Proceedings of ICSU Press Workshop


Economics, real costs and benefits of electronic publishing in science - a technical study.

Keble College, University of Oxford UK
31 March to 2 April 1998

Summary of main conclusions

1. It is neither practical nor proper for ICSU to attempt to force the pace of development of electronic journals. The current fluid situation should be allowed to evolve at its own pace.

2. Technological progress in electronic journals and the different pricing models as presently envisaged will not per se reduce prices nor allow the potential for increased accessibility to be realized. However, the possible simultaneous access by many readers of a single online subscription is already a reality in many institutions.

3. ICSU should consider preparing a model for the presentation of cost data.

4. ICSU should consider means of informing scientists regarding all the important elements in the publication process so that they were better able to assess its value and their contribution to it.

5. ICSU should consider means for promoting uniform standards in electronic publishing, particularly for digitization of back issues.

6. ICSU should alert national academies to address the problems regarding archiving, which need solving on a national basis.

7. ICSU should facilitate, wherever possible, the visibility of electronic journal sites in developing countries e.g. pointing to websites from the ICSU server.

Conclusions, Recommendations and Actions

1. The risk of breakdown in the current system of financing the publication of the results of scientific research will not be removed naturally by the development of electronic publishing, in fact, the risk may well be increased by the current need to finance both online and traditional print-on-paper versions..

2. An electronic journal would only become cheaper if the users clearly identified costly features that they did not require.

3. There was complete agreement that peer review is absolutely essential for electronic publications.

4. The most significant advantages of the electronic journal are its speed of publication, ease of access, and the ability to search and link across many other journals.

5. It is recommended that experiments on means of financing electronic publications by page charges and by access fees are actively pursued.

6. It is recommended that ICSU work towards persuading those in authority to accept electronic journals on a par with printed publications as indicators of research contributions.

7. It is recommended that small learned societies should band together, or operate their electronic publishing programmes under the umbrella of bigger societies or associations in order to better serve their communities. (note: some are already doing so).

8. It is recommended that ICSU seeks to persuade funding bodies to ensure there is an allocation in all research grants for the acquisition of information services, and for the publication of results.

9. It is strongly recommended that ICSU continue to put pressure on Governments everywhere to ensure that academic networks remain centrally funded and that they are, indeed, improved. (A specific issue in Europe would be the continued funding of the TEN-34 and its successor by the European Commission).

10. It is recommended that ICSU approves and recommends a system for ensuring and maintaining the integrity and authenticity of electronic publications.

11. ICSU should persuade National members that government funding is essential for creating and maintaining an archive of electronic publications.

12. Parallel publication of ‘print + electronic’ is more expensive than ‘print only’. Estimated amounts varied but were generally felt to be in the region of 20/30%.

13. A full ‘electronic only’ journal with added features, e.g. with links to databases, related journals, etc. was likely to be at least as expensive as print.

14. Although there was no agreement on a study of costs, it was agreed that it would be useful if those who were willing to disclose or present cost data were to adopt a uniform approach. In this context it might be useful if ICSU were to produce a model which would include all the cost factors which should be taken into account and how these were ultimately expressed e.g. cost per page, per copy, per article, per read, etc.

Although technological advance may be the ultimate determinant market forces, both financial and social, will continue to be the main factors determining the evolution of electronic publishing for the foreseeable future.

Journal editors should endeavour to maintain quality of content through peer review and the outcome will result from natural selection with relevance, quality and price being the major factors.

RJE/DFS revised 26 June 1998.

Last updated : 06 July 1998
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