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Re: Research Reports as Advertisements: An Allegory

Professor Harnad's allegory describes the advertising industry as it existed 50 years ago.

Joe Esposito

On 3/4/07, Stevan Harnad <harnad@ecs.soton.ac.uk> wrote:
On Fri, 2 Mar 2007, Peter Banks wrote:

On 3/1/07 7:58 PM, "Stevan Harnad" <harnad@ecs.soton.ac.uk> wrote:

The online age has given birth to a very profound conflict of
interest between what is best for (1) the research journal
publishing industry, on the one hand, and, on the other hand,
what is best for (2) research, researchers, universities,
research institutions, research funders, the vast research and
development (R&D) industry, and the tax-paying public that
funds the research...

...Green OA mandates by research funders and institutions have been
vigorously opposed by some (not all) portions of the publishing
industry: these opponents have already succeeded in delaying the
adoption of Green OA mandates on a number of occasions.

This "New-Yorker length" essay begins with a flawed premise:
that research publishing and research are opposed. This
certainly will come as news to the many senior researchers who
work as editors, editorial board members, and reviewers in
When research funders propose, and researchers petition, to
mandate OA self-archiving -- and publishers oppose it -- I think
it's more than reasonable to call that opposition opposition.

Using similar logic, one might assert that there is very
profound conflict of interest between what is best for (1)
patients in the United States, on the one hand, and, on the
other hand, what is best for (2) the health care industry,
including doctors, hospitals, health-care insurers, the vast
research and development (R&D) industry in pharmaceuticals and
medical devices.

Suppose that advertising services traditionally made their money
from *selling* ads (to readers) on paper. Merchants advertising
their products would reluctantly agree to the placement of an
access-toll (collected by the advertising service from readers)
between the ads for their products and their intended customers
(for the products the merchant is selling -- the ones the ad is
advertising), because that was the only way to cover paper
production/distribution costs, and at least merchants didn't have
to pay the advertising service for preparing their ads.
(Merchants supply the raw copy, but the ad companies make it look
professional, and then print, distribute, and collect the tolls
for accessing it.)

Then the online medium comes along. Merchants still want some
help in making their ads look professional, and they don't mind
their ads continuing to be sold on paper, but they'd like them
now to be free online, to maximize readers and thereby product

So while the ads are still selling well enough on paper to cover
the ad service's costs and provide a fair profit, the merchants
put their ads online for free -- not the raw copy, but the
version made to look professional by the ad service.

The ad services agree to individual merchants giving away the
online version of their ads for free, but they oppose the
merchants' association mandating that all merchants do it, saying
it will destroy their (the ad service industry's) revenues and
their ability to cover their costs.

The merchants' association says that as long as paper ad sales
are still covering costs, there is no justification for opposing
a mandate that merchants deposit their ads free online. Only if
and when paper ad sales are no longer sustainable is there any
cause for objection, and then the objection can be met quite
simply by merchants paying the advertising services directly for
their value-added contribution.

To make the analogy complete, it remains only to add that the
*readers* of the adds are the merchants themselves: Let's say
that they are selling their products to one another; hence the
ads for their products are addressed to one another too.

That means that if and when the ads are no longer selling on
paper (because the free online version is all that readers want
and need), then the only thing the merchants association needs to
do is to redirect the money saved (from no longer paying for the
paper ads): The value added to the online ad by the ad service is
now paid out of the collective savings from the access-tolls for
the (now obsolete) paper ads.