Welcome to the Free Online Scholarship (FOS) Newsletter
     January 1, 2002

Once again I'm breaking my self-imposed rule to give you at least a week between issues.  My excuse is that tomorrow I have a commitment and this issue is already long enough.  Happy New Year!


Dissemination fees, access fees, and the double payment problem

Today BioMed Central (BMC) starts charging processing fees for each article it publishes (see FOSN for 12/19/01, 12/26/01).  The purpose is to cover its costs without charging readers so that access to its articles can be truly free.  In a past issue (FOSN for 9/6/01) I offered some thoughts on this method of supporting free online access.  Here are some further thoughts occasioned by BMC's new policy but which go well beyond BMC.

First let's distinguish access fees from dissemination fees.  Access fees pay for access.  Subscriptions and licenses are the primary examples but not the only ones.  There are secondary examples in micropayments and other forms of pay-per-view.  By definition, access fees make access unfree.  So if we want free online access, then we must find a way around access fees.

Dissemination fees pay for dissemination (publication, distribution) rather than access.  If they pay the full cost of dissemination, then the provider has completely covered its costs and can offer access free of charge.  So dissemination fees solve the problem of free online access, if we can find the money to pay them.  Hence, BMC is on the right track.  The per-article processing fees is has started charging are dissemination fees.

Who will pay dissemination fees?  There many potential sources and in the best future many different funding models might co-exist.  Authors might pay dissemination fees, and so might their employers (universities and labs) or their funders (foundations and governments).  Journal publishers might pay them out of the profits from the sale of add-ons.  For me one the most hopeful possibilities is journal endowments.  If a journal is endowed and can pay its dissemination expenses from the interest on its endowment, then it needn't hustle funds from any source ever again, creating a very stable, long-term solution.  Since dissemination costs for online journals are low, the needed endowments are correspondingly low.

If there are many potential sources of funds to pay dissemination fees, then we shouldn't assume that authors must pay.  I've argued against author fees in the past (FOSN for 9/6/01), but we shouldn't make the mistake of thinking that the objections to author fees apply to every kind of dissemination fee.

BMC does not depend on authors to pay its processing fees, although it once called these fees "author charges" (http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-8219/2/2).  Its latest thinking emphasizes universities.  By offering to waive processing fees for authors employed by universities with institutional BMC memberships, BMC is appealing to universities to see the economy of paying small processing fees for free online journals rather than paying large subscription fees.  Despite this, I'm sure BMC would be delighted if foundations made it a practice to include funds for article processing fees in every research grant.

But let's focus on the pitch to universities.  It's true that universities would save significantly if they paid for journals with up-front dissemination fees (subsidizing their authors) rather than back-end access fees (subsidizing their libraries).  However, this savings will only materialize in the long run, after priced-access journals have been driven out of the field by competition with free-access journals.  Until then, universities will have to pay twice, first in processing (dissemination) fees and then in subscription (access) fees.  The problem facing BMC is to find a way to help institutions get past the short term loss to the long term gain.

Before looking at solutions, let me restate the problem.  Funding journals through dissemination fees is the only way to make journal access free for readers.  So insofar as FOS is embodied in journals, dissemination fees are the long-term solution.  But since traditional journals charging access fees will not disappear immediately, and since no university will want to cancel all its subscriptions to them immediately, there will be a transition period in which universities face a daunting double payment --first, for the desirable new journals representing the future, and second, for the important existing journals.  So until the competition with free journals drives priced journals from the field, universities will pay for both, or want to do so, and their costs will be higher than before or after the transition period.  The question, then, isn't the economic feasibility of the long-term solution, but the economic feasibility of the transition.  How can we eliminate the double payments?

First note that there is only a double payment here because (during the transition period) universities will have reason to support two sets of journals when it now supports only one, not because universities would ever pay twice for the same journal.  When a university pays dissemination fees through its authors, it would support journals that provide free online access.  When it pays access fees through its library, it would support traditional journals that limit access to paying subscribers.  The new dissemination fees must come out of a budget already strained to cover access fees.

If all universities simultaneously agreed to pay processing fees through their authors, and stop paying subscription fees through their libraries, then the funding paradigm would shift as quickly as institutional inertia allows.  Of course, this won't happen and BMC isn't counting on it to happen.  But because this won't happen, the BMC strategy faces a classic freeloader problem.  If affluent and far-seeing universities A, B, and C, join the revolution and start paying dissemination fees, then less affluent or less far-seeing universities D, E, and F will have reason to benefit from the ABC investment without joining it.

Another way to put this is that the strategy faces a prisoner's dilemma.  Universities will have a motive to defect against cooperators (freeload on early adopters and lengthen the transition period), cooperators will be vulnerable to defectors (early adopters will subsidize freeloaders and pay double payments for a longer period), and yet mutual cooperators will be best off (by shortening the transition to single payments).

Perhaps the simplest way to put the dilemma is that all institutions may prefer low dissemination fees to high access fees (partly to save money and partly to get free access), but none wants to adopt this model first.  All want to wait until enough others have adopted it to make double payments unnecessary.  This pattern looks familiar.  There are many other situations in which everyone wants to make a certain choice but no one wants to go first.  For example, all merchants in a town may want a day of rest (say, on Sundays), but the first to close on Sundays will lose customers to those who do not.  Or, all the states in the U.S. may want a relief fund for the poor, but the first to raise taxes first in order to provide one will lose businesses, hence taxes, to those that do not.

There are several ways to address this problem.

(1) Legislate so that all who want the outcome, but hesitate to go first, are compelled to move at the same time.  This is how towns provide a day of rest and how the U.S. federal government solved the circular hesitation of the states to adopt social security.  I mention this solution only for completeness.  It won't happen for dissemination fees and we wouldn't want it to happen.

(2) Parties can agree in advance that when a critical mass of them is ready to move, then all will move.  People can say to one another "I will if you will" or "I will if others will" indefinitely, prolonging a circular stalemate indefinitely.  But if they agree to act together when they are sufficiently numerous, then the circle is broken.  This is roughly what the Public Library of Science did with its online list of signatories.  Universities could start to negotiate a multilateral treaty:  if their agreement to pay dissemination fees ever gets x signatories, then they will start to pay dissemination fees.  If x is chosen carefully, then the coordinated action of x universities will shorten the transition to single payments.  Universities would sign because signing is costless and because it hastens the day when the world will have free online access and the signatories will reduce their serials budgets.

(3) When the only penalty for early adopters is financial, as it is here, then external funding can solve the problem.  If generous bystanders paid early adopters to take a day of rest, or provide a state-wide social safety net, then early adopters would no longer have a reason to hesitate.  Are there generous bystanders who would like to accelerate the transition to FOS?  I'm convinced of it.  The more early adopters there are supported by friends of the cause, the greater is the competition for priced journals and the shorter the transition to single payments.  This is a reason to think that the needed generosity is finite and temporary.  The help could come from a brigade of right-thinking foundations and governments, or from a individual contributions to a non-profit FOS Transition Fund, or both.

(4) Finally, the double payments could become single payments if we could effect the transition with one set of journals rather than two, or if every new journal requesting dissemination fees meant one fewer journal requesting access fees.  If the number of journals were held roughly constant, but their business models were converted one by one from access fees to dissemination fees, then universities would not only avoid double payments, but save on their single payments every time a journal converted.  BMC has no direct control over traditional journals and so has had to launch new journals.  But is there a strategy for converting traditional journals to dissemination fees, other than by launching new FOS journals to compete with them?  We have more to hope here from the non-profit publishers, and the professional society publishers, than from the big for-profit publishers.

We don't have to pick just one of these solutions to the double payment problem.  If university or library consortia are willing to coordinate their journal strategies, and support dissemination fees when they are sufficiently numerous, then they can start now.  If there are generous bystanders, let them help to the extent they are able.  If non-profit publishers can be persuaded to try dissemination fees rather than access fees for their journals, this will convert some journals, even if the number is limited.

And of course, within limits, universities are willing to adopt worthy new journals.  To this extent, some universities may be willing to try dissemination fees even before they realize any savings from cancelled subscriptions or diminished access fees.  Moreover, we shouldn't forget the range of other funders who might pay dissemination fees and spare universities the need for double payments.  Insofar as foundations and governments provide funds for research publication as part of their research grants, universities are freed from their dilemma.  For journals that can raise an endowment, the problem is permanently solved for readers, authors, libraries, universities, foundations, and governments.  The problem of double payments is only acute if we expect the current funder of access fees (libraries and universities) to be the present and future funder of dissemination fees.

Finally, if only to show that there are many paths to FOS, remember that we can have FOS without journals.  Peer review is essential for reliable scholarship, and journals traditionally provide peer review, but journals are not essential for providing peer review.  There are many other conceivable ways to do so, especially in an era of interactive digital networks.  If we get peer review without journals, then self-archiving can give us free online access to the peer-reviewed literature at essentially no cost beyond the network infrastructure already present at every university --plus the cost, if any, of the peer review service provider.

The double payment problem is a real one, but two conclusions give grounds for hope.  First, it can be solved by any of several strategies, including coordinated action, external funding, and journal conversion.  Second, it can be bypassed to the extent that dissemination fees are paid by anyone other than the libraries and universities that now pay access fees.

The economics of FOS are easy compared to the economics of the transition.  But the transition doesn't have or need to have a single, optimal strategy.  Let it be a patchwork of makeshifts.  If different disciplines, nations, or decades have different resources and constraints, let local experimentation adapt these general strategies locally.

Let me know what you think.

FOS discussion forum
(Anyone may read; only subscribers may post; subscription is free.)


More on the market value of research papers

If you remember, the Wellcome Trust has bought Francis Crick's scientific papers and plans to create an online Crick archive (see FOSN for 12/26/01).  The San Diego _Union-Tribune_ reports that Crick was on the verge of donating his papers to the University of California at San Diego (UCSD), where he teaches, when he became intrigued by the "hot new market" in the papers of notable scientists.  When Crick decided to test the market, the Wellcome Trust sent two appraisers to examine his papers and (with backing from the British Lottery) eventually paid him $2.5 million for the collection.

Francis Crick's papers helped by British Lottery
(Thanks to Jim Jacobs for bringing this to my attention.)

* Postscript.  This reminds of me of Amazon's e-docs division, which sells 60 days' worth of access to individual papers for up to $4,500 each (see FOSN for 7/31/01).  The prices are this high because the market will bear them.  On the one hand, scholars have a right to make money from their work.  The FOS movement doesn't criticize them for trying, but only tries to secure free online access to the texts they agree to donate.  On the other hand, if all scholars tried to make money from all their work, all research would slow to a crawl.  The question isn't what the market will bear but when and why we should ask what it will bear.

Amazon e-docs


Library objections to UCITA rejected

On December 17, the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws released its report on suggested amendments to the Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act (UCITA).  Some of the amendments were suggested by library groups seeking relief from onerous licensing agreements.  In Section III.G, the report rejects the library amendments and explains why.  Its reasons roughly boil down to these two:  state law cannot revise federal copyright law, and libraries are free to accept or reject contract terms and should not be saved from themselves.

Report on suggested UCITA amendments
(Has anyone seen a library response to this report?)

For some background on this story see the following.

ALA summary of six objections to the draft UCITA.

Statement by five library associations (American Library Association, the American Association of Law Libraries, the Association of Research Libraries, the Medical Library Association, and the Special Libraries Association) to the FTC, opposing the draft UCITA.

ARL collection of documents on UCITA


New on the net

* On November 29, Lawrence Lessig and Jack Valenti debated the direction of U.S. copyright law.  The video is online for those who didn't see it live.

To follow-up, Slashdot arranged for Lessig to reply to questions from its readers that either arose from the debate or that weren't directly answered in the debate.

* The World Legal Information Institute is a free online archive of primary sources in law from around the world.  It's a collaborative effort of a growing number of national legal information institutes.

However, it does not apparently include the Legal Information Institution for the U.S. from Cornell University.

* The annual NSF report on academic research and development expenditures for FY 2000 isn't ready yet, but the data tables have been put online in advance of the report.

* Sea Change has launched the WebClarity Resource Registry, an index of online databases accessible not only through browsers but through standard protocols such as Z39.50, LDAP, WHOIS, and WAIS.  Access to the registry is not free.

* The Forth Institute of Computer Science has released a suite of open source tools for the semantic web.  The components consist of an RDF validator, RDF schema specific database, and RDF query language.  All are now available for downloading.

* The Text-e online seminar has moved on to a new text, Jason Epstein's Reading the Digital Future.  The online discussion will focus on Epstein's essay from December 31 to January 14.

* In November, the Medical Information Working Party (MIWP) held a conference in London on Electronic Journals and Licensing.  The proceedings are now online.

* In October, LITC released its report on a longitudinal study of network-based services in public libraries.  The report consists of the baseline data and methodological conclusions for the longitudinal updates to come.


In other publications

* In the January _Syllabus Magazine_, Phillip Long summarizes the nature and purpose of MIT's Open CourseWare Project.

* In a December 29 posting to his Red Rock Eater list, Phil Agre analyzes the "social embedding" of scientific papers in scientific communities and explores how this will change as we shift from print to electronic publication.  "Boundaries may blur or collapse between libraries and neighboring institutions such as publishing, collaborative authoring, enterprise computing, peer review, records management, informal paper-passing and commenting, data capture and archiving, tenure-and-promotion evaluation processes, personal libraries and filing systems, online conferencing, and so on.  Design in such a world will need to begin with institutional analysis, and with a fully drawn understanding of what documents can be in a world where people can readily reach through digital representations to pursue the ends to which documents are a means."
(Scroll down to his third essay in this post.)

* In the December 28 _New York Times_, Carl Kaplan asks six experts on internet law to review the major events of 2001.  All six mention cases covered during 2001 by FOSN.

* In a December 27 article at _TrendSiters_, Sam Vaknin describes some of the findings of Stanford's Web Credibility Project, which is trying to figure out when people believe what they discover on the web and when they don't.

* In the December 20 _Washington Post_, Alberto Gonzales defends the balance of openness and secrecy embodied in President Bush's recent executive order allowing former presidents to block the public release of their presidential papers.  Gonzales is a lawyer for President Bush.

* In a December 20 article in _Writ_, Marci Hamilton explains why she is persuaded by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals decision against 2600 Magazine (see FOSN for 12/5/01).  The court held that the magazine violated the DMCA for publishing the source code to DeCSS and for linking to other sites that did so.  Hamilton says she was a critic of the DMCA until she read the court's decision.

* In the December 18 _Wired_, M.J. Rose shows that ebooks are alive and well despite the rash of closings at ebook publishing houses.

* In a December 18 article posted to the Cyberia list, and reprinted at the Cryptome web site, attorney Mike Godwin describes the war between the content providers, like Hollywood studios, and the hardware manufacturers who make MP3 players, CD burners, and computers.  Quoting software designer Selene Makarios, this war is "little less than an attempt to outlaw general-purpose computers" and leave consumers with dedicated entertainment machines that can't copy or distribute files.

* In a December 10 article for _ABC News_, Jessica Rappaport and Matt Markovich report that ebooks have brought libraries into the digital age.  (Hold your fire; they work for ABC News, not the Chronicle of Higher Education.)

* In the December 9 _New York Times Magazine_, Siva Vaidhyanathan reports on the protests against the recent appellate court decision finding 2600 Magazine guilty of violating the DMCA for publishing the DeCSS source code and even for linking to other sites that did the same (FOSN for 12/5/01).  Defenders of the magazine are putting the DeCSS code on a T-shirt.  Quoting one of 2600 Magazine's lawyers, "If you can put it on a T-shirt, it's speech."  The Motion Picture Association of American (MPAA) is not amused and has sued the T-shirt manufacturer for making a "circumvention device" outlawed by the DMCA.  No joke.

* In the December issue of _DG Online_ ("The Magazine of Digital Government Research"), Jamie Callan and two co-authors argue that the fight against terrorism requires better access to the separate troves of government knowledge.  To provide this, the government needs just what scholars have created to provide better access to their own separate troves of knowledge:  metadata standards to support cross-archive searching.  (PS:  Why doesn't the article mention OAI?  Perhaps because the relevant government information should not be "open" in the same way as scholarly literature.  But surely the governmental version of this problem could be solved more quickly and effectively if it acknowledged that the problem has already been solved for scholarship.)

A related article in the same issue says there is now plentiful "Homeland Security" money to support initiatives that help make government databases cross-searchable.

* In a September 16 article at _TrendSiters_, Sam Vaknin argues that the amount of information lost due to web site closings is far greater than most people realize and "can be compared only to the [information loss] which followed the torching of the Library of Alexandria".  He reviews several archival projects to preserve present and future web content.

* In a September 2001 article posted to the web, Chris Rippel distinguishes three roles that ebooks can play in libraries and concludes that in all three ways ebooks can improve libraries.

* In an August 2001 article on _GigaLaw_, Doug Isenberg analyzes the state of the law on internet jurisdiction --the basis of cross-border censorship (see FOSN for 11/9/01 and 11/16/01).


Catching up (old news I should have discovered earlier)

* AURIS (the Austrian Research Information System) is a free online database of Austrian research projects.

* Contemporary Africa Database is a free online archive of information on prominent Africans, African organizations, and African history.

* I haven't put together a list of the major FOS landmarks of 2001, though it would be fun to do so retroactively, not only for 2001 but for previous years as well.  Any such timeline would have to include this story from the spring of 2000.  I read the headlines at the time but didn't appreciate them until I read Tim O'Reilly's recent article (below) and some of the pages down the link chain from it.

The human genome is in the public domain even though the research group that seemed likely to sequence it first had plans to lock it up in patents.  This historic coup is now credited to grad student James Kent, who wrote a 10,000 line gene assembler in four weeks, allowing the UCSC Human Genome Project to reach the finish line before Celera Genomics.  The UCSC group then put its genome sequence into the public domain.  In the October 2001 _Linux Magazine_, Tim O'Reilly argues that Kent's heroic program and the consequent freeing of the genome were the most significant works of open source development in 2000.

Tim O'Reilly, What's Next for Linux and Open Source

Nicholas Wade, Grad Student Becomes Gene Effort's Unlikely Hero

The Human Genome Project at UCSC

Source code to James Kent's biological analysis programs


With this issue, the subscription tally has surpassed 900.  Thank you again for forwarding copies to colleagues and recommending it in your own publications.



If you plan to attend one of the following conferences, please share your observations with us through our discussion forum.

* Mathematical Challenges in Scientific Data Mining
Los Angeles, January 14-18

* Academic Institutions Transforming Scholarly Communications (SPARC/ARL Forum at the ALA Midwinter Meeting)
New Orleans, January 18-23

* Electronic Texts in the 21st Century (another forum at the ALA Midwinter Meeting)
New Orleans, January 18-23

* Intellectual Property and New Business Creation from Science and Technology
Oxford, January 27 - February 1

* High Quality Information For Everyone And What It Costs
Bielefeld, February 5-7

* E-volving Information futures
Melbourne, February 6-8

* Book Tech 2002
New York, February 11-13

* ICSTI Seminar on Digital Preservation of the Record of Science
[No web site yet, but for registration info contact Barry Mahon, <icsti [at] icsti.org>.]
Paris, February 14-15

* Conference on Intelligent Text Processing and Computational Linguistics
Mexico City, February 17-23

* Symposium on Foundations of Information and Knowledge Systems
Schloß Salzau, February 19-23

* Electronic Journals --Solutions in Sight?
London, February 25-26

* A Symposium on the Research Value of Printed Materials in the Digital Age
College Park, Maryland, March 1

* International Spring School on the Digital Library and E-publishing for Science and Technology
Geneva, March 3-8

* 17th ACM Symposium on Applied Computing.  Special tracks on Database and Digital Library Technologies; Electronic Books for Teaching and Learning; and Information Access and Retrieval
Madrid, March 10-14

* Digitization for Cultural Heritage Professionals:  An Intensive Program
Chapel Hill, North Carolina, March 10-15

* Knowledge Technologies Conference 2002
Seattle, March 11-13

* Computers in Libraries 2002
Washington D.C., March 13-15

* International Conference on the Statistical Analysis of Textual Data
St. Malo, March 13-15

* The Electronic Publishers Coalition (EPC) conference on ebooks and epublishing (obscurely titled, Electronically Published Internet Connection, or EPIC)
Seattle, March 14-16

* Internet Librarian International 2002
London, March 18-20

* The New Information Order and the Future of the Archive
Edinburgh, March 20-23

* European Colloquium on Information Retrieval Research
Glasgow, March 25-27

* New Developments in Digital Libraries
Ciudad Real, Spain, April 2-3

* The New Information Order and the Future of the Archive
Edinburgh, March 20-23

* International Conference on Information Technology: Coding and Computing
Las Vegas, April 8-10

* NetLat and Friends:  10 Years of Digital Library Development
Lund, April 10-12

* SIAM International Conference on Data Mining
Arlington, Virginia, April 11-13

* Creating access to information:  EBLIDA workshop on getting a better deal from your information licences
The Hague, April 12

* United Kingdom Serials Group Annual Conference and Exhibition
University of Warwick, April 15- 17

* Information, Knowledges and Society: Challenges of A New Era
Havana, April 22-26


The Free Online Scholarship Newsletter is supported by a grant from the Open Society Institute.


This is the Free Online Scholarship Newsletter (ISSN 1535-7848).

Please feel free to forward any issue of the newsletter to interested colleagues.  If you are reading a forwarded copy of this issue, you may subscribe by signing up at the FOS home page.

FOS home page, general information, subscriptions, editorial position

FOS Newsletter, subscriptions, back issues

FOS Discussion Forum, subscriptions, postings

Guide to the FOS Movement

Peter Suber

Copyright (c) 2002, Peter Suber

Return to the Newsletter archive