Lee N. Miller (2000) Will Electronic Publishing Reduce. Psycoloquy: 11(093) Electronic Journals (6)

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PSYCOLOQUY (ISSN 1055-0143) is sponsored by the American Psychological Association (APA).
Psycoloquy 11(093): Will Electronic Publishing Reduce

Book Review of Tenopir & King on Electronic-Journals

Lee N. Miller
Editor Emeritus, Ecology and Ecological Monographs
Founding Managing Editor, Conservation Ecology
Peer Review and Publishing Software Consortium
118 Prospect Street, Suite 212
Ithaca, NY 14850



Using voluminous data from over 30 years of research, Tenopir and King (2000a,b) describe the evolution of scholarly/scientific publishing, primarily in the United States. Their data thoroughly document how scientists find and use information, and the ways that publishers and libraries facilitate or frustrate the process. They develop cost and pricing models for print journals, and then use the models to predict the costs and pricing of electronic journals. Fixed costs dominate the total cost of most scholarly journals. Because the fixed costs of electronic journals are quite similar to those of print journals, the authors conclude it is unlikely that electronic journals can be produced and distributed at significantly lower cost than print journals. Their conclusions presume that the developing universe of electronic journals ultimately will closely resemble the present universe of print journals. If non-profit publishers become more prevalent in the e-journal universe, or if free archiving of papers leads to free or nearly free journals, the outcome may not fit their model.


copyright, citation impact, digital library, electronic archives, electronic publishing, electronic journals, peer review, publication costs, research funding
1. It's hard to argue with data, and Tenopir and King (2000a,b), the authors of "Toward Electronic Journals" have boatloads of data. The data in this book were gathered over more than 30 years from surveys of scientists, libraries, and publishers. The authors have used those data to describe the world of scholarly scientific communication in great, quantitative detail.

2. The authors consider whether academic journals are of real value to scientists, and are worth saving from death by economic strangulation. Answering this in the affirmative, they then ask numerous questions about how scientists find information, how much they read, how many journals they use, and how they make decisions about alternative uses of their time and money in obtaining information. They also ask how much libraries are used, how librarians reach decisions about which journals to buy, and for which journals the readership no longer justifies the cost of a subscription. They then thoroughly dissect the costs of journal publishing, and then ask whether electronic publishing will reduce those costs significantly.

3. Half of the book is devoted to establishing a quantitative description of the way scientists find and use information, and the ways that publishers and libraries facilitate or frustrate the process. The real focus of the authors is on economics, however, and the other half of the book concentrates on the economics of scholarly scientific communication, particularly in the United States. Their objective is to answer the important question, "Will electronic publishing reduce the cost of scholarly scientific journals?" To answer this question, cost and pricing information are added to the descriptive data, and predictive models are constructed.. After describing the history, use, and economics of printed journals as the primary mode of scientific communication, they extrapolate their findings to electronic journal publishing. Only 30% of the book deals directly with electronic journals; the remainder is about the first word of the book's title: "Towards."

4. The argument put forth by the authors goes roughly as follows: Prices of scientific journals (adjusted for inflation) rose 260% between 1975 and 1995. The number of subscriptions, especially personal subscriptions, fell precipitously as subscription prices rose. As people cancelled their personal subscriptions, libraries have become the primary source of less-used journals and of older articles. Unable to cancel many of their subscriptions because of demand, libraries have staggered under the burden of relentless price increases.

5. The fixed cost portion of a journal's total costs increases as the number of subscribers decreases. Since nearly 60% of scientific journals have fewer than 2500 subscribers, fixed costs dominate the cost picture for most journals. The authors calculate that the total cost per average journal subscription ranges from $70 for a journal with 10,000 subscribers, to $775 for a journal with only 500 subscribers.

6. When they apply their cost models to electronic journals, Tenopir and King find that elimination of printing and distribution costs will be largely offset by new technology costs, such as those for implementing standards, storage, electronic distribution, etc. They calculate the cost saving to publishers of only $19-25 per subscription. By eliminating processing and storage of printed journals, libraries can save an additional $70 per subscription, but these savings too are offset by technology costs. The authors conclude that electronic publishing will not result in the great cost saving that some anticipate. Prices, of course, depend on profit margins as well as costs. The authors consider that profit margins for American publishers have been reasonable, whereas the prices charged by European publishers have resulted in very high profits.

7. All of this makes a very convincing argument, backed by great quantities of data that most scientists were probably unaware of. Nevertheless, I couldn't help wondering whether the authors have, in a sense, been trapped by their own data. Have they envisioned a world of scientific communication that looks too much like the world so well described by their data ... without giving enough thought to alternate possibilities? For example, what mix of commercial and non- commercial publishers might we expect in a world with lots of on-line- only journals? In the present world, where most electronic journals are published in parallel with print journals, the e-journal universe is dominated by commercial publishers, at least from the standpoint of total sales. Cost projections in the book are based on the unstated assumption that commercial publishers will maintain their dominance of electronic journal publishing.

8. Until now, professional societies often have not been willing or able to undertake the financial risks of establishing many new journals. With start-up costs of about $159,000 for a typical new journal, and annual operating costs exceeding $500,000, it usually takes about six years before the journal reaches a break-even point. Some journals never reach that point. In the case of electronic journals, however, the costs are much lower, and professional societies may be able to handle the risks more readily. This could lead to a significant increase in the proportion of electronic journals published by non-profit organizations, accompanied by a significant decrease in the average price of journals.

9. Tenopir and King argue that the fixed costs of producing electronic journals are nearly the same as for print journals, and that these costs will still be spread over a small number of subscribers in most cases. The $400,000 fixed costs calculated for a typical journal, however, are heavily influenced by data from large publishers. Fixed costs for a smaller non-commercial peer-reviewed electronic journal do not have to be anywhere near that figure. Our experience with the on-line-only journal Conservation Ecology <http://www.consecol.org/Journal/>, for example, has convinced me that fixed costs less than $100,000 are adequate for an on-line journal publishing the equivalent of 1700 pages per year (the average journal size in Tenopir and King's sample of 6771 journals). This assumes that the journal uses, as we do, on-line article submission, automated conversion of manuscripts to HTML or PDF, and on-line peer review with automated reminders and manuscript tracking. Paid personnel include an editorial office manager, a part-time computer specialist, and freelance copy editors; the Editor-in-Chief also receives an honorarium. A server can be purchased, or leased from a web-hosting service, for less than $2000 per year. We have spent nothing on marketing, yet 9000 subscribers and many additional non-subscribers in 103 countries have located our journal, primarily through Web searches, or via free notices in the journals of a single professional society.

10. Not-for-profit electronic journals clearly can reduce the cost of scientific publishing. Another possibility is that on-line self-archiving of articles by their authors will lead to the free, or nearly free, distribution of scientific papers (Okerson & O'Donnell 1995). If peer review continues to be handled by professional societies, as it surely will, and the revised and accepted papers are made accessible in central archives, journals may become simply on-line Tables of Content with links pointing to the archived articles. When libraries no longer have to pay for buying, shelving, and managing collections of expensive print journals, there should be ample funds available to support the peer reviewing activities of on- line journals. Some journals may also be printed, in parallel with their on-line versions, as long as a demand for print copies continues. Harnad (1999) has convincingly argued that this scenario would lead to the condition that scholarly authors really prefer: the worldwide free availability of their work to all interested readers (American Scientist September Forum 1998, 1999, 2000: <http://amsci-forum.amsci.org/archives/september98-forum.html>).

11. When scientists decide whether to buy a personal subscription to a journal, to read it in the library, or to order copies of individual papers via interlibrary loan or a document delivery service, their decision can be based on cost, frequency of use, convenience, distance to the library, etc. I'm sure I never considered all these factors as thoroughly as they are accounted for in the authors' model, and I was surprised to see the magnitude of total costs for interlibrary loan and document delivery, for example. Most scientists, and especially those who serve on the editorial boards and governing bodies of professional societies, would benefit from reading this book, or at least one of the summaries of the book's data that have been published by the same authors (e.g., Tenopir and King, 1998). The book should also be read by collection development specialists and administrators in research libraries.

12. The cost of finding and using information decreases when electronic journals and searchable databases are used. I'm looking forward to the time when all scholarly scientific journals are available on the Web, with easy access to cited articles in other journals simply by clicking on links... a world of science without boundaries. Imagine how much quicker and easier it would be to find the information we need, to check what a cited article really said, to compare different lines of thought on a topic. And if the economic barriers to access were eliminated or lowered significantly (Okerson & O'Donnell 1995), think how many scientists around the world with limited funds could add their insights to our discussions. Although data from a paper- based world of publishing may predict that we will never achieve this goal, pioneering experiments have shown that electronic journals can add useful new dimensions to scientific publishing, and can do it at a lower cost (Holling 2000).


Harnad, S. (1999) Free at Last: The Future of Peer-Reviewed Journals. D-Lib Magazine 5(12) December 1999 http://www.dlib.org/dlib/december99/12harnad.html

Holling, C. S. (1999) Lessons for Sustaining Ecological Science and Policy Through the Internet. Conservation Ecology 3 (2). <http://www.consecol.org/vol3/iss2/art16>

Okerson A. & O'Donnell, J. (Eds.) (1995) Scholarly Journals at the Crossroads; A Subversive Proposal for Electronic Publishing. Washington, DC., Association of Research Libraries, June 1995. <http://www.arl.org/scomm/subversive/toc.html>

September 1998 American Scientist Forum (1998, 1999, 2000) Archives of September98-Forum@Listserver.SigmaXi.Org. http://amsci- forum.amsci.org/archives/september98-forum.html

Tenopir, C. and King, D. W. (1998) Designing Electronic Journals With 30 Years of Lessons From Print. The Journal of Electronic Publishing 4 (2) http://www.press.umich.edu/jep/04-02/king.html

Tenopir, C. and King, D. W. (2000) Towards Electronic Publishing: Realities for Scientists, Librarians, and Publishers. Washington, DC: Special Libraries Association. 488 pp. + xxii

Tenopir, Carol, and Donald W. King (2000a) Towards Electronic Journals: Realities for Scientists, Librarians, and Publishers. Washington, D.C.: Special Libraries Association. http://www.sla.org

Tenopir, Carol, and Donald W. King (2000b) Precis of: "Towards Electronic Journals" PSYCOLOQUY 11(084) ftp://ftp.princeton.edu/pub/harnad/Psycoloquy/2000.volume.11/ psyc.00.11.084.electronic-journals.1.tenopir http://www.cogsci.soton.ac.uk/cgi/psyc/newpsy?11.084

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