, Chuck wrote:
>I read with interest the executive summary of the new ALPSP report on
>authors and electronic publishers.
>I have a question about an assertion in the article "Electronic Publishing
>and Learned Societies" - http://www.alpsp.org/epub_learnsoc.pdf an ALPSP
>paper for the Research Support Libraries Group ..a [PDF]pdf file on the
>ALPSP site
>Here's the statement I'm interested in:
>"However, electronic publishing has been found to bring substantial (and
>continuing) new costs; the creation and maintenance of an appropriate
>system to hold and provide access to content is an expensive business. We
>know, too, that the costs of long-term preservation will be substantial
>and are likely to impact everyone in the information chain. For most
>learned journals, with circulations of under 1000, the savings on
>manufacturing, materials and distribution costs form a negligible
>percentage of total costs. Additional costs are incurred for as long as
>customers require both print and electronic versions; we are lobbying to
>remove the VAT problem which contributes to libraries' reluctance to
>abandon print, but insecurity about long-term access and preservation, and
>users' own preferences, are also factors."
>Does ALPSP have documentation for the "substantial(and continuing) new
>costs" statement?