Saturday, September 10, 2005

Embracing the medium 2

This is the second in a series on how and why we need to embrace the potential of the medium (electronics, world wide web) to transform scholarly communication.

The new media make it possible to greatly expand and speed up the dissemination of knowledge. An article in electronic form can be posted to the web just as soon as it is complete, for immediate downloading by anyone, anywhere in the world (open access).

One of the challenges involved in switching to open access is figuring out the economics. It is important to understand that much of our traditional publishing practices actually emerged from the demands of the print medium. Where it makes sense to continue producing print, it will make sense to continue print-based economic models, such as subscription sales. However, many new journals are starting up as electronic only, and for traditional publishers, too, dropping the print version might be desirable at some point for economic reasons.

Some of the costs relating to print are obvious: the cost of paper and mailing, for example. Others are less obvious, but quite substantial. How much editing, copyediting, formatting, etc., is actually based on the high cost of the printed page, meant to squeeze as much information as possible into as small a space as is consistent with readability and aesthetics?

Think about any paper you have written. Compare the work involved in simply posting the paper to the web as it is, as compared with typesetting for a print environment where every page adds to the cost. Posting a paper to the web is very easy when you know how; it takes seconds. Typesetting for the print environment, on the other hand, is much more complex; special software may be needed, and training.

What about the costs of creating and maintaining a list of subscribers, invoicing and accounting?

In my view, any analysis of the costs of open access need to take into account that OA is only possible in the electronic realm. It does not make sense to project print-based costs for OA.

Embracing the Medium 1

This post reflects my personal opinion only and does not represent the opinions or policy of the BC Electronic Library Network or the Simon Fraser University Library.

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