The Future of Scientific Journals: Free Web Access?
by Thomas J. Walker, 9 March 2000

The PowerPoint slides described below are on the Web at

Slide 1. Title

Slide 2. What journal articles do
Because journal articles certify quality, researchers must publish them if they wish to obtain and keep jobs as researchers or if they want promotions and pay increases.

Slide 3. Harnad quote
Easily done technically. Very affordable. Immensely useful. But, as we shall see, the last two words ["for free"] makes it politically and, for some, economically difficult.
Stevan Harnad is a longtime editor of Behavioral and Brain Sciences and a tireless spokesperson for what he also describes as "the optimal and the inevitable: the freeing of the refereed journal literature for one and all, online."
[The quote is from "Integrating and navigating eprint archives through citation-linking" at]

Slide 4. Authors do not want or expect royalties
Authors expect no direct pay for their journal articles. They write for the attention (the "eyes and minds") of other researchers. Monetary and other benefits derive from this attention. Authors want their articles to be cited often and persistently (and forego royalties in hopes of getting more attention?). In contrast, the same authors expect to receive royalties for writing textbooks, articles for popular magazines, and all other "trade literature."

Slide 5. Journal articles are "give aways"
Journal literature is, from the authors’ standpoint, to be given away. In fact authors pay for copies (reprints), which they then pay to send to those who ask for them. Authors do this to insure, as best they can, free access to their articles. Authors are rewarded by the attention given their articles.

Slide 6.Outline

Slide 7. Brief History

Slide 8. Brief history of journal publication [1665-1965]
For the first 300 years nearly all journals were published by scientific societies and publication costs were largely paid from dues. [Of course, more and more societies were formed and more and more journals were published.] However, after WWII and especially after Sputnik, a surge in federal and federally sponsored research caused the number of submitted articles to exceed the capacity of societies to publish them. In response, in 1965, U.S. government agencies and recipients of federal grants were authorized to pay not-for-profit publishers (=scientific societies) page charges to insure timely publication of research results.

Slide 9. Brief history of journal publication [1965-1980]
Page charges allowed societies to publish more pages in existing journals and to start new journals. However, scientific societies did not come close to meeting the demand, especially for new journals in new fields. Commercial publishers seized the opportunity to create new journals and finance them primarily from library subscriptions, since they could collect neither dues nor page charges. They provided needed publishing outlets to new and expanding fields of science and appointed distinguished international researchers to the editorial boards of their journals. They were able to charge high prices for library subscriptions because research libraries had to subscribe to the journals that their clients were publishing in and that their clients needed to keep abreast of research in the clients' fields. By about 1980 libraries noted that more than half of their journal budgets was going to commercial publishers (although most titles were still published by societies).

Slide 10. Brief history of journal publication [1980-1995]
Commercial publishers continued to start new journals. Because their mission was to make profits for their owners or stockholders, they set their subscription prices as high as the market would bear. And libraries kept trying to come up with the money to subscribe to the journals their researchers needed.

Slide 11. Serials crisis
This led to a serials crisis

Slide 12. Graph of raw changes in journal costs [custom animation]
(First view) The price of technical books (an index of publishing costs) increased in near synchrony with the Consumer Price Index from 1971 to 1995.
(Second view) On the other hand, journal prices continually increased well above the inflation rate (about 10% per year). One might think that this was because most journals were publishing more articles each year and hence had every right to increase their prices.

Slide 13. Graph of changes in cost per m2 of content, in constant dollars [custom animation]
(First view) When I first became interested in e-publication, I analyzed the cost of a unit of content in constant dollars for representative entomology journals. Three society-published journals changed little from 1973 to 1993.
(Second view) On the other hand, four commercially published journals cost, on average, 3x as much in 1973 and 7x as much in 1993.
These are the same data as in Fig. 2 of Walker 1998 (Am. Sci. 86:465;

Slide 14. Prices of Elsevier journals 1995 and 1998
To demonstrate that large price increases did not stop in 1995, here is how much subscription prices for four representative Elsevier journals increased in the next 3 years. Elsevier publishes more journals than any other publisher (ca. 1200) and uses some of its large profits to buy other journals.

Slide 15. Bigger budgets buy fewer titles
Libraries have been unable to expand their journal budgets as fast as journal subscription prices have increased. Therefore they must continually cancel subscriptions.

Slide 16. Fewer locally held titles = Less convenient, less complete access
The information revolution could be making journal articles more accessible, but journal articles are, on average, becoming less accessible.

Slide 17. New Prospects

Slide 18. Computers + Internet
While the serial crisis was getting worse, computers were getting cheaper and much more powerful and the Internet was connecting all the computers in the World. This made it easy to distribute journal articles electronically, and most journals are now either on the Web or soon will be.

Slide 19. Formats for e-distribution: PDF
One format for e-distribution of journal articles is Portable Document Format. This format allows articles to be viewed and printed exactly as they appear in the printed issues.

Slide 20. Top of page from online Environmental Entomology article
Here is the beginning of an Envir. Entomol. article online in PDF.

Slide 21. Table from same
Tables look like the paper-published tables.

Slide 22. Figure from same
And figures look like the paper-published figures.

Slide 23. Formats for e-distribution: HTML
HyperText Markup Language optimizes documents for on-screen viewing.

Slide 24.Top of page from [same] online Environmental Entomology article
Here is the HTML version of that same Envir. Entomol. article. Notice that there is a link to the PDF file of the article. All traditional (paper-archived) journals that are Web-published in HTML are also published in PDF. The other links allow the user to jump to other parts of the same article--for example, to the References Cited section or to a particular entry in the References Cited section. This is not a great innovation, because the effect is the same as leafing to other parts of paper versions of articles, as one reads them. What would really add value would be to be able to jump to the abstract and full text of the articles cited by the paper (and for that paper to also have links to the abstract and full text of its cited references). But this is not yet the case to any significant extent.

Slide 25.Thumbnails of a table and two figures (same article)
Figures and tables are separate bit-mapped files in HTML. You click on a thumbnail version to view a larger version. This is one reason that HTML versions of articles are not suited for printing. Each figure and table has to be printed separately. To print the article in this example, 11 print jobs were required and the resulting hardcopy was 22 pages, compared to 11 pages for the printed PDF version.

Slide 26. Advantages of e-distribution: More convenient access
Within minutes, articles can be found and perused from the desktop of any Internet-connected researcher (compared to requesting and waiting for a reprint or traveling to a library and [maybe] finding the article in an issue or in a bound volume of issues).

Slide 27. Advantages of e-distribution: Paper copies printed as wanted
If you lose your copy of an article printed from the Web or if you give it to a colleague, it is easy to make another copy. Compare this to acquiring another reprint from the author or once more photocopying the article from an issue or bound volume in a library.

Slide 28. Advantages of e-distribution: Need cost little extra

Slide 29. Flow diagram: traditional and electronic distribution
Traditional publication is complex and expensive. Plates must be made for the printing press, ink applied to paper, and issues and reprints must be assembled, trimmed, bound, wrapped and mailed. Expenses continue after mailing--in researchers’ time and, especially, in library capital and operating expenses.

Slide 30. Flow diagram: traditional and electronic distribution
Once the pages of an article are composed on a computer, PDF files can be produced with easy-to-use, inexpensive software. (HTML files can be made nearly as simply.) The PDF files can be sent by FTP to a Web server and anyone on the Web can access the files. Web-server space is cheap and abundant.
The files used to make the PDF files are the same ones that make the plates for the press that prints (in separate runs) issues and reprints. The issues and reprints are sent to libraries and authors, and eventually reach users. Traditional distribution is thus much more expensive and much less convenient.
Traditional distribution is much more expensive and much less convenient than electronic distribution.

Slide 31. Extra costs of parallel distribution: PDF low

Slide 32. Extra costs of parallel distribution: HTML high
On the other hand, HTML, combined with PDF and restricted access, can be very dear. One proposal that I saw (to a society that publishes a medical journal) amounted to $30 per page. [Counting start-up costs, the first-year costs would have been $43 per page!]

Slide 33. Parallel distribution will be replaced by e-only distribution
Traditional distribution is significantly less convenient and more expensive than e-distribution. Once parallel e-distribution establishes this to the satisfaction of most researchers, traditional distribution will be abandoned.
Journal publication will become e-only.

Slide 34. Savings from e-only publication
E-only publication will cost no more than one-third as much as the traditional system. Although there will be some savings because paper issues will not have to be printed and mailed, the largest savings will be in library operating costs!

Slide 35. Approximate cost per article: Traditional system
Andrew Odlyzko is a mathematician at AT&T. He calculated the revenues that the publisher realized per article for a sample of journals in mathematics and computer science: $4,000 was the median of values ranging from $1,000 to $8,000.
Odlyzko's analysis was first published more than two years ago and no one has questioned his conclusion that library operating costs are twice as much as publisher revenues. One way to verify his conclusions about libraries is to examine library cost data made available by Assoc Research Libraries (ARL).
Andrew Odlyzko. 1999. The economics of electronic journals. Pages 380-393 in R. Ekman and R. Quandt, eds. Technology and scholarly communication. Univ. Calif. Press. [earlier versions e-published in Aug. 1997 and Sep. 1998]

Slide 36. Library operating costs
One way to analyze library operating costs is to take a library's annual budget, subtract what it spent on acquiring books and journals, and divide by the number of volumes held. This gives the operating costs per volume per year. This figure does not include the capital cost of providing shelf space (ca. $18 per volume) nor the operating costs not included in the library budget (cooling and heating perhaps). Here are some representative results of applying the formula:
Ohio State $2.65
Princeton $2.85
Georgia $2.91
Brown $3.38
Florida $3.45
Harvard $3.93
Mean $3.20
Operating costs include
Checking out material
Reference help
(but not the direct cost of subscriptions or books)

Slide 37. Approximate cost per article: E-only publication
Publishers will save at least 25% from not having to print and mail paper issues. Therefore, they could keep all their (high) profits and still reduce their revenues to $3,000.
Web servers are so cheap that many university departments have one or more that could handle the entire runs of multiple journals.

Slide 38. Enhancements possible
One of the attractions of e-only publication is that it will permit many enhancements that aren't feasible with paper-archived journals. None of these enhancements need be so expensive as to increase the cost per article to more than one-third of the cost under the traditional system.

Slide 39. Who will pay and how?
Resolving this question is the major obstacle to moving quickly to e-only publication.

Slide 40. For Fee or For Fee?

Slide 41. Access flow diagrams [custom animation]
(first view) For fee: Envisions maintaining large revenue streams from libraries via site licenses. Clients of such libraries would be recognized by their IP addresses. Individual subscribers would have usernames and passwords. Everyone else (e.g., author's mother, researcher at institution with no site license) would have to pay per view.
(second view) For free: No need to impede access because publication costs are paid as a condition of Web posting.
Note that revenue in both systems largely comes from the same sources: namely, researchers and their institutions. Note also that for-fee is substantially more costly than for-free, because--restricting access is expensive. (Subscribers who forget their passwords need help desks; subscription lists must be maintained and access permissions revised; researchers on sabbatical will want access under their institution's site license; it costs to collect for pay-per-view; etc.)

Slide 42. E-only journals: for fee or for free?
Summary of conclusions from previous slide.

Slide 43. Why access should be free: current articles
More important than lesser cost is that free access provides important additional benefits. One of the greatest is that anyone with an interest in the article will have immediate Web access. As literature indexes go online, the desirability of free links to the full text of "hits" becomes evident.

Slide 44. Access to full text articles from online indexes
For example, the most used and useful indexes in the biological sciences already have Web versions that are increasingly used.

Slide 45. Why access should be free: seamless web
Free access is the only way to achieve a seamless web of journal articles.

Slide 46. Jumping to full text of cited references (one way)
Each of the four lower journals is published by a different publisher, each of which will have independent toll gates.

Slide 47. Jumping to full text of cited references (two way)
And of course readers of the online versions of any of the four would have to contend with the tolls for access to JEE and the other Entomol Soc Am journals.

Slide 48. Web of journals, with tollgates
And of course the same is true for the other publishers. (In reality there are many more than five publishing entities making the web of tollgates much more complex.)

Slide 49. Web of journals, free access
No impediments to those wishing to explore related articles. Authors want the attention of other researchers and convenient access to their articles will greatly increase the attention.

Slide 50. Harnad quote [again]

Slide 51. Why access should be free
It serves the interests of nearly all of the stakeholders in research.

Slide 52. So who’s against free access?

Slide 53. Against free access
Commercial publishers are against it because they currently make their large profits from library subscriptions and site licenses.
Professional administrators hired by large societies are against it because their status (=pay) depends on how large a budget they administer and they don’t understand how valuable free Web access is to the societies’ authors and members.

Slide 54. The goal: Free web access

Slide 55. Getting there
I know of three proposals as to how the current for-fee system can be changed to a for-free system.

Slide 56. Getting to free web access: self archive
In this scenario authors take matters into their own hands and post their papers on the Web, first as preprints (=the submitted manuscript) and then as the refereed version. This is being done to a significant extent by physicists, who had a culture of distributing paper preprints, which was supplanted by a culture of distributing e-mail preprints, which in turn was supplanted by a preprint server established in corner of Paul Ginsparg’s office at Los Alamos National Laboratory. The current server is e-Print archive with 16 mirror sites. It is home to a total of 125,000 articles with 2,500 new ones being added every month.
There is currently no highly used server for life sciences articles, but an Open Archives Initiative has as its goal to make archives at all participating institutions into a easily navigated virtual server of preprints and refereed articles.
Authors' can and do post their own articles on their home pages thereby giving free Web access to all the author's articles for those browsing the author's home page.

Slide 57. Walker's clickable bibliography
Here is a part of my "clickable bibliography," which is part of my home page. Although posting these files in some cases violates a copyright release I signed, I consider posting them ethical for these reasons: (1) I am making the results of publicly supported research public. (2) I am not reducing the revenues of the publisher (my old articles don’t produce revenues for the publisher). If a publisher were to ask me to take an article off the Web because it was in violation of copyright, I would quickly do so and, in its place, put a notice that the article had been posted but that [name of publisher] had asked me to remove it from my home page.

Slide 58. Getting to free web access: stop copyright giveaways
This means of transition has two versions too. Those who sponsor research could simply forbid the researchers they support from signing away copyright. After all, published results of research done in house by the government are by law in the public domain. Why should NSF, NIH, and USDA pay for research and not insist that the published results be freely accessible?
For authors to act here, they can submit an alternative copyright release that gives the publisher only the commercial rights to their articles.

Slide 59. Substitute copyright release
This proposed alternative copyright transfer and an explanation of how to use it are at [It was posted to the American Scientist forum on e-publication on 12 Oct. 1999. The forum’s postings are archived at] For more on getting better terms on copyright releases, go to

Slide 60. Getting to free web access: first two ways
Neither of these means of getting to free Web access speaks to the necessity for the publisher to have the revenues needed to provide quality assurance, editing, and composing. Consequently they are resisted by publishers. The third means provides for the publishers’ interests and seems likely to be a chief means of making the transition.

Slide 61. Getting to free web access: foster e-reprints
E-reprints is the original term here, but immediate free Web access or IFWA probably is less likely to be misunderstood.

Slide 62. Electronic reprints
I was on an ESA committee in 1995 (chaired by Mike Chippendale) that recommended to the Governing Board that ESA try selling electronic reprints. The idea was that this would provide a new service for authors who wanted their articles on the Web and make money for ESA, because the profits from sales of e-reprints would be nearly 3 times as great as from sales of 100 paper reprints).
This figure represents the same data as Fig. 4 of Walker 1998 (American Scientist 86: 467; on the Web at

Slide 63. Electronic reprints
In 1995, when e-reprints were originally proposed, the costs of posting articles on the Web was high enough to worry about how to finance the delayed posting of articles for which e-reprints were not bought. Now posting is practically free (in fact libraries are paying commercial publishers in some cases for posting their issues and allowing access to the posted issues only by the libraries’ clients).

Slide 64. Getting to free web access: e-reprints
Both authors and publishers benefit from e-reprints.

Slide 65. Fostering e-prints is win-win (for publishers)
The sale of e-reprints will make money for the publisher as well as provide a service to its authors. I find it hard to understand why scientific societies have not exercised this option.

Slide 66. Fostering e-prints is win-win (and for authors)
As we have seen, the initial price of IFWA need be no more than the price of 100 paper reprints (which about 90% of authors buy).

Slide 67. Getting to free web access: e-reprints
Once e-reprints become popular the way is clear for a market-driven transition to totally free access.

Slide 68. E-prints: Market-driven transition to free, all e-journals
If a large proportion of articles are freely Web accessible, incentives for subscribing to paper or to restricted access online versions is reduced.

Slide 69. E-prints: Market-driven transition to free, all e-journals
If free Web access to a significant portion of current articles causes a decline in publication revenues, the publisher can recoup the revenues by charging more for e-reprints.

Slide 70. E-prints: Market-driven transition to free, all e-journals
Most authors will value having the full text of their articles freely accessible from online literature indexes and open to reference linking highly enough to pay significantly more than the price of 100 paper reprints (the initial price of e-reprints).

Slide 71. E-prints: Market-driven transition to free, all e-journals
If subscriptions decline enough and IFWA revenues increase enough, subscriptions and paper publication can be ended. The savings from ending paper publication may compensate for the loss of revenues from ending subscriptions.

Slide 72. What should researchers do?: Petition for e-reprints

Slide 73. What should researchers do?: Petition for free access to back issues
This will cost little and will not affect subscription income. It will be a hit with authors and researchers.

Slide 74. Some societies that free all articles after two years or less
HighWire Press hosts 51 journals that offer free back issues, including those published by these societies.

Slide 75. What should researchers do?: Petition for free access to early back files
As we shall see, this can be done for very little.

Slide 76. Florida Entomological Society
In conclusion I’d like to show you how two entomological societies have approached the transition. One has long been a leader and the other has become a leader in the past year.

Slide 77. FES Executive Committee policy quote
In 1993 FES foresaw the coming impact of the Internet on journals and voted to try free access.

Slide 78. FES: All articles on the Internet
Starting in Nov. 1994, all articles in Florida Entomologist, the refereed journal published by FES, were made freely available on the Internet as soon as they were published in paper.

Slide 79. Current Web page of Florida Entomologist
Note the URL [fcla]: From the beginning, Florida Center for Library Automation encouraged producing an online version of Florida Entomologist and, at a time when server space was dearer than now, began to host it on the Web without charge.

Slide 80. FES: All articles on the Internet
FES concluded that at least for the time being it could post all articles without charging the authors more than the current page charges, but it wanted to identify the posting as a service that could be sold separately in the future. It described what it was doing as providing its authors "electronic reprints," because the equivalent of reprints could be viewed or printed electronically at any computer on the Web.

Slide 81. FES: All articles on the Internet
For less than $500, full text searching of all articles (1994-date) was implemented.

Slide 82. Library subscriptions
Florida Entomologist was fully accessible on the Web and articles were easier to locate and to print from the Web than to find and copy from the paper issues. Would libraries continue to subscribe? No marked or consistent decline was evident in first four years. Since this was during the serials crisis, I decided to compare Florida Entomologist library-subscription changes with those of the four principal journals published by Entomological Society of America, which were providing no free Web access.

Slide 83. Library subscriptions
Institutional subscriptions to ESA journals were declining at a greater rate than were those to Florida Entomologist.

Slide 84. Library subscriptions
In 1999, things became more complicated. Library subscriptions to Florida Entomologist dropped 2.2%. However, because FES raised the price of library subscriptions by 25% (from $40 to $50), FES’s income from library subscriptions rose 20%. Adjusted for inflation, FES’s 1999 income from library subscriptions was 5.8% higher than its income from library subscriptions in 1994.
The institutional subscription prices to three of ESA’s journals were likewise raised: Annals, 4%; Envir. Entomol. 8%; JEE, 2%.

Slide 85. FES: back-issue project
With issues from June 1994 forward taken care of, FES turned its attention to the 20,000 pages of Florida Entomologist published from 1917 to March 1994. Putting these back issues on the Web would require that the pages be scanned and the bit-mapped images of articles be collated and printed to PDF files.

Slide 86. FES: back-issue project
We experimented and determined that we could hire someone locally to scan, collate, and print to PDF for ca 75 cents per page. Then we discovered that an offshore company would do what it does for JSTOR []--namely, index, scan, and OCR--for less than 60 cents per page. [Our final costs, which did not include volunteer labor, were 57 cents per page.]

Slide 87. FES: back-issue project
Early last year, FCLA completed the FES back-issue project by making the PDF files and posting all back issues with the same interface that it uses to provide (restricted) access to more than 600 Elsevier journals.
[All issues of Florida Entomologist can be accessed at A more detailed account of the back-issue project is at]

Slide 88. FES: back-issue project
Results were that all issues of Florida Entomologist are now conveniently and freely Web accessible and that libraries are no longer need spend operating dollars to make them less conveniently accessible.

Slide 89. Savings for libraries
The one-time cost of putting the back issues on line is less than the annual cost of keeping back issues on the shelves of 100 research libraries.

Slide 90. FES summary
The (yet)'s are because if revenues from its library subscriptions decline sharply, FES will need to start charging for immediate posting of articles (i.e., charging for e-reprints). In any case, FES will make all articles freely Web accessible no more than one year after paper publication.

Slide 91. Entomological Society of America
ESA has been slower than FES in moving toward free Web access to articles in its journals. However, in the past year it has taken steps that make it a leader among the larger societies.

Slide 92. Electronic reprints
The GB approved the sale of e-reprints (=IFWA) in Dec 1995, but management took no action.
The GB approved their sale again in Dec 1996 but in June 1997 it rescinded its action and authorized the sale of 100 "hits" on an article’s PDF file on the Web for the same price as for 100 paper reprints of the same article!
[The cost of 100 paper reprints of a 5-8 page article is $120. Each click on the link to such an article was thus priced at $1.20.]]
In June 1999 the GB returned to the original concept of e-reprints and made the price of immediate free Web access less than the price of 100 paper reprints.

Slide 93. Electronic reprints
Sales of IFWA began in Jan. 2000 and the June 1999 action of the GB is to be advertised to ESA members in the April 2000 ESA Newsletter. Thus ESA becomes the first scientific society to offer its authors the option of buying IFWA at a fair price. So far it is the only one.

Slide 94. ESA: e-distribution of journals
In Oct 1998, ESA entered into a contract with Cadmus Journal Services to put its four principal journals on the Web in PDF and HTML.

Slide 95. ESA: e-distribution of journals
A free trial of the Web versions began in March 1999 and lasted until the end of the year.. Access is now by subscription or site license only.

Slide 96. ESA: e-distribution of journals
The cost of the Cadmus contract amounts to about $14 per page. Income from the Web versions is (for the time being) only from surcharges to those who have subscribed to the paper versions of the same journals: the Web version of each journal is bundled with its paper version and cannot be bought separately.

Slide 97. ESA: e-distribution of journals
Initial sales have not been great. The success of this approach is uncertain.

Slide 98. ESA: e-distribution of journals
At the time of original approval (Oct. 98), the GB was concerned about possible losses and voted to limit losses and to break even by 2005.

Slide 99. NIH's PubMed Central
NIH has initiated PubMed Central, which provides permanent, free Web access to those articles that publishers elect to post there. The URL for PubMed Central is

Slide 100. NIH's PubMed Central
PMC is just getting underway, so its future is difficult to judge. However it seems a logical way to transition to IFWA for all articles, because it gives publishers the control of what it posted there (allowing them to charge a fair price for their services).

Slide 101. NIH's PubMed Central
In Dec 1999 ESA’s GB voted to participate in PMC and became the first society to endorse offering its authors immediate PMC posting at a fair price and one of the first to endorse posting back issues on PMC.

Slide 102. ESA: summary

Slide 103. ESA: summary
In Dec. 1999 Sharron Quisenberry, president of ESA, appointed a special committee to study ESA’s publication efforts and to recommend what further action the GB should take. That committee, under the chairmanship of George Kennedy, plans to complete its report by the end of April 2000.

Slide 104. Projected ESA publication profits
This is one model the committee is studying. It maintains the income that ESA realizes from its journals and foresees paper issues being discontinued at the end of 2005.

Slide 105. Projected profits from online articles
This graph shows the two components of profits from online articles (as projected in the model illustrated by the previous graph. Income from free access must increase to compensate for loss of subscriptions and the eventual end of subscriptions and restricted access.
(Restricted access ends when subscriptions and paper issues end.)

Slide 106. The end

Slide 107. Gateway site to journal e-pub
More information just a few clicks away on the Web.

Slide 108. Would you—
Here is where to find these items:
   Generic resolution (
   Copyright flier (

Slide 109. FES: InfoLinks
FES authors can append any amount of material to their articles and have it permanently Web accessible. For more information, go to

Slide 110. Example of access to InfoLink

Slide 111. Portion of InfoLink