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Re: 78-Year Old Journal Goes Electronic Stevan Harnad 25 Jul 1995 18:31 UTC

> Date: Mon, 24 Jul 1995 17:52:57 -0500 (EST)
> From: (Thomas J. Walker)
> Actually, if the Society wanted to cease using journal revenues for other
> activities, I believe it could give issues away at the $45-page-charge
> level. But you are right, if it wanted to give issues to libraries and
> charge authors $57 per page it would maintain its revenue

The real question is: what are those "other activities"? My guess (from
prior data and what you write below) is that the "other activities" of a
journal turn out to be those of sustaining a paper-journal-publishing
business! This is also why I doubt the tenability of a distinction between
for-profit and non-profit paper journal publishers. The paper journal
publishing enterprise (with its high cost and awkward forms of
distribution, namely, physically mailed paper copies to individuals and
institutions) has a logic and a ecology of its own; and although, as
I've stressed repeatedly, there is nominally a distinction between trade
publishing and scholarly publishing, in the case of (esoteric) scholarly
paper journals at any rate, both are better described as trade, being
wedded to the subscription model, according to which readers are
charged for access to work that the author (who earns nothing from the
transaction) would much rather give away (the Faustian Bargain) to
guarantee the widest possible distribution for his ideas and findings
-- indeed would PAY to have them more widely available, as indicated by
the willingness to purchase and distribute reprints, and, in the case
of paper journals with page charges like your own, the willingness to
pay even those expenses without expectation of any revenue in return.

(The reply that the career benefits of the publishing are the author's
return is completely irrelevant and the source of much confusion, since
the career benefits derive from the published work's being read,
valued, built upon, cited, and, at worst, COUNTED by the author's
institution, granting agency, and perhaps the Nobel committee.
Contrast this with case of the normal trade author (or the coproducer
in any other mercantile transaction) who simply sells his product and
shares the profits with his publisher. (I hope it's obvious that
esoteric and exoteric authors' possibly shared Nobel aspirations are a
red herring and likewise fail to make this distinction any less crisp,
except, as I've also had occasion to state before, at the very-early
career stage of an unknown artist, or even a would-be pulp novelist,
who will give his work away in exchange for the recognition that will
-- he hopes -- then get the trade ball rolling.)

> I read (in a book about scientific publishing that I could probably
> locate it it were important) that in 1965 the U.S. Congress passed
> legislation allowing government agencies and grants from government
> agencies to pay page charges to non-for-profit publishers. This was in
> response to rapidly expanding need to publish because of rapidly
> expanding government expenditures on research. At the same time
> scientific societies could no longer keep up with using dues to satisfy
> the publishing needs of their members. I'm not sure why for-profit
> publishers were excluded, but commercial publishers weren't publishing
> very many journals at the time.

If there was such congressional legislation in the US, then it would not
have had much impact -- if page charges for research publication had
been a big factor in the first place (which they are NOT, in paper
publication today; they WILL be in tomorrow's electronic publication).
The source of the publication subsidy would then simply have become the
University, which is the real bean-counter in the publish-or-perish
race, and publication costs would be provided as an incentive for their
publishing scholars out of the overheads for the grants or some other
source that grows as a direct function of the quantity and quality of
research publication...

> How one charges a society's overhead has a big impact on calculations of
> journal profits. Whereas the editor's honorarium is surely a journal
> expense. What about the business manager's and all the expenses involved in
> running a Society that has as its principal business the publication of its
> journal(s).

Ah, you see, there you are! A business manager is necessitated by the
exigencies of producing print on paper and selling it to subscribers as
a trade; it virtually vanishes when the "business" is selling the
(quality-controlled) megaphone to authors: No need to worry about
advertising your product to them, or for fulfillment and distribution
concerns, with them! This is why I said subtracting line-items from the
paper way of doing things was the wrong way of reckoning what going
electronic-only would save: The whole system needs to be restructured,
and reconceived. I suspect you are right that it is the business side
that represents the biggest expense. Get rid of paper and subscriptions
and those expenses will shrink to well under 30% of what they are now
per page; they were never welcome in esoteric publishing in the first
place, just unavoidable exigencies of the medium (which is the true
villain in the Faustian Bargain, not, of course, the poor esoteric
journal publisher, who, with the esoteric author, is a co-victim)

> Thanks for making me do some calculations with 1993 figures I got from the
> Florida Entomological Society last year. I'm now on an Entomological
> Society of America committee charged with recommending what ESA should do
> with its publishing efforts. Their fiscal dependence on their journals is
> at least an order of magnitude greater than for the Florida Entomological
> Society.

I suggest you draw the above considerations to their attention in doing
the figures; it is well to remind learned societies why they have
"nonprofit" and "learned" status in the first place...

    Stevan Harnad
    Professor of Psychology
    Director, Cognitive Sciences Centre

    Department of Psychology
    University of Southampton
    Highfield, Southampton
    phone: +44 1703 592582
    fax:   +44 1703 594597