Explanation of a petition for increased Web access to articles published in ESA journals

Copy of the petition with hot links to the URLs in the foot notes.

(1) Whereas free World Wide Web access to journal articles serves the interests of the authors of research articles, of science and scientists generally, and of the public.

Toll-free posting on the Internet makes an article available all the time to almost anyone. Nothing else comes close to making an article so widely accessible. It is the only way to develop a seamless web of journal articles, where readers can jump to the abstract or full text of any article in the Reference Cited section of any paper they are reading on the Web.

Authors of research articles want their articles as widely accessible as possible. Otherwise they would not buy and mail out reprints, nor would they sign away the copyright to their intellectual property without asking for royalties. To publish in some journals, authors pay page charges.

Science and scientists depend on journal-published research results. All the money that taxpayers, foundations, and institutions spend on research and all the effort and overtime that scientists put into research and manuscripts are for naught if the refereed results of their research are not widely available to the research community. The huge sums spent on research libraries reflect this circumstance as does the time spent (without pay) by those who referee the articles.

Most of the public is presently unable to access the primary literature of entomology, because getting to a research library and using it are difficult. If access was easy and free, many with entomological problems would access pertinent journal articles. The popularity of online access to primary medical literature is relevant here as is the fact that the public, through taxes, sponsors most entomological research.

(2) Whereas making articles permanently and freely accessible on the Web costs no more than two dollars per page.

Once an article has been electronically composed for traditional printing, making a PDF file of the article requires a single, software-automated step. PDF files are made Web accessible by putting them on a Web-serving computer and linking them to a table of contents (such as ESA posts). Research libraries are presently paying to post commercially published articles on their computers and therefore will welcome the opportunity to post ESA articles for free. Furthermore, PubMed Central is an NIH-sponsored server that will post ESA articles permanently for free.

(3) Whereas free Web access will have little if any effect on institutional subscriptions to ESA journals so long as researchers and librarians desire to continue with centrally printed issues.

ESA is heavily dependent on revenues from institutional subscriptions to its journals. Therefore, it is of great importance to predict the effect of making some articles immediately accessible toll-free and of making all articles accessible toll-free two-years later. For three reasons, one should expect little if any effect on institutional subscriptions:

Firstly, librarians will insist on continuing subscriptions to ESA journals to better serve their clients. This is because librarians are anxious to serve all their clients (not just the ones that like to use the Web) and because they want their clients to have access to all current articles (not just the ones for which authors have paid for immediate free Web access). I should also mention that ESA journals are a bargain compared to commercial journals, both in terms of subscription cost and of “impact” (i.e., how much the articles are accessed and used by researchers).

Secondly, librarians will want paper copies of the issues of ESA journals to add to their existing archives. The paper copies of the issues are the ultimate proof of what was published, and no system of archiving digital versions of journals has been agreed to.

Thirdly, there is empirical evidence (AmSci, Fig. 6) that making articles Web accessible will not cause institutional subscriptions to decline. Florida Entomologist has been putting all its articles on the Web, immediately and toll-free since 1994. Between 1994 and 1998, its institutional subscriptions dropped 3% (there is a library serials crisis), but institutional subscriptions to ESA’s four principal journals, which are less Web-accessible, declined 18%. In 1999 the library subscription rate for Florida Entomologist was increased 25% and library subscriptions declined 11%; however, income from library subscriptions increased 11%.

ESA should—

(1) Allow authors to buy at a fair price immediate, free-access posting of their articles on the Web (including posting on PubMed Central).

What is a fair price depends on how much it costs ESA to provide the service. Starting in January 2000, ESA plans to sell unlimited electronic reprints for 75% of the price of 100 paper reprints. That price should yield about twice as much profit as the sale of 100 paper reprints. Posting the articles on PubMed Central will add value to e-reprints but should add little or nothing to ESA's costs.

(2) Provide free Web access to all articles in its traditionally published journals no more than two years after publication (including posting on PubMed Central).

This should not reduce ESA's subscription revenues, because subscriptions buy access to current articles. This should add little to ESA's publication costs, because ESA already prepares electronic versions of all its journal articles and posting on PubMed Central is free. A delay of no more than two years is required to sustain sales of subscriptions and e-reprints.