28 December 2009

Elsevier changing practice for reviewers?

I was rather astonished to receive an e-mail message today from Elsevier, telling me that it carries out an annual review of its editors and reviewers - I've reviewed for Elsevier journals for years and this is the first I've heard of it. For the somewhat dubious pleasure of being one of the Elsevier 'team' I would have to pay a registration fee of $109.99 (the attached, somewhat illiterate, letter tells me it is $100.00) and then, if accepted, I would receive the sum of $30.00 per page of every manuscript edited or reviewed. On this basis I think that Elsevier owes me at least $5,000 for past work, but I doubt that I shall ever see a cent.

This is clearly a major change in policy - editors have always received some kind of payment, but reviewers have not; and I suspect that the change is part of Elsevier's response to the open access movement. There will certainly be plenty of people willing to take the money and then be 'too busy' to review for OA journals.

What's the betting that we'll shortly see a price increase in Elsevier journals to pay for the new regime?

27 December 2009


The Washington Post has an article on the reaction of publishers to the e-book phenomenon. Curiously, the article can be downloaded through Calibre (the e-book library software) but does not seem to be on the Website. Even when using the exact title in the Post's search engine, it is not discovered. Odd! However, Calibre gives me the link to the original :-)
However, to the point. The article points out that:
There are now two constituencies: readers (and writers) on the one hand, and the publishing world on the other. And they don't want to hear each other.

Naturally enough, the authors want their books to be read, the readers want books as cheaply as they can get them, and the publishers want to charge as much as they can get away with.

In the print world, this works out to the publisher's advantage - they control the book flow and, to a significant degree, the pricing. In the electronic world, however, the readers know that the marginal cost of another electronic copy of a book is not the $9.99 that Amazon seems to be wanting to establish as the standard unit price, but something closer to the cost of a music track on iTunes.

My guess is that books are very price elastic (lower the price and you sell more), while the publishers want to maintain price in-elasticity in the hope of maximising profits. And yet the odd thing is that a number of examples suggest that if you give away electronic copies, people will want to buy the paper copy in larger numbers than the publishers ever believed possible. When you have a business model that says, If we sell 400 copies at $30.00 we'll make a profit, the possibility of being able to sell many additional electronic copies at $5.00 each, which may lead to the sale of more paper copies, doesn't seem to enter the marketing equation.

The article concludes:
But if the publishers want a role in the e-books business, they'll need to get over it and get on with it, embracing lower-priced e-books with higher author royalties. That seems unlikely. Because it's now clear that publishers just don't want to listen to what their customers are telling them.

and my guess is that it is the small publishing houses that will be the first to "get over it", while the big monoliths will take a lot more time.

25 December 2009

Openness and Google

There's an interesting item on openness on the Google blog - but before everyone gets excited, note that it is about openness in two contexts: open systems and software and openness about the information Google collects about us. It's not about any plans Google may have towards open access to the information it stores. I think we can expect the controversy over Google Book Search to continue as long as Google fails to take my advice (:-) on creating a foundation and making the books openly available.

24 December 2009

A Merry Christmas...

...and a very Happy New Year to all our readers (blog and journal!) - how's this for enjoying a tranquil Christmas Eve?

Sassy takes a nap

23 December 2009

Journal scam

The OA movement has unleashed some... curiosities is perhaps the safest word :-) upon the scholarly publishing scene. But the oddest must be the publisher discovered by Improbable Research, which found that a journal called Psychology had a first issue which consisted of four papers that had already been published elsewhere - without noting the fact.

The same publisher has a journal called Journal of Cancer Therapy, which publishes an
article called “Conformal Microwave Imaging for Breast Cancer Detection”, published in the September 2009 issue with no author listed, is virtually identical to an article published in the April 2003 issue of IEEE Transactions on Microwave Theory and Techniques with authorship credited to Li Dun Li, P.M. Meaney, and K.D. Paulsen.

The name of the publisher is Scientific Research Publishing - which appears to be based in China. So, in addition to scuppering the climate change conference, China seems to be doing something strange to scientific publishing!

21 December 2009

Researcher behaviour

The Research Information Network has just released a very interesting report (prepared by a team from the University of Loughborough and Manchester Metropolitan University) on the publication and communication behaviour of academic researchers. 'Communicating knowledge: how and why researchers publish and disseminate their findings' The report is backed up by technical reports on the methods employed.

The message that comes across strongly is that researcher behaviour has been significantly influenced by the Research Assessment Exercise (soon to be the Research Excellence Framework - a rather less immediately meaningful phrase!). In particular, the report demonstrates changes in the choice of research outlets, with a pronounced swing towards more journal papers, and the researchers themselves comment on the potentially damaging influence of the RAE (mediated by their universities in what is often a confused manner) as they are impelled to submit to higher-ranked journals, forsaking their previous practice of, for example, publishing in conference proceedings or book chapters.

One point noted in the report (although it is not expressed in quite this way!) is the totally stupid practice of Universities, their Faculties and Departments insisting that researchers must get published in a limited list of higher-ranked journals. Sometimes the sources of the ranking are rather curious - does the Financial Times, for example, have the inside track on which journals in business and economics are 'best'? And yet there are business schools that use its ranking as the basis for practice.

The authors do not say it but, reading between the lines, the RAE (and even more so, the yet to happen REF) is past its sell-by date. Massive change in university funding for research has now been accomplished and it is difficult to see what further benefits (i.e., for government policy, not research'excellence') can be achieved.

16 December 2009

Signs of panic?

Today's Guardian has an interesting article on Stephen Covey's digital rights deal with Amazon startles New York publishers. There are two stories: the first is about authors doing deals directly with Amazon for e-book publication of their work, bypassing the traditional print publisher, while the second is about publishers attempting to claim digital rights for their backlist of publications, in spite of the fact that a ruling by the New York courts, upheld on appeal, found that copyright for books that were written before digital publishing existed, remained with the author.

Like anyone else, I have no idea whether or not the e-book is actually going to take over from print. I'm promised a Sony Reader for my birthday, so I'll let you know of my experiences, in due course. I can imagine using it on a journey, and I've been looking at what can be downloaded freely - pretty well all the classics, of course, but a lot more besides. A lot of people are taking advantage of the Gutenberg Project to download thousands of the books there and selling DVDs loaded with them - I have one with about 17,000 works on it, but it is a pretty random, eclectic mix of stuff, thousands of which I shall never look at.

Whether that stuff is on the Reader or not, the fact that it is on my Mac means that there is an immediate store of material for reference, if for nothing else. But I can't see myself forsaking the printed book for ordinary leisure reading - a well printed book, on good paper (such as the Folio Society editions) is still a joy to handle and to read.

07 December 2009

Computers and creativity

There was a rather curious article in yesterday's Observer (the Review section), headed 'Can the art of great writing survive the digital age?' (It has a different title online - which meant that the piece eluded my searching for some time! The author Tim Adams committed the heinous crime of generalising from a single example:
While the American novelist Don DeLillo is unable to work on anything but a manual typewriter, for a new generation of plugged-in readers the digitised word in the only language they know. So should we worry?

So, from a single example, admittedly he mentions one or two other writers who still use either pencil and paper or an old typewriter, he suggests that the whole of creative literature is in peril.

I imagine that for every writer still using a typewriter, there are probably thousands who are using a computer - and getting their work published; and thousands more, tapping away at the keyboard and never getting published.

The piece wanders all over the place, touching on Weizenbaum's Eliza program, the unaccountability of the blog writer to Sherry Turkle's Life on the screen to the point at which one is not quite sure what the overall theme is supposed to be.

I think Mr Adams needs to get a grip: the world is how we make it, computers are tools, not slave-masters, computers are inert, unresponsive, incapable of thought, but we can accomplish much through and with them. If you are a creative writer, you'll make the best use of whatever is the current writing tool - and that is now the word-processor. Don't like it? Then choose another tool and get on with it.

03 December 2009

Murdoch and the Internet

Vanity Fair is not something I read very often, however the November 2009 issue has an interesting article by Michael Wolfe, "Murdoch vs. the Internet" which appears on the US site as "Rupert to Internet: It's War!"

As Wolf says:

The more he can choke off the Internet as a free news medium, the more publishers he can get to join him, the more people he can bring back to his papers. It is not a war he can win in the long term, but a little Murdoch rearguard action might get him to his own retirement. Then it's somebody else's problem.