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Re: Monopolies

> With respect to an academic reader, the choice of a journal is a
> monopoly. If article X was published in a particular scholarly journal,
> there is no way to get it from any other journal. IIf the article is in
> the most expensive journal, it makes no difference to him.
> With respect to a library serving researchers, each individual scholarly
> journal is a monopoly. If the user wants an article from X, the user is
> looking for that specific article in that journal, and no other article
> in that journal or in any other journal will do. If this is a very
> expensive journal, it must still be made availab le in some way.  (The
> journal may be available through various routes, such as document
> delivery, but in any case that journal, and only that journal, is the
> one that must be paid for--and often at many times the $7 figure that
> Jim quotes.)


Thank you for very clearly laying out the specifics of where you argue the
monopoly exists.  I probably didn't pay enough attention to earlier posts,
and I incorrectly locked onto phrases discussing "publishing monopoly" as
meaning the entire spectrum of the industry (and my argument was made in
that vein).

One point I made in my most recent post was that it appeared as though Jan
was arguing that each article was an irreplaceable resource. That appears
to be what you argue as well, and I don't think I can dispute it. By it's
very nature, any copyrighted work is indeed a monopoly of one. It is, and
can only ever be, the single occupant of it's unique space. But that's
getting a little too metaphysical for me. :)

So now that we agree on the terms, that there is no way a copyrighted
article or journal cannot be anything other than a monopoly of one, I
guess we have to see whether or not we think that is a bad thing. Or are
you not making any argument and simply stating that, yes, a publishing
monopoly exists due to the fact that it the publication is usually
copyrighted and therefore one-of-a-kind?

Personally, I don't think that kind of monopoly is by nature a bad thing,
nor do I think that it's somehow different from any other similar monopoly
which exists in our world (e.g., expensive art, school textbooks, a
particular model of car, etc.).  For the reasons I mentioned before, when
I was misunderstanding the scope of the monopoly term, I don't believe the
industry has behaved unfairly in all, or perhaps even in many, aspects. As
is always the case, there are some who behave poorly, but as with other
free-market interactions we've seen the consumers respond accordingly.

To my eyes, the larger debate has always struck me as being one of
defining fair use, and defining fair interaction between two entities. The
consumer and the provider each have their own desires, and they ultimately
need to compromise before an exchange occurs. The contract negotiation you
outline is the primary example (another is the outright threat of boycott,
as we've seen occur in the past).

I see so many examples of fair and reasonable terms of access being
provided, that I guess the librarian point of view is foreign to me. I can
understand the words, but I haven't had to experience it.  Publishers who
work with HighWire tend to provide a great deal of flexibility when
providing access.  That $7.00 fee I mention isn't uncommon, and strikes me
as being extremely reasonable.  In other words, even though the particular
article must be accessed as a monopoly item, the price is so fair that I
can't see it being in any way considered unreasonable. As an example, most
(perhaps all) of the publishers I see have rolling free back issues,
meaning after a certain period of time the articles becomes freely
available to those with network access.

I suppose the reason I get upset when I see some of these debates is that
I think that certain publishers aren't the only ones who can be painted as
being unfair and unreasonable in their demands.  I think both sides have
used good and bad tactics in their negotiations: bundling journals may be
an unfair thing for a publisher to do, but circulating a petition to try
and boycott any journal who does not immediately agree to ones' demands is
also a bit underhanded.  Both sides want something, both sides demanded
it, and it was left up to the individual players to decide if they wanted
to stay the course.

I also believe it is unreasonable to demand an unalienable right to choose
an area of research and to also demand unrestricted access to other
research in the same area -- It smacks of "I want, therefore I have the
right." I know you aren't arguing that, but I think perhaps some others
are.  Or at least, that is how I've been reading some of the angrier
postings over the years.  To my mind, the world is a place where
compromises must be made.  People have to make decisions about what they
want out of the world, and they have to live with the fact that they don't
get to make all the rules.

> No one is arguing that governments regulate scientific publishing

I know you weren't, and neither was Jan. I didn't mean to give that
impression. However, there have been attempts to perform such regulation,
at least there have according to the newspapers I've read. Such regulation
attempts do not sit well with my libertarian leanings.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
James A. Robinson                       jim.robinson@stanford.edu
Stanford University HighWire Press      http://highwire.stanford.edu/
650-723-7294 (W) 650-725-9335 (F)