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Publisher's interests (Albert Henderson) Marcia Tuttle 10 Jul 1996 12:05 UTC

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue, 9 Jul 1996 23:32:19 EDT
From: Albert Henderson <70244.1532@COMPUSERVE.COM>
Subject: Publisher's interests

James Huesmann <huesmanj@LHL.LIB.MO.US> wrote:

[big snip]

>         The STM market is currently analagous to the pre-1930's U.S.
> economy.  Yes, it built up a world class industrial superpower, but it
> contained problems, particularly in terms of monopolies, that need to be
> corrected.  (The term "Robber Barons" didn't come out of nowhere.) Being
> international in scope, U.S. anti-monopoly laws don't apply to the STM
> market unless a U.S. publisher cornered a large percentage of the market.
> Were all businesses in the U.S. run to maximize short-term profit,
> regardless of consequence?  No.  Do all publishers run up serial prices
> irrespective of costs?  Clearly not - I wouldn't hesitate to say that a
> only a very small minority do.  We need publishers.  I like publishers.  I
> just don't want to hand over a blank check to some of them.

>           You can't deny that some publisher's profits haven't soared -
> You're obviously an intelligent man and can read a balance sheet (at least
> for those that are publicly-traded companies - harder to tell with private
> firms.) Sure, market adjustments will take place (and are!) The problem is
> living through the interium.

I am not as sure about this as you seem to be, and I have actually worked
up prices and analyzed sales and other internal figures for publishers
since 1964. Publishers' profits are generally tied up in inventories and
product development. Perhaps you recall that when Price Waterhouse
reviewed Pergamon's 1968 accounts it wiped out the company's profits with
one or two adjustments of the accounts. An adversarial evaluation of many
STM publishers' accounts might do the same thing. Today many publishers'
product development resources are being sapped by struggles to respond to
demands for electronic innovation by academic libraries which are not
budgeted to pay premiums for all this new investment. I think this is
unfair to the research community that needs more review articles,
monographs, bibliographies, and other content-driven products and

>        By the way, costs for telephone service and computer equipment, on
> a similar "per-page" (per-unit) basis, have gone DOWN, not up - in the
> case of computer equipment, drastically so.

I thought we were talking totals, as in serials expenditures or library
materials expenditures might be to telephone expenditures or computer

>>> The questions is, will university adminsitrations realize
>>> that they're giving away the family jewels, then buying them back?  Some
>>> have......
>>This is a fantasy that ignores the reality that all U.S. universities
>>generate a minor fraction of research articles and monographs. The
>>majority originate with foreign authors. The reason none of the proponents
>>of this red herring have published a cost-benefit analysis is that it
>>would show how ludicrous the idea is.
>        What does the location of the author have to do with a world-wide
> market and problem?  Colleagues I know in Canada, for instance, have on
> occasion said they'd love to _only_ have the journal pricing problems of
> their U.S. counterparts.

Location is everything. I perceive a recognizable twist in the logic of
the claim. Where can a single university claim ownership of all learned
prose? Only in the Balkans.

>        Let's see, a for-profit publisher can turn a profit on these
> publications, but a university would lose money?  There's a flaw in that
> reasoning somewhere....  I agree, a few good cost-benefit analysis
> projects are definitely called for.

Anyone is welcome to become a publisher. As a matter of fact, the number
of university presses seems to have doubled over the last 30 years or so
in spite of a hostile market. Most of them are not making money, according
to my best sources.

>        I'm not against publishers - in fact, I'm very much in favor of
> publishers, irrespective of whether they are profit or not-for-profit.
> Publishers _should_ recover their investment plus some (profit, surplus,
> whatever you need to call it at your specific place).  I believe they play
> an important role in the scholarly communication cycle.  If publishers
> weren't there, we'd need to invent something like them.  There are people
> who do not agree with me, and some who are inventing such critters - the
> E-print archives I mentioned in the electronic thread pop to mind
> immediately.

>>This approach also ignores the public service mission of universities, a
>>mission that supports participation by faculty and research staff in
>>research, peer review, dissemination, etc. I keep having a feeling that
>>many of the people running the show belong in a profit-oriented commercial
>>environment, not research universities.
>         Yes, you have stated quite clearly the public service mission of
> universities.  Retaining copyright for the people who paid for the
> research to be created, reviewed, etc., could be construed as part of that
> mission - indeed, the U.S. government now thinks so for research that
> federal employees generate.  Nor does that mission require the traditional
> print media nor specifically publishers - although I think it will
> certainly be some time (don't know how much), if ever, until an electronic
> alternative fits as well.  Nowhere in there is a mission to support the
> profits of publishers, or anyone else for that matter.  Oops, I take that
> back - some universities have a mission to help incubate businesses and
> economies in their own state.  Don't recall any with a mission to support
> businesses in the UK, or the Netherlands, or...

They call it "Study Abroad."

Thanks for responding. Best wishes,