Rowland, Fytton. ELECTRONIC JOURNALS: NEITHER FREE NOR EASY. 
[1994, June.  EJournal]
             _______  _______                                         __
            / _____/ /__  __/                                        / /
           / /__       / / ____    __  __  __ ___  __ __    ____    / /
          / ___/  __  / / / __ \  / / / / / //__/ / //_ \  / __ \  / /
         / /____ / /_/ / / /_/ / / /_/ / / /     / /  / / / /_/ / / /
         \_____/ \____/  \____/  \____/ /_/     /_/  /_/  \__/_/ /_/
 

June, 1994              _EJournal_  Volume 4  Number 2           ISSN 1054-1055
                      There are 886 lines in this issue.

                   An Electronic Journal concerned with the
                implications of electronic networks and texts.
                       2879 Subscribers in 37 Countries
 
              University at Albany, State University of New York

                            EJOURNAL@ALBANY.bitnet
==================================================================== 

ELECTRONIC JOURNALS: NEITHER FREE NOR EASY

                Fytton Rowland, Research Fellow
                Department of Information & Library Studies
                Loughborough University of Technology
                J.F.Rowland@lut.ac.uk

  My perspective on questions of publishing, archiving and accessing
  electronic journals is that of someone who trained as an information
  scientist, has worked for most of the last 25 years for not-for-profit
  learned-society publishers, and is now a research fellow in electronic
  publishing in a university information & library studies department.
  My impression is that much of the continuing debate actually has little
  to do with the paper versus electronic issue. It is in fact quite an
  old controversy that predates the computer, and reflects the
  animosities that often exist between academics, librarians and
  publishers -- with the publishers being, on the whole, the people that
  everyone else loves to hate.

  Academics have long wanted to control their own publication system, and
  initially did so.  Scholarly journals were edited by academics in their
  spare time and published by university presses or learned societies.
  If any full-time staff worked on them, they were relatively low-status
  people very much in an "editorial assistant" position.  Nor, indeed,
  did academics hold librarians in very much higher esteem, and although
  today academic librarians usually do formally have academic-related
  status, they and their skills still are not always respected by
  academics.  The substantial departmental library at one of Britain's
  most prestigious university departments --the Cavendish Laboratory in
  Cambridge-- for example employs no qualified library staff at all, not
  even a paraprofessional; the physicists run it themselves.  I believe
  that there is a romantic idea that if only academics did the whole job
  themselves, as they did in some golden era in the past, then scholarly
  communication would be quicker, cheaper and more effective than it is
  with these various professional intermediaries --publishers,
  subscription agents, librarians-- involved.

  Why, then, did the golden age pass away?  Was it just because of all
  this slow and messy business of putting ink on to paper?  I believe
  that the major reason why professionals came into the picture was
  because of the sheer quantity of scholarly material being published
  --that is, because of the growth of the scholarly community producing
  papers.  A university library of a million volumes has to have a staff
  of professional librarians.  And while a journal publishing 15 papers a
  year could be run on an "amateur" basis, one publishing 1500 papers a
  year cannot, regardless of the medium it is published in.  The sheer
  administrative load of organizing the input, refereeing, copyediting,
  formatting, and distribution of that many documents (including the ones
  that get rejected, which generate work too) requires full-time staff.
  And since these people have to eat, they need a salary.  Contrary to
  what some participants in discussions of electronic journals have
  alleged, it is this area of "first-copy cost" that is responsible for
  most of the cover price of a journal, not the paper, printing, binding
  and postage costs.  Yes, a purely electronic journal is inherently
  somewhat cheaper than a paper one; but not a tiny fraction of the
  cost.  [line 473]

  There is also the question of subsidy --an emotive word.  I prefer to
  put it that the costs of running a high-quality scholarly communication
  system have to be covered from somewhere.  Traditionally, one major
  route by which universities subsidized scholarly publication was by
  giving their libraries funds to buy journals.  Controversy arose
  because commercial publishers, from the 1940s onwards and led by the
  unlamented Robert Maxwell, realized that there was scope for making
  lots of profit here.  However, not-for-profit publishers --university
  presses and learned societies-- have a big presence in the scholarly
  publishing field and cannot be criticized for excessive profit-taking.
  The main cost is simply the pay of the people who do the work.  Of
  course, these people can be (and in the case of the presently free
  electronic journals on the Internet, presumably are) subsidized in a
  different way, by the university that originates the journal paying for
  them.  But for how long?  And for how long will the network itself be
  entirely free of charge at the point of use to the academic community,
  anyway?

  Another question --raised by Frank Quinn-- is how much of the work done
  by journal staff needs doing at all?  Is copyediting necessary?  The
  existing network journals are of necessity put out in straight ASCII
  text for the most part, while paper journals that are being
  experimentally offered in dual form (paper and electronic) acquire
  their page-image bitmaps by scanning the printed pages.  The craft
  knowledge of typographers, graphic designers and even the despised
  copyeditors is not negligible.  They all serve to turn a crude,
  possibly unreadable manuscript into a publishable paper.  What an
  advance it was when Graphical User Interfaces like Windows replaced
  purely textual DOS screens --a great increase in user-friendliness.  In
  the same way, a pleasingly designed and laid out printed page, written
  in correct and readable English, is more user-friendly than a
  typescript (however scientifically correct) in poor English.  So even
  if no printed edition is published, I believe that the requirement for
  quality will mean that some copyediting and design work will need to be
  done by someone.  [line 510]

  In case it is felt that I am a pure Luddite, let me finally say that I
  do believe that the networks have transformed informal academic
  communication beyond all recognition, and in particular have
  democratized the invisible college.  Whereas in the past only those who
  actually received the personal letters or phone calls, or who could
  afford to attend the international conferences, were admitted to the
  invisible college, now anyone anywhere can join discussion lists or
  computer conferences or look at bulletin boards.  This must be an
  improvement.  And formal communication should certainly be quicker, and
  somewhat cheaper.  The additional features available online, most
  notably the ability to append open peer commentary to papers, are very
  valuable too, and when the supernetworks come along we will be able to
  add multimedia features to "papers."  But we should not kid ourselves
  that this will all happen at no cost and without specialist staff.

                Fytton Rowland
                        Research Fellow
                        Department of Information & Library Studies
                        Loughborough University of Technology  
                        J.F.Rowland@lut.ac.uk
                    
[[ This essay in Volume 4 Number 2 of _EJournal_ (June, 1994) is (c) copyright
_EJournal_. Permission is hereby granted to give it away.  _EJournal_ hereby
assigns any and all financial interest to Fytton Rowland.  This note must
accompany all sopies of this text. ]]

=============================================================================