Up until now we have only considered the costs of preparing the manuscript for publication. If the material were subsequently distributed electronically, there would be further savings. We can classify these as follows:
• Shelf space savings to libraries. As we've seen, these savings could be on the order of $35 per volume in present value. However, electronic archiving is not free. Running a Web server or creating a CD is costly. Even more costly is updating the media. Books that are hundreds of years old can easily be read today. Floppy disks that are 10 years old may be unreadable because of obsolete storage media or formatting. Electronic archives will need to be backed up, transported to new media, and translated. All these activities are costly. (Of course, traditional libraries are also costly; the ARL estimates this cost to be on the order of $12,000 per faculty member per year. Electronic document archives will undoubtedly reduce many of the traditional library costs once they are fully implemented.)
• Monitoring. As mentioned above, it is much easier to monitor the use of electronic media. Since the primary point of the editorial and refereeing process is to economize on readers' attention, it should be very useful to have some feedback on whether articles are actually read. This feedback would help university administrators make more rational decisions about journal acquisition, faculty retention, and other critical resource allocation issues.
• Search. It is much easier to search electronic media. References can be immediately displayed using hyperlinks. Both forward and reverse bibliographic searches can be done using on-line materials, which should greatly aid literature analysis.
• Supporting materials. The incremental costs to storing longer documents are very small, so it is easy to include data sets, images, detailed analyses, simulations, and so on that can improve scientific communication.
Chickens and Eggs
The big issue facing those who want to publish an electronic journal is how to get the ball rolling. People will publish in electronic journals that have lots of readers; people will read electronic journals that contain lots of high-quality material.
This kind of chicken-and-egg problem is known in economics as a "network externalities" problem. We say that a good (such as an electronic journal) exhibits network externalities if an individual's value for the product depends on how many other people use it. Telephones, faxes, and e-mail all exhibit network externalities. Electronic journals exhibit a kind of indirect form of network externalities since the readers' value depends on how many authors publish in the journal and the number of authors who publish depends on how many readers the journal has.
There are several ways around this problem, most of which involve discounts for initial purchasers. You can give the journal away for a while, and eventually charge for it, as the Wall Street Journal has done. You can pay authors to publish, as the Bell Journal of Economics did when it started. It is important to realize that the
payment doesn't have to be a monetary one. A very attractive form of payment is to offer prizes for the best articles published each year in the journal. The prizes can offer a nominal amount of money, but the real value is being able to list such a prize on your curriculum vitae. In order to be credible, such prizes should be juried and promoted widely. This reward system may be an attractive way to overcome young authors' reluctance to publish in electronic journals.