1  Proceedings of the
2Second ICSU-UNESCO International Conference on
3Electronic Publishing in Science
4held in association with CODATA, IFLA and ICSTI
5at UNESCO House, Paris 20-23 February 2001
6Is electronic publishing being used in the best interests of science?
7The Publisher's view.�
8Derk Haank, Chief Executive Officer, Elsevier Science
10
12
13I must admit I've had a few difficult slots at presentations and
14seminars before but I've never acted after the concluding remarks of
15the Chairman so apparently I can have no impact whatsoever on any
16conclusions from this conference. Some people might find that very
18publishing being used in the best interests of scientists? I am happy
19to do so and I would also use this opportunity to give a few personal
20observations on where the industry is going and where we should be
21going. I hope it will not be too boring for you at the end of this
22conference.
23
24The answer to the question is: Not yet, but it will be. Electronic
25publishing is being used but not to its fullest extent yet, but it is
26absolutely great. It's the best thing since sliced bread that could
27happen to the scientific community. I can get very excited and carried
28away by that because it is fascinating what is already possible and,
29even more fascinating is what will be possible in a few years' time. I
30think we have only seen the beginning but once we are further down the
31road in a couple of years, I honestly think that electronic publishing
32will allow the literature to play a different role in the whole
33scientific research process and that should be in the interests of
34everybody - developed and developing countries. I don't want to seem
35obnoxious - but I do think that there is room for improvement in the
36research process. There is a lot of "reinventing of the wheel" still
37going on within countries and also in different countries. Admittedly
38I was not a very good researcher - that's probably the reason I landed
39in this job in the first place - but it is from my recollection of my
40own experience that we did not check the literature every day. We did
41a lot of literature research, wrote about it, and at the end of the
42day we looked for a few references from the official literature to
43beef up the results. You can say "that was you and that is why you
44were no longer allowed at university", but I would suspect there is
45more of that going on. If we can develop a system where literature is
46at the desktop of everybody, available 24 hours a day, that should
47greatly enhance the role literature plays in the research
48process. That is the way we are going and that is the way our company
49is committed and you should judge all our actions and policies in that
50light. I am happy to explain a little bit what we are trying to do,
51but let me first make a remark about commercial publishing, because
52sometimes we have been treated not as suspects but as already
53convicted people. I was pleased to notice in the concluding remarks of
54the Chairman that this conference has taken a much more balanced view
55than I occasionally encounter.
56
57The issue "yes or no" for profit is not the big thing - it is about
58what kind of service do we deliver to the end-user, to the
59customer. If we get very hung up on an almost religious tone like
60"Thou shalt not make a profit from science publishing", I don't think
61that is very productive. I am personally not ashamed of making a
62profit and I would like to make more profit instead of less profit to
63be honest, but I would be ashamed if people were to say "you are not
64delivering a good service to the community" and that is what we are
65trying to do. To be fair, I am now in this position for two-and-a-half
66years, I do think there was a disconnection between the profits of
67some commercial publishers and the service we delivered to the
68community. Let me start on that note. But there is no use crying over
69spilled milk - just milk new milk. That is what we are doing at the
70moment. We are trying to enter into this bright new future and
71meanwhile correcting some of the issues from the past. Because the
72main problem from the past, in my opinion, is not the high price of a
73single journal subscription. That is a symptom but not the basic
74problem.
75
76The basic problem is - and it is also the reason why these single
77items were so high - that fewer and fewer people took a subscription
78to the journal leaving the remaining customers to fund the whole bill
79of the system. That has gradually developed over many, many, many
80years and if you look back you would then wonder how is it possible,
81why was it not intervened before, but it is true. No journal started
82as a big journal. All journals start as small journals with thousands
83of subscribers. But with the explosion of scientific research,
84journals became bigger and bigger and the best journals became bigger
85more quickly than the poor journals. What happened is that prices went
86up, and I'll leave aside whether the price should have gone up as much
87as it did, but with every price increase you lose a few people on the
88edges who are marginally interested. I believe that first we lost all
89the students, then we lost the faculty staff, then we lost the
90marginally interested library, so we are now down to the hard core of
91big libraries normally very interested libraries but there are only a
92few of those in every field who have to fund the cost of the whole
93system and that leads to take prices of thousands of dollars per
94journal. Now, I think that for too long commercial publishers have
95accepted that if fewer people pay but they pay more, then the end
96result is the same. To me that is a false feeling of security because
97the main problem is that the accessibility to literature became less
98and less visibility means that in general the role literature plays
99diminishes, the journal becomes less important, is seen less and cited
100less, and ultimately has to be closed down. So, in my view the main
101problem is the visibility of the journals with only a few people
102paying the costs. To take the famous example of "Brain Research" which
103apparently costs $15,000 per annum, there are only a few hundred big 104institutes paying. Beyond that there is a very inefficient system of 105inter-library loan, document delivery, legal and illegal photocopying, 106with thousands of people using it without paying anything. This is not 107a very acceptable situation and we should be correcting that. I would 108not have known how to correct that in the paper world and I probably 109would not have taken this job because I don't like to start on an 110impossible mission: but I'm just lucky because the day I arrived 111electronic publishing broke through, and in my opinion electronic 112publishing will help us to solve all these problems in one go and do a 113lot more. 114 115Electronic publishing does many things but first let me tell you what 116it doesn't do. It does not lower the total cost of the system - the 117infrastructure costs. The fact that articles need to be written, need 118to be reviewed, need to be typeset and need to be archived, made 119accessible, open link, whatever - those costs, if anything, will 120increase and they will continue to increase. But what it does do is to 121dramatically lower the marginal costs of allowing access to, instead 122of 600 people, to 601 people. The extra cost of that is virtually nil 123and that means that we should be more creative in the business model 124in the future. I understand there has been some debate about 125differential pricing and is even one of the recommendations. In my 126opinion that is the way to go and we have started with it already. 127 128In developing the way we migrate our current paper customers we find 129that more and more customers get together through consortia. The 130result normally is that the existing customers keep on paying roughly 131the same as they did in the paper environment, but in return they get 132both paper and electronic and quite often more access to more journals 133only electronically. But they haven't lost out; they have gained more 134access. Typically, the consortium also has a few smaller players on 135board - small libraries that were previously very small customers to 136us or not customers at all - and they get the same access but at a 137lower price, which I think is the way to go. Also in our company we 138had lengthy debates - and I know that within consortia there are quite 139often debates - as to whether it is fair that University X has access 140to, say, a thousand journals and pays half a million dollars, whereas 141another university only pays$100,000 for exactly the same access? In
142my opinion that is completely justified. You could also say that the
143paper-pricing model was flawed. Why is it fair that a paper journal
144has a fixed price so that Los Alamos pays exactly the same as a
145university in Zimbabwe? I am not saying that we are deliberately
146changing one unfairness for another but let's not be too moral about
147these issues. Let's try to be practical because the problem with the
148paper model is that as prices went up the only people who took it, as
149I explained before, were the people who were very interested and
150normally also very big, leaving developing countries and small
151institutes always short-changed because although they might be
152interested in Brain Research they could not justify $15,000. If, in 153the electronic environment, we could for instance lower the price for 154existing customers from$15,000 to, say, $10,000 and have hundreds of 155small departments paying$1,000 each for unlimited access to Brain
156Research, I think we would all win. That is, in our opinion, the way
157to go. What we are basically doing is to say that you pay depending on
158how useful the publication is for you - estimated by how often you use
159it. That is something very different from paying by the drink. I do
160not believe that paying by the drink is a suitable model; it is
161cumbersome for us, but it is also cumbersome for our contract partners
162- the libraries and universities - and because, in science, the people
163who drink are not the people who are paying, it is a disastrous model
164as any bartender can tell you. So, we should have models where we make
165a deal with the university, the consortia or the whole country, where
166we say for this amount we will allow all your people to use our
167material, unlimited, 24 hours per day. And, basically the price then
168depends on a rough estimate of how useful is that product for you; and
169we can adjust it over time. It is a principle, which, in my view, is
170not immoral. We want to distinguish between big universities vs. small
171universities, corporate vs. universities, and maybe rich countries
172vs. developing countries. There is nothing wrong in that and any
173combination of the three, as long as people pay something for it,
174because I don't believe in giving it away for free. There is no such
175thing as a free lunch, as I was always told, and it only appears free
176for the end-user. This is appropriate but there are costs involved in
177the system, which somebody has to pay that I think are better done at
178a certain level per university, per country, etc. because then we have
179the best of all worlds. We have a very efficient system, where
180everybody who is even vaguely interested in the material has unlimited
181use. What more is required? We need organizations to run such a system
182which could be learned societies or groups of scientists or commercial
183publishers. It is up to us - the commercial publishers - to prove that
184we can provide a good service that justifies the price we want to
185charge in the future. And if we can't prove that, we will be out of
186business. It is as easy as that and we don't want to be out of
187business too since I still have a mortgage to pay. So that is a good
188incentive to keep on working on it.
189
190Now, enough about differential pricing. Let me say a few things on the
191way we see the products going. And that is what is really
192exciting. Taking one step back: two-and-a-half years ago when I came
193back to Elsevier Science, I found a company that was completely
194different from when I had left it 10 years before. Then it had a
195business model for journals - we launched 30 to 40 new journals a year
196and off we go. When I came back the company was in complete
197disarray. There was a combination of fear and excitement that we still
198have, but fortunately there is more excitement and less fear
199nowadays. There was fear because people did realize that things are
200changing and changing for good and for ever. That might mean that
201somebody could steal away our business - different players like the
202Microsofts of this world or the preprint servers or whatever. So there
203was fear among some people. But there was even more excitement because
204although we are a commercial company, don't be mistaken about that, we
205employ thousands of scientists who are very, very committed to
206scientific publishing and are very committed to the scientific
207world. They feel themselves to be part of that community, and they saw
208very quickly what electronic publishing could do for their role. They
209saw the prospect of getting the information to the desktop of people,
210of adding moving images in all kinds of colours, three dimensional
211pictures, multimedia, etc. So there was a lot more excitement than
212fear but the problem was that everybody was doing their own thing. I
213don't want to bore you with all organizational issues but it was a lot
214of hard work, I must admit - not for me but for my colleagues - to
215sort it all out and it provides a good raison d'�tre for the existence
216of commercial publishers. Because, if there ever was a role for
217commercial publishers it is now more than, say, 20 years ago. Although
218some people feel it has become easier because of electronic
219publishing, it has in fact become an awful lot more complicated and an
220awful lot more capital-intensive. At Elsevier Science last year we
221invested \$30 million in electronic publishing activities. That is more
222than we invested between 1950 and 1980 combined. Even allowing for the
223fact that we are a big company, so we have probably wasted half of the
224money, it is still a lot of money to spend on electronic
225publishing. This is not a time for amateurs to get involved, with all
226due respect. It takes people who are committed, who are well funded
227and are in it for the long term. I have seen it in my own company:
228small publishing groups getting excited about Web servers and after
229three months they got bored because it is rather tedious. In
230electronic publishing, because you have to adhere to very strict
231protocols, it is not just exciting; it's a lot of hard work. It is
232tedious and at the same time intellectually challenging. It is nice
233but it is not something on the side. It is not something that I find
234is done effectively by the scientists themselves. I understand their
235feelings that because of the high journal prices they wanted to have a
236go at the commercial publishers. If that is your sole motivation, I
237think that you are in for a shock because it is a lot of hard work and
238is that really what you want to do? If you really want to do that,
239then come and work for us. But if you want to be a scientist stay away
240from it because you underestimate the amount of work, the funds and
241also the perseverance that is needed to make it work in the long
242term. But I see this as a cry for attention, by people irritated by
243the fact that the old system was not working as well as it should. Now
244it is up to us - the commercial publishers and learned societies - to
245prove that we can develop a service that is well run and delivers what
246it should be delivering. Then there is no need for these initiatives
247from the scientific community. It is ironic that the whole world is
249a tedious job like publishing. It is much easier and more appropriate
250to leave it to people who do it full time and who are not clever
251enough for academic research and end up in publishing.
252
253So, where do we see it going? What we have done to date is to complete
254the migration from the paper journals to an electronic database which
255contains all our journals with all articles as of 1995. That is 1.2
256million articles in the database covering all the 1,200 journals under
257the umbrella of Science Direct. What you find is, the more you have
258the more extras you want. There is no limit to what people want and
259researchers and librarians are almost human in that respect: they also
260want more and more. Whereas two years ago people said that there is no
261need for back files, now they scream for back files because they wish
262they could link to the old literature. Yes, that would be nice and it
263will be possible. We have embarked on a big investment that at
264Elsevier Science within five years we want all our stuff going back to
265Volume I, Issue 1 of all 1,200 journals. We want also a seamless link
266with the non-refereed material because those distinctions are becoming
267blurred: preprints, refereed material, there will be one seamless flow
268of material from what I would like to call the "academic workbench". I
269would like to see a situation where, the moment you start writing an
270article you do it in such a format that it is constantly linked with
271the official and unofficial literature and where you are pointed
272towards stuff that is of importance to you. So when you start writing
273your article, after a few sentences our product should direct towards
274an article that might be relevant. That is making more effective use
276on your bike to the library. The publisher should be doing that work
277and providing pointers to that material. So we see preprints and
278official journals merging into one journal and we also see the
279refereed material being completely merged with everything that is out
280there on the Web because - and I have also picked it up from this
281conference - everybody believes there is a future for refereed
282material and certainly we do that as well, but you shall not live by
283refereed material alone. There is more out there and what we will do
284in Science Direct, in the new release that will be available in March,
285is to allow a search through our own database of all refereed material
286while at the same time searching for everything that is out there on
287the Web through a search engine we have developed that is specifically
288aimed for scientific purposes, because we all know that search engines
289do not search the whole Web, they only search what you ask them to
290do. So we have asked the search engine to search the Web for
291scientific material and whether that is universities, author websites,
292etc. it will all be made available so you can then compare the
293research results from the refereed stuff and the unrefereed stuff. It
294is up to you to then choose, but we do believe that it is important
295that we make a distinction between those two. We are not trying to
297everything as long as it is made clear what is refereed and what is
298not refereed. I think that if we achieve that, we should be able to
299enhance the role literature plays and that is the main goal. As we
300said, we want the stuff to be available 24 hours a day at the desktop
301of everybody. We imagine a situation where everybody, the moment they
302get into the university or at their desk at home and switch on their
303computer, are immediately alerted to relevant material - derived from
304what they have been doing in the past - through a very sophisticated
305search. But it could also include mundane matters such as switching on
306your computer to find a first message "You might like to know that
307last night you were cited in this paper". The first thing you do is
308click on that button and look for what paper cited you. It's fun, it's
309pleasant, but at the same time you use literature more than you
310otherwise would have done because you look at the article and find it
311is interesting; so you look at a few references, and you are bound to
312click on one of these references and before you know it you are
313working with literature. So I am very optimistic about these
314possibilities.
315
316You don't have to believe everything I say - hardly anybody ever does
317- but I would say we believe that the future electronic world is
318bright. We want to be part of it and it is up to us to prove that we
319play a leading role. There is more choice for the community and that
320is good because a bit of competition keeps us on our toes. We don't
321mind that at all. That is one concluding remark I would like to
322make. It is very, very important for you to understand that we are
323convinced that we can play a role but only in an open technology
324environment. We will make all our material linkable with anybody else
325who is there. We are not trying to corner the market and say: "We have
326a box that is only accessible to us". That is in nobody's interest -
327not of us and not of the end-user. I find it ironic, and also
328laughable to be honest if I may say so, that I often have the
329impression that we are more liberal now as commercial publishers than
330some of these society publishers who seem to be defending not just the
331interests of their members but also their own interests. I find it
332unbelievable and beyond words that the American Chemical Society
333refuses to publish anything that has appeared on a preprint server
334that is not run by the American Chemical Society. That kind of
335monopolistic behaviour we wouldn't even dare to think of. That cannot
336be the way to go. There is a role for everybody, and there is much
337more to be done. Big investment is needed but there are also bigger
338rewards to be gained because of the extra use that will drive it. The
339use of our database has gone up within a year more than 400%; that is
340incredible and there is no slowing down. If we have another year of
341400% increase, I think people will use it so much that the debate on
342prices will go away. As a concluding remark then, prices are high per
343journal but the prices are not high for the whole system. Every
344university, as you have also learned this week, spends about only 1%
345of the total budget on all literature - not just ours - all
346literature, books and journals combined. But we also know that every
347library spends only a quarter of their budget on literature, and the
348rest is infrastructure. I am actually convinced that if we all deliver
349using the models that I have described, the infrastructure costs will
350come down dramatically. As you might have heard we have signed a deal
351with all Dutch universities that they have unlimited access to all the
352material Elsevier Science publishes - we have got a complaint from one
353librarian that we were destroying his document delivery business. I
354mean, what kind of comment is that? I am pleased to hear that the
355British Library last year for the first year ever, saw a decrease in
356the documents delivered because more and more publishers have these
357special arrangements (not just Elsevier Science but also Wiley
359material and, therefore, less need for document delivery which is
360sub-optimal. One last remark to illustrate this: two years ago we had
361about 500,000 subscriptions at Elsevier Science and we were used to
362the fact those numbers went down every year by a few per cent as
363librarians had to cancel. Now, with new contracts combining electronic
364and paper delivery, we have, at the end of December, more than 700,000
365subscribers. This means there is no longer attrition. There are now