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     June 8, 2001

One man's protest

Ted Bergstrom is an economist at the University of California at Santa Barbara.  He thinks it's bad economics to donate his labor as a referee to journals that turn around and gouge his university with exorbitant subscription prices.  He's taken a vow not to referee articles for any journal charging more than $1000/year, and to favor those charging less than $300.  His arguments and an array of supporting data are available at his home page.  Later this year Bergstrom will publish a version of his argument in the _Journal of Economic Perspectives_.

Here are a few gems from his supporting data.  In 1999, there were 15 economics journals charging more than $1000/year, 11 of them from Elsevier.  You might think that the more expensive journals published more pages per year than the others, or were more frequently cited.  Not necessarily.  When economics journals are sorted by price per page, the highest ranked journal priced over $1000/year showed up in 82nd place.  When sorted by citations per page, the best showed up in 51st place. 

Bergstrom knows that telemarketers and televangelists would pay good money for a list of gullible people, but he is giving away what he calls his "P.T. Barnum" list of gullible university libraries that subscribe to the most expensive and least cited journals.  The two most expensive economics journals each charge libraries more than $7500/year.  They are rarely cited and most economists have never heard of them.  By contrast, the six most cited economics journals average $180/year.  If your university is on Bergstrom's P.T. Barnum list, tell your head librarian immediately and ask your president for a bounty on the saved money.

Ted Bergstrom's home page

Ted Bergstrom, Free Labor for Costly Journals?
Forthcoming from the _Journal of Economic Perspectives_

Bergstrom's P.T. Barnum List


Thesaurus Linguae Graecae moves to the web

Classicists specializing in ancient Greece are lucky:  all their primary texts have been written, all are in the public domain, and all have been digitized.  In 1972, the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae (TLG) began digitizing Greek literature, starting with Homer and moving forwards.  Today the project has digitized the 1,400 years' worth of literature since Homer, bringing the collection up to about year 600 of the common era.  The collection includes all extant Greek texts, including those in science and mathematics, poetry and drama, philosophy and religion.  TLG's mission is to continue to digitize Greek literature up to the present day.

The TLG database was originally distributed on specialized Ibycus hardware.  In 1985 it became available on CD-ROMs.  But starting this spring, institutions may buy a license to read and search the entire corpus over the web.  An online demo allows non-subscribers to search all the TLG bibliographies and a selection of its texts.
To scholars with special needs, the completeness of the TLG is the advantage that justifies the subscription price.  To scholars who can accept a degree of incompleteness, the TLG has a serious rival in the Perseus Digital Library.  Perseus contains the full-texts of the most-studied works of Greek antiquity, but not literally every single one.  To compensate, Perseus goes beyond Greek to Latin literature and to other special collections (such as the English Renaissance and Californian history), includes English translations along with the original languages, contains a museum's worth of images of ancient art and artifacts, and offers all its content online free of charge.

TLG is a non-profit research center at the University of California at Irvine.  Perseus is a non-profit enterprise at Tufts University.

Thesaurus Linguae Graecae

Perseus Digital Library


The archivelets are coming!

If scholars put their works online in compliance with the metadata standards of the Open Archives Initiative (OAI), then their works can be combined with all other OAI-compliant works into a large virtual archive for efficient searching. 

The easy way to do this is to deposit your work in an OAI-complaint archive maintained by your institution.  Software called eprints makes this even easier by creating an OAI-compliant archive ready to be filled with content.  Now there is competition in this corner of the field.  Kepler is the first software since eprints for creating OAI-compliant archives.  Its main difference from eprints is that it runs on the scholar's own computer under Windows, not on an institutional server under UNIX.  It is meant for one person's online scholarship, not one institution's.  Consequently, say Kepler's developers, it doesn't create archives but archivelets. 

Kepler won't make you an archivelet just yet; it is still being debugged.  However, researchers interested in the project may download the source code from the site.  Kepler is produced by the Digital Library Group at Old Dominion University.


Introduction to Kepler by its developers
From _D-Lib Magazine_, April 2001


Open Archives Initiative


Elsevier-Harcourt merger

Librarians are protesting the Reed Elsevier's imminent acquisition of Harcourt General.  The merger will give Elsevier control over 1500 scholarly journals, including 125 of the 500 most cited journals.  Librarians fear that the merger will reduce price competition and aggravate the crisis of skyrocketing journal prices.  While the U.S. Justice Department does not oppose the acquisition, UK authorities must still approve it.

Elsevier's subscription prices and their annual increases are high on everyone's list of the major causes of the price crisis for scholarly journals.  For example, in response to the merger announcement, Britain's Consortium of University Research Libraries (CURL) asked its members to compare the percentage of its journals published by Elsevier with the percentage of its journal budget spent on the Elsevier titles.  On average the latter figure was 2.6 times the former.

Librarians protest Elsevier merger
From the Advanced Publishing Research Laboratory, summarizing a story in ScienceNOW

CURL survey

* Postscript.  For background, see Mark McCabe's 1999 article, "The Impact of Publisher Mergers on Journal Prices:  An Update."


The end for free online content?

If you read the geek press as I do, then you've seen many articles recently on the death of free content on the internet.  There does seem to be a turn taking place, but don't be mislead.  These articles are about news and entertainment, not scholarship.  The economic difference is large.  The free online scholarship movement is based on the premise that scholars are not paid for their journal articles.  Hence it is no sacrifice for them to put their articles on the web for free, and to cut out the for-profit publisher who limits readership and (in return!) keeps all the revenue.  By contrast, producers of news and music make money from their works and produce them in order to make money.  Because academics make their salary even when their works of scholarship earn nothing, they are insulated from the market in a way that is unique among content providers.  This is only one reason why the Napster controversy is not relevant to the debate about free online scholarship.

It may be true that news bureaus and entertainment companies have awakened to the reality that giving away content forever isn't a good business plan.  Some tried the Amazon experiment of losing money in trade for market share, but now realize that traffic doesn't pay the bills.  Some experimented with free content supported by advertising, but online advertising revenues are now in general decline.  Some coasted on investment capital, or counted on second-round funding, but then the market soured.  For news and entertainment companies, who sing for their supper, this may the end of an era.  For scholars, who do not brood for their food, there is no economic lesson here.

The fact that academics are paid by their universities and not by readers is one of the guarantees of academic freedom.  Scholars needn't appeal to the market in order to gain and retain the security of a paid position.  This frees them to be controversial or micro-specialized.  Of course it also frees some to be obscure, and it frees others, who didn't quite get the point, to be faddish and market-driven.  But note that it is the very same insulation from the market which makes free online scholarship possible.  This unexpected harmony of two of our deepest interests --and not Web TV-- is what we should think of when we hear the phrase "digital convergence".

Some recent articles on the end of free online content:



In the 5/25/01 issue, I summarized some of the more ambitious attempts to keep track of free online scholarship.  Here's one I overlooked.  The UNESCO "Memory of the World" Program and the International Federation of Library Associations have launched a search engine which aspires to cover all the digitized "cultural heritage" collections around the world.  All it needs is permission from the various sites to crawl them.  If you manage such a collection, please register it at the site.

Directory of Digitized Collections


In other publications

* In the June 11 issue of _The Scientist_ Thomas Walker calls on journals to imitate a practice initiated by the Entomological Society of America (ESA) in its four scholarly journals.  If authors of articles accepted by an ESA print journal pay a fee equal to 70% of 100 offprints of their articles, then ESA will put their articles online in PDF format for all readers free of charge.  This solution gives readers free online access and it gives journals revenue. 
(Access to this article requires free registration.)

* On June 5, the UK Office for Library & Information  Networking (UKOLN) released its study of the architecture of Britain's Distributed National Electronic Resource (DNER).  The study lays the groundwork for architectural improvements which will create a more unified and friendly virtual archive out of the many collections making up the DNER. 

* In the June 4 issue of _First Monday_, CNI Director Clifford Lynch comprehensively surveys the risks and opportunities for digital books.  He describes some frightening scenarios for compatibility, cost, preservation, and censorship, scenarios which are just one or two missteps away from where we are today.

* In the same issue of _First Monday_, Jan Newmarch argues that an "open content" license, analogous to the open source license used in the open source software movement, should be used instead of traditional copyright for distance learning courseware.  It seems to me that most of his argument would apply without modification to works of scholarship.  (See the Bryan Pfaffenger article, below.)

* On May 2, Mary Case posted a paper to the SPARC web site which will soon be published by the MIT Press.  In the paper she measures SPARC's success at introducing price competition in the world of STM (scientific, technical, and medical) journals. 

* In the April 11 _Linux Journal_, Bryan Pfaffenberger in effect extends the Jan Newmarch argument (above) from courseware to works of scholarship.  Pfaffenberger argues that copyright prevents the free creation of derivative works, and that making derivative works out of written texts is at least as important as making derivative works out of source code. 

* In the April issue of _EContent_ Donald Hawkins reports that the market for e-textbooks is growing more quickly than the market for general e-books.
http://www.ecmag.net/news/news01/ecnews4b.html (abstract only)

* In the April issue of _Against the Grain_ Carla Stoffle reviews the purpose and mission of SPARC, emphasizing its benefits for librarians, and putting some misunderstandings to rest.



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

* Electronic Cultural Atlas Initiative
Sydney, June 12-16

* Digital Past, Digital Future: An Introduction to Digital Preservation
San Francisco, June 15 (OCLC session at ALA Annual Conference)

* Joint DELOS-NSF Workshop on Personalisation and Recommender Systems in Digital Libraries
Dublin, June 18-20

* Digitisation Solutions:  Strategies in Practise (HEDS)
London, June 19

* Update on the Dublin Core Metadata Initiative
New York, June 21

* Joint Conference on Digital Libraries
Roanoke, Virginia, June 24-28

* International Conference on Electronic Publishing 2001
Canterbury, July 5-7

* First DELOS International Summer School on Digital Library Technologies
Pisa, July 9-13

* Developing an agenda for institutional e-print archives
London, July 11

* Biological Research with Information Extraction & Open-Access Publications
Copenhagen, July 26


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Peter Suber

Copyright (c) 2001, Peter Suber

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