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Correction: Cost/Return of Electronic Journals Stevan Harnad 09 Dec 1991 21:12 UTC

----------------------------Original message----------------------------
I had earlier written:

>> I am not arguing for free distribution. The TRUE costs (and fair
>> return) of producing electronic scholarly-journals should certainly be
>> recovered (i.e., the costs of the editorial office, the costs of disk
>> storage, and the costs of sending/receiving email ...

>> If and when the American Psychological Association elects to charge for
>> each individual subscription to PSYCOLOQUY, my estimate is that (if the
>> highways continue to be free) it will cost each subscriber about 5 cents
>> a year (based on the current Listserv subscribership of 2500 --
>> and a good deal less if we use the Usenet "library subscriber" figure
>> of 15,000). What much larger costs and return the AAAS/OCLC are
>> recovering with their projected price of $105.00 per subscriber for
>> their future journal, I leave as a puzzle for the reader.

Even before Ken Laws's valid challenge (below) -- I redid my matchbox
calculation and noted that I had erred by two decimal points. The
figure should have been $5 per subscriber (not 5 cents) with the
current Listserv subscribership of ~2500. The error is not as big as
it seems, though, because PSYCOLOQUY is in its infancy and the
marginal costs of adding new subscribers are virtually nil (again,
assuming the highways stay free). The APA has a membership of over
100,000. When they are all on the net, and supplemented by the rest
of the world's population of professional psychologists and scholars
from related disciplines, the per-subscriber figure would indeed be
much closer to 5 cents than $5. But even $5 is a far cry from $105.

(The actual figure was 4, by the way, which I raised to 5 assuming 20%
would be a fair return, but these really are matchbox calculations. I
think I now have the orders of magnitude right, but someone more expert
than me would have to make more rigorous estimates.)

> Ken Laws <> had replied (to the 5 cent posting):

> I don't understand.  You have a staff that will work for $125 per year,
> less the cost of facilities and supplies? Perhaps PSYCOLOQUY can be
> run as a hobby, or subsidized by your employer, but few scientific
> journals can operate that way.  Hooray for those that can, and let
> the marketplace decide.  But if 2,500 readers want the services of
> a full-time reporter/editor/consultant/clerk like myself, even operating

As I explained in the correction above, subtract 20% and add two
decimal points and you'll have the exact current figure. (And in these
calculations I by no means intend to under-rate the value of the
expertise of a man like Ken, about whose excellent work I have known
for years now, since he first ran the valuable and now sorely missed

> Printed newsletters find that it takes one full-time clerk per 1,000
> subscribers -- and you incur that cost even if you charge only $.05
> per year.  With efficient computer support and using email only, you
> can support a much larger readership -- but someone has to pay for the
> computers and their maintenance.  I don't know how automated the
> AAAS/OCLC journal is, but I suppose that they currently have to deal
> with advertising, billing, address changes, renewals, and all the other
> hassles that attend a commercial operation.  Plus software development
> and distribution for their interface.  Perhaps even hardcopy distribution
> to people off the net.  Then there's the notion of fair profit,
> which is necessary if you want people to take the risk of setting
> up new services like this.

> Bitnet lists are nice, but quality journals like PSYCOLOQUY (and my
> own Computists' Communique) don't fall out of a discussion stream.
> There are costs, and they must be distributed among those who wish
> the service.  The more specific the service is to a subscriber's
> needs, the smaller the customer base and the higher the cost.

Academic enterprises like PSYCOLOQUY do benefit from academic support,
as they do from the support of Learned Societies like the American
Psychological Association. Princeton and Rutgers Universities, which
generously allow PSYCOLOQUY to use their computer facilities, are on
the one hand doing what universities traditionally do, which is
supporting worthwhile scholarly activities. On the other hand, the
electronic journal of the future will give some much-needed relief to
the University Library budgets that are so strained by the costs of
paper journals. Let the new economic chips fall where there may. All I
suggested was that the TRUE costs of the new medium (plus a fair
return) should be covered, but without spuriously duplicating
nonexistent costs and superfluous trappings carried over from the paper
medium. (Maintaining email address lists, for example, is real work in
the new medium, as is archive software development, but advertising,
production and distribution are a snap!)

Stevan Harnad