Subject: Re: Free software and free music have some similar problems.
From: "Stephen J. Turnbull" <>
Date: Sat, 24 Jul 1999 10:23:17 +0900 (JST)

>>>>> "Rich" == Rich Morin <> writes:
At 8:31 AM +0900 7/24/99, Stephen J. Turnbull wrote:
ST>    Rich> academics make anything from their writing efforts.  I'm
ST>A richly deserved consequence of our ever-more-prolific simulation of
ST>intellectual activity.  Those of us who _can_ write _do_ get paid for
ST>it, although not via peer-reviewed channels.  (I've been paid for my
ST>writings; evidently the quality cut-off is not particularly high.)  I
ST>hope we never do get paid for publication of research; the information
ST>overload argues for _less_ academic publication, not more.  Or better
ST>indexed and quality-rated publication, at least.

    Rich> A friend of mine, who is a professor of Philosophy, wrote a
    Rich> book that was published by Oxford University Press.  I
    Rich> dunno, but I suspect that this implies some level of QA?

Sure, but that's an academic publication.  I'm talking about the QA
that goes with paid publication.
    Rich> And, BTW, I have also written for pay (a few books, 200+
    Rich> articles), but I don't claim that I get paid more than my
    Rich> friend does because my writings are better (though they
    Rich> _are_ aimed at a far bigger audience).

I can't speak to your friend's writings, obviously; I can only say
what I know about my own field.  Good academics write well, although
they may not be able to write to target "bigger audiences"; still,
many of them can.  (Cf. Shapiro and Varian, or Cliff Stoll.)  But much
of the stuff that I see as a referee is hopelessly bad; these people
couldn't sell their text to porno mags.

    Rich> hopeful that peer-reviewed electronic publishing will
    Rich> eventually help to resolve some of this problem.
    >> It will reduce costs of distribution somewhat, but that's not
    >> where the costs are anyway.

    Rich> I disagree, presuming that you mean "information
    Rich> distribution", rather than "book distribution channels".  A

I do.

    Rich> $50 book typically results in a $2.50 royalty to the author.
    Rich> Everything else goes to the publisher (and associated
    Rich> suppliers) and the distribution chain.  So, 95% of the money
    Rich> is not getting to the author.  There aren't any villains in
    Rich> the piece, really; it just costs a lot to print up, ship,
    Rich> and store paper.

True.  But books are not going to go away.  At least that's what
several million stockholders seem to believe ;-)  So the
costs aren't going to go away.

More important, for limited distribution books and journals, the
editorial and review costs are a relatively large component.  I do
include the filter costs as a "distribution cost", since they are
accounted as costs by the publishers.

    >> The top journals will remain the top journals because everybody
    >> wants to publish there, including the Nobel-caliber scholars.
    >> will get a following only if
    >> Steve can provide value=added by spotting papers that don't
    >> make it in the big journals, but deserve to, and on a regular
    >> basis.

    Rich> True, but one of the (ironically) amusing things about the
    Rich> current setup is that much of the reviewing is being done on
    Rich> an unpaid basis.

Right.  And will continue to be done on an unpaid basis.  Based on my
shadow wage (about $150/hr, what insurance companies would pay me to
do personal injury consultation), my reviews are worth between $300
(for an unconditional-reject-and-tell-the-poor-fool-to-get-a-real-job
review) and $5000 (for a difficult multi-round article that eventually 
gets published).  More senior people would cost more, so I would guess 
that on a paid basis reviewing would cost an average of $750/paper,
even if you scale my $150/hr back to a quite reasonable $50/hr.

Who pays that?  The author, presumably.  Urk.  I think the current
system of editorial armtwisting is much less burdensome on the novice
and innovative researcher, who won't have the resources to pay review
fees etc.  Note that having the publisher absorb it as overhead is a
bad idea, as it (a) does nothing to discourage submission of bad
papers, (b) encourages publishers to encourage reviewers to skimp on
reviews (an important source of training for many young researchers),
and (c) encourages publishers to skimp on reviewing by soliciting or
accepting without review submissions from well-known, reliable
authors.  Besides the fact that the better the researcher, the more
likely they are to consider their time worth far more than the
compensation for reviewing.

One solution to all of these problems would be for employers to budget 
submission fees for their researchers, and then internal reviews would 
do a lot of the weeding out.  Some journals could keep young cheap
reviewers, others could have senior expensive ones.  Or we could just
keep the current situation where editors twist the arms of their
published authors and colleagues.

The point is that there is a lot more to the academic publication
process than just distributing the goods.

    Rich> If the same folks put their imprimatur on
    Rich> a web site, it _should_ gain much of the same clout...

If they reliably put out the goods, keep archives available reliably,
with wide bandwidth for the long term, pay the secretaries on time,
provide print versions for those who want them, put in multimedia
support staff, maintain professional websites, don't play favorites
with their own students or colleagues, they will ...

    Rich> Really, it's up to the academic folks to decide what they
    Rich> want to do; once they decide to accept epublishing, the
    Rich> commercial publishers won't be able to do much about it...

... and nobody will be able to tell the pigs from the humans.

I don't know whether the academic publishing house of the future is
North-Holland or Yahoo; it's not going to be self-publication, I will

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