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     May 11, 2001

Journal divorce with a happy ending

Suppose the editors of print journal are unhappy with their for-profit publisher and the exorbitant price it charges subscribers.  What can they do about it?  They can try to negotiate, but if the publisher owns the journal title and copyright, then it may refuse to budge. 

How about walking away?  Imagine all the members of editorial board resigning from their jobs and forming a new journal with the same mission and a different title.  The old publisher retains ownership of an unstaffed journal.  The new journal picks up where the old one left off and may make many new friends with its lower subscription price. 

This is what happened in November 1999 with the _Journal of Logic Programming_.  After 16 months of fruitless negotiation with its publisher, Elsevier Science, the entire 50-person editorial board resigned and created a new journal, _Theory and Practice of Logic Programming_ (TPLP), published by Cambridge University Press at 60% of the price of the Elsevier journal.  TPLP will appear both in print and on the web.

One hitch was that the original journal was the official publication of the Association for Logic Programming (ALP).  This problem was elegantly solved when the ALP simply dropped the old journal and adopted the new one. 

To gain leverage during the negotiations, Maurice Bruynooghe resigned as editor-in-chief and the ALP refused to name a successor unless Elsevier lowered the subscription price.  Elsevier refused to lower the price and offered the editor's job to other members of the editorial board.  Board members maintained solidarity and rejected the offers.

The final obstacle was getting the new journal into a critical number of research libraries.  Enter SPARC (the Scholarly Publishing & Academic Resources Coalition), a consortium of about 180 research libraries.  SPARC has many strategies to help price competition in science journals.  One is to provide fledgling new journals, especially those with thin profit margins, with a guaranteed subscription base through its member institutions and publicity.  If SPARC decides that a new journal is worthy, when one measure of worthiness is reasonable pricing, then it adds the journal to its partnership program and gets to work promoting it.  SPARC made _Theory and Practice of Logic Programming_ a partner on April 30. 

Elsevier was left with the shell of the _Journal of Logic Programming_.  It brought in new editors and renamed it the _Journal of Logic and Algebraic Programming_.  The institutional price is $701/year, a slight increase over the price of the previous incarnation.

Wouldn't this moving story make a great movie?  I can see Russell Crowe as Maurice Bruynooghe and Dabney Coleman as the director of Elsevier Science. 

SPARC's solutions tend to be low-cost, not free.  But the lessons of this story apply even to journals aiming at free distribution over the internet.  A journal can divorce its publisher, even its publisher-owner.  A professional association can realign its loyalties and help a journal undergoing divorce.  If a journal retains a print edition, then a consortium of supportive libraries is a friend indeed.  But if a journal has no print edition, then the obstacles are even fewer.

_Theory and Practice of Logic Programming_
Page at Cambridge University Press

_Theory and Practice of Logic Programming_
Page at the Association for Logic Programming

Association for Logic Programming

SPARC home page

SPARC press release on _Theory and Practice of Logic Progamming_

Joan S. Birman, Scientific Publishing: A Mathematician's Viewpoint
From _Notices of the AMS_, August 2000

_Journal of Logic and Algebraic Programming_


Living scholarship

Princeton University Press is starting a new line of electronic texts called Digital Books Plus.  A book in the series will start life as a print and electronic book, for sale at a competitive price.  Then the author participates in an online discussion with readers, hosted by Princeton.  After a time the author writes up a response to the questions and objections raised in the online dialogue and Princeton makes this supplement available free of charge, even to readers who didn't buy the original book.

Princeton says this takes us beyond static books, even static e-books, to living books.  Princeton plans to revive 500 books from its back-list and give them new life in this format. 

The digital texts of the e-books come formatted for the Microsoft Reader and the Adobe Reader.  The digital supplements can be downloaded from Amazon, but require one of the two e-book readers. 

The first book in the series is Cass Sunstein's _Republic.com_, which appeared last month.  It seems that the reader-author dialogue is already complete, for Sunstein's supplement is already available for downloading. 

I like the idea of living books.  But I'd like this version of the idea better if Princeton gave the public more time to discover and read the book, or if periodic reader-author dialogues allowed periodic updates to the electronic supplement.  What about free electronic supplements to books originally published elsewhere?  What about a general "life-extension" program for dead print scholarship of all kinds, whether in books or journals?

If you like the general idea of living scholarship but would rather have it all electronic and all free, then check out the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (SEP).  Conceived and edited by Edward Zalta, the encyclopedia is a work in progress, whose table of contents has been growing since 1995.  The SEP is innovative in allowing authors of articles to revise them after publication in light of new scholarship or new developments.  When an author submits revisions to an existing article, the revisions are vetted by the same editorial board which approved the original article.  The result is a peer-reviewed reference work which never goes out of date.  Versions of the SEP are archived quarterly so that citations to superseded versions can be verified. 

Press release for Princeton Digital Books Plus

Links to Sunstein's book and supplement

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy


Guide to unfree online scholarship

Free online scholarship is growing, but unfree scholarship is voluminous online.  It is easy to overlook because it is hidden behind passwords and does not appear in general search engines.  How much is there, and how can you find sources in your field? 

The best answer so far is _Books and Periodicals Online_, a print directory, and its online equivalent, _Periodicals.net_.  The 2001 edition of the print directory costs $397.  The online version costs a single user $19.95 per month.  To explore the online directory, the publisher, Library Technology Alliance, Ltd., offers a 30 day free trial.

The directory also covers free online scholarship.  How about a free directory for that subset of the database? 



Keeping the "free" in free online scholarship

Reporters Without Borders, a group of French journalists, has just published an investigative report on countries that try to control or track the online activities of their citizens.  These countries include Britain and Australia.

This has FOS implications.  As more scholarship moves online, the freedom to visit any page will increasingly become a component of academic freedom. 

The report recommends that countries with more online freedom host articles or even whole newspapers censored or banned in countries with less online freedom.  The internet is only a force for freedom if its users use it that way.

The Enemies of the Internet (abridged)
(The complete report is for sale at the site.)

Reporters Without Borders

Countries that Track Internet Activity
From the _New York Times_, April 26, 2001


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Peter Suber

Copyright (c) 2001, Peter Suber

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