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Re: Costs of Electronic Journals

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue, 20 Oct 1998 09:04:28 EDT
From: listproc@lists.yale.edu
To: boyce@newb6.u-strasbg.fr
Cc: rodney.stenlake@yale.edu,
Subject: Re: Costs of Electronic Journals

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Date: Tue, 20 Oct 1998 14:57:13 +0200
To: liblicense-l@lists.yale.edu
From: "Peter B. Boyce" <boyce@newb6.u-strasbg.fr>
Subject: Re:Costs of electronic journals

At the risk of continuing a thread which is slightly different than

I am distrustful of publishers who say that electronic journals cost more
because you have the added cost of producing the electronic files.  If
this is so, the publishers are going about it the wrong way.  If
publishers first produce a well tagged (e.g. SGML or equivalent) before
they do anything about a paper version first four things will happen:

1. They will discover that effective use of electronic tools and
automation will result in reducing the costs associated with producing the
prime electronic copy. These costs should be in the range of 70-80 percent
of the present costs for producing the full printed journal.

2. The paper version can be derived fully automatically from this
electronic prime copy. The only cost asociated with producing paper is the
marginal cost of printing, binding and mailing.

3. The electronic versions, of which there must be two, a version for
reading on the screen (e.g. HTML with abundant links and electronic
features) and a version for local printout (e.g. PDF), can be derived
automatically from the prime electronic copy.

4. The prime electronic copy, if done well, will be able to serve as the
robust electronic archival copy.  Such a well-tagged copy can be updated
periodically, at very little cost, to take advantage of advances in both
technology and standards.

By going to the electronic-first philosophy publishers will be able to
offer the electronic subscription as their prime product at 70-80 percent
of their present costs. A paper subscription, should the library desire
it, and most will for a while -- maybe for ever, can be added for an
additional 20-25 percent. The total should not have to exceed the present
cost of the paper subscription. In fact, there should be significant

There are two additional advantages to this approach:

1. The robust format of the prime electronic copy allows it to be updated
and managed so as to ensure the permanence of the electronic archive.  I
expect that this could be done within the operating budget of the journal.
The key is that all updates can be done by autonmatic computer scripts and
programs which do not requirre human intervention beyond the development
of the scripts themselves, which is a simple job.

2. As browser technology advances (or at least changes) all issues of the
screen version of all the journal, from the time it first went electronic,
can be updated by automatic scripts and programs so as to incorporate the
new capabilities. At the very least, such updates will allow the material
to remain accessible, even if all the new browser capabilities are not
incorporated. This keeps the journal ( including the links, the videos,
the live math, the computer readable tables and all the other
electronic-only features) alive and useful as technology changes.

For those of you who don't think this is possible, I say we have done it.
The American Astronomical Society publishes 30,000 pages per year through
the University of Chicago Press. We started to put our journals on the Web
in 1995, and we have accomplished everything stated above. Along with
that, we have assembled the electronic information resources in astronomy
into a fully interlinked distributed information system, of which the
journal is but one part, but that really is the subject for a different

The point is that electronic does not have to cost more, particularly if
you start with a journal which is somewhat complex (with math, etc.) and
expensive to produce on paper.  But to achieve real cost savings requires
the publisher to go through a fundamental change in the way they produce
journals. Pressure from librarians may help to hasten this transition.

As to the "relatively little takeup" in regard to electronic-only
subscriptions that Anthony Watkinson mentions, we can draw one of two
conclusions: Either the community is lagging, or the products are awful.

>From what I have seen for most of the e-journals so far, it is the