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Re: Berkeley faculty statement on scholarly publishing

Dear Anthony,

I agree with you on many points, but, you won't be surprised to hear, not
on all.

Publishers won't take a leap of faith, I agree. They don't take a lead in
the development of new models and new ways. That seems a concept for
industries other than science publishing. The argument that so far the
article processing fee model (which you call 'author paid') hasn't worked
cuts little ice. It does work, albeit on a small scale so far. But the
argument does underscore the conservatism and complacency in the industry
in which 'followship' is more prevalent than leadership. The drivers of
change won't likely be found in the industry. I hope I'm wrong.

I agree that if authors should want to go the 'author paid' route,
publishers would follow. But authors won't. Waiting for Godot.  Authors
are fairly insignificant in terms of making economic choices anyway. They
go for aspirations (reputation, impact factor) and for speed of
publication. They don't pay in either publishing model. They are often
oblivious of the fact that someone has to pay. Anyone. That said, they
actually do often pay in the subscription system, albeit not for the
subscriptions, but for things like colour charges, reprints, and the like.
And quite significant amounts at that.

I also agree with your observation that in some areas citations are often
only to abstracts. That's a good reason why publishers should want to look
into open access with an article processing fee model.  Let me explain.
The value of a full-text article is diminishing. The underlying data are
increasingly freely available. The abstracts are largely freely available.
The knowledge embedded in articles will, before too long, be represented
in disambiguated semantic maps of the articles rather than in the articles
themselves. Articles will be sorted by significance, by the amount they
add to existing knowledge.  The 'delta' so to speak. The bulk of
'archival' and 'confirmatory' articles will not be read anymore. They
probably aren't now (maybe just their abstracts). They won't be completely
ignored, and they will still be important, but their importance is a
function of their existence rather than their being read. Knowing that
they have been published will be enough. Futuristic? I am aware of at
least one system designed to reliably bring out the 'delta' being in a
very advanced stage of development.

Researchers being able to pick out the few articles with a significant
'delta' and nobody having to read most full articles, even the ones
relevant to their field (but pedestrian), makes content less valuable and
more difficult to sell. It's just a thing librarians have to wake up to if
they want to make savings.

Another element that should be taken into account is that we have moved to
an article economy instead of a journal economy. That has serious
consequences. Think monographs. How many 'duds' need to be published on
average for every best seller (and 'best' is probably no more than a few
thousand copies in this realm)? And how expensive do they have to be to
make the sale of a few hundred copies profitable, even modestly?

Given that the *publishing* of journal articles is more important than the
*reading* of it, and getting more so, isn't it a good idea for publishers
to think about making their money with the act of publishing (i.e. making
public) rather than with trying to sell content or access rights?

Open Access is not this dire threat for publishers. On the contrary.  It
it their survival.


Jan Velterop

On 16 May 2005, at 02:13, Anthony Watkinson wrote:

Dear Jan

It is good that you have started posting again from your new address. It
seems to me that you are taking a whole series of interesting
hypothetical positions which do not however impact that much on

If authors want publishers to go the author paid route, they (the
publishers) will find some way of making enough money for investment and
profit/surplus. It will be a new business model, which so far has not
worked as a business model. Publishers are not going to take the leap of
faith unless they do have evidence.

It is their main job on behalf of their authors and editors who are (in
the case of the learned societies actually also the owners) to stay in
business. One can envisage a situation where editors and societies tell
publishers that they must go OA and publishers resist. I can assure you
that this is not the situation now in most fields.

Publishers are not publishing for Congress or for journalists. It may be
that they have a moral duty to do so (I do not in fact think they have)
but publishing for the lay public has not and has never been the
business of scholarly publishers. They are part of scholarly
communication. The popularisation of science and medicine is different.

It seems to me that two reasons why almost all learned societies and
most authors and editors do not go strongly for open access is that i.
as authors they want to reach their peers and are not bothered about the
general public ii as users they mostly feel that they do get the access
they need. The reason why I assert this is that this is what the CIBER
survey (2004) showed.

As to the excellent article by Antelman, I wonder whether the conclusion
that OA articles result in more impact will remain in any follow up now
that Google crawls the sites of most major publishers. My own experience
(and I suspect your experience) is that in practice citations are as
often to the abstracts as to the full text especially in the medical
area. We shall see. I can see that increased impact is going to be a
strong case for OA publishers and will influence academics: at least it
ought to be.