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PostGutenberg Peer Review

On 2010-05-11, at 7:19 PM, Joseph Esposito wrote:

> What happens when the number of author-pays open access sites
> grows and these various services have to compete with one another
> to get the finest articles deposited in their respositories?

Green OA mandates require deposit in each author's own 
institutional repository. The hypothesis of Post-Green-OA 
subscription cancellations (which is only a hypothesis, though I 
think it will eventually prove to be right) is that the Green OA 
version will prove to be enough for users, leaving peer review as 
the only remaining essential publishing service a journal will 
need to perform.

Whether on the non-OA subscription model or on the Gold-OA 
author-pays model, the only way scholarly/scientific journals 
compete for content is through their peer-review standards: The 
higher-quality journals are the ones with more rigorous and 
selective criteria for acceptability. This is reflected in their 
track records for quality, including correlates of quality and 
impact such as citations, downloads and the many rich new metrics 
that the online and OA era will be generating.

> What will the cost of marketing to attract the best authors be?

It is not "marketing" but track record for quality standards and 
impact that attract authors and content in peer-reviewed journal 
publication. Marketing is for subscribers (institutional and 
individual); for authors and their institutions it is metrics 
that matter.

And, before someone raises the question: Yes, metrics can be 
manipulated and abused, in the short term, but cheating can also 
be detected, especially as deviations within a rich context of 
multiple metrics. Manipulating a single metric (e.g., robotically 
inflating download counts) is easy, but manipulating a battery of 
systematically intercorrelated metrics is not; and abusers can 
and will be named and shamed. In research and academia, this risk 
to track record and career is likely to counterbalance the 
temptation to cheat. (Let's not forget that metrics, like the 
content they are derived from, will be OA too...)

> I am not myself aware of any financial modeling that attempts to
> grapple with an environment where there are not a handful of such
> services but 200, 400, more.

There are already at least 25,000 such services (journals) now! 
There will be about the same number post-Green-OA.

The only thing that would change (on the hypothesis that 
universal Green OA will eventually make subscriptions 
unsustainable) is that the 25,000 post-Green-OA journals would 
only provide peer review: no more print edition, online edition, 
distribution, archiving, or marketing (other than the quality 
track record itself, and its metrics). Gone too would be the 
costs of these obsolete products and services, and their 

(Probably gone too will be the big-bucks era of journal-fleet 
publishing. Unlike with books, it has always been the individual 
journal's name and track record that has mattered to authors and 
their institutions and funders, not their fleet-publisher's 
imprimatur. Software for implementing peer review online will 
provide the requisite economy of scale at the individual journal 
level: no need to co-bundle a fleet of independent journals and 
fields under the same operational blanket.)

> As these services develop and authors seek the best one, what new
> investments will be necessary in such areas as information
> technology?

The best peer review is provided by the best peers (for free), 
applying the highest quality standards. OA metrics will grow and 
develop (independent of publishers), but peer review software is 
pretty trivial and probably already quite well developed (hence 
hopes of "patenting" new "systems" -- 
http://www.nature.com/news/2010/100507/full/news.2010.229.html -- 
are probably pipe-dreams.)

> Will the fixed costs of managing such a service rise along with
> greater demands by the most significant authors?

The journal quality hierarchy will remain pretty much as it is 
now, with the highest-quality (hence most selective) journals the 
fewest, at the top, grading down to the many average-level 
journals, and then the near-vanity press at the bottom (since 
just about everything eventually gets published somewhere, 
especially in the online era).

(I also think that no-fault peer review will evolve as a natural 
matter of course,i.e., authors will pay a standard fee per round 
of peer review, regardless of outcome: acceptance, 
revision/re-refereeing or rejection. So being rejected by a 
higher-level journal will not be a dead loss, if the author is 
ready to revise for a lower-level journal in response to the 
review. Nor will rejected papers be an unfair burden, bundled 
into the fee for accepted papers.)

> As more services proliferate, what will the cost of submitting
> material on an author-pays basis be?

There will be no more new publishing services, apart from peer 
review (and possibly some copy-editing), and no more new journals 
either; 25,000 is probably enough already! And the cost per round 
of refereeing should not prove more than about $200.

> Will the need to attract  the best authors drive prices down?

There will be no "need to attract the best authors," but the best 
journals will get them by maintaining the highest standards.

Since the peers review for free, the cost per round of refereeing 
is small and pretty fixed.

> If prices are driven down, is
> there any way for such a service to operate profitably as the
> costs of marketing and technology grow without attempting to
> increase in volume what is lost in margin?

Peer-reviewed journal publishing will no longer be big business; 
just a modest scholarly service, covering its costs.

> If such services must increase their volume, will there be
> inexorable pressure to lower some of the review standards in
> order to solicit more papers?

There will be no pressure to increase volume (why should there 
be)? Scholars try to meet the highest quality standards they can 
meet. Journals will try to maintain the highest quality standards 
they can maintain.

> What is the proper balance between
> the right fee for authors, the level of editorial scrutiny, and
> the overall scope of the service, as measured by the number of
> articles developed?

Much ado about little, here.

The one thing to remember is that there is a trade-off between 
quality-standards and volume: The more selective a journal, the 
smaller is the percentage of all articles in a field that will 
meet its quality standards. The "price" of higher selectivity is 
lower volume, but that is also the prize of peer-reviewed 
publishing: Journals aspire to high quality and authors aspire to 
be published in journals of high quality.

No-fault refereeing fees will help distribute the refereeing load 
(and cost) better than (as now) inflating the fees of accepted 
papers to cover the costs of rejected papers (rather like a 
shop-lifting surcharge!). Journals lower in the quality hierarchy 
will (as always) be more numerous, and will accept more papers, 
but authors are likely to continue to try a top-down strategy (as 
now), trying their luck with a higher-quality journal first.

There will no doubt be unrealistic submissions that can (as now) 
be summarily rejected without formal refereeing (or fee). The 
papers that merit full refereeing may elect to pay for refereeing 
by a higher-level journal, at the risk of rejection, but they can 
then use their referee reports to submit a more roadworthy 
version to a lower-level journal. With no-fault refereeing fees, 
both journals are paid for their costs, regardless of how many 
articles they actually accept for publication (which means, I 
hasten to add, that they are certified with the name and 
track-record of the accepting journal, but those are just serve 
as the metadata for the Green OA version self-archived in the 
author's institutional repository).

 	Harnad, S. (2009) The PostGutenberg Open Access Journal. 
In: Cope, B. & Phillips, A (Eds.) The Future of the Academic 
Journal. Chandos. http://eprints.ecs.soton.ac.uk/15617/

 	Harnad, S (2010) No-Fault Refereeing Fees: The Price of 
Selectivity Need Not Be Access Denied or Delayed. (Draft under 

And let's not forget what peer-reviewed research publishing is 
about, and for: It is not about provisioning a publishing 
industry but about providing a service to research, researchers, 
their institutions and their funders. Gutenberg-era publication 
costs meant that the Gutenberg publisher evolved, through no 
fault of its own, into the tail that wagged the paper-trained 
research pooch; in the PostGutenberg era, things will at last 
rescale into more proper and productive anatomic proportions...

Stevan Harnad