Comparing Electronic Journals to Print Journals
Are There Savings?
Janet H. Fisher
Three years ago the rhetoric of academics and librarians alike urged publishers to get on with it-to move their publications from print to electronic formats. The relentless pressure on library budgets from annual increases of 10 to 20% in serials prices made many academics and librarians look to electronic publication as the savior that would allow librarians to retain their role in the scholarly communication chain. Academics and university administrators were urged to start their own publications and take back ownership of their own research. The future role of the publisher was questioned: What did they do after all? Since so many scholars were now creating their own works on computer, why couldn't they just put them up on the Net? Who needs proofreading, copyediting, and design anymore? And since technology has made it possible for everyone to become a publisher, surely electronic publication would be cheaper than print.
Quite a few experiments in the last three years have tried to answer some of the questions posed by the emergence of the Internet, but few have yielded hard numbers to date. Most experiments have been focused on developing electronic versions of print products. MIT Press took a piece of the puzzle that we saw as important in the long run and within the capabilities of a university-based journal publisher with space and staff constraints. Many of our authors had been using e-mail, mailing lists, discussion groups, and so on, for 10 years or more, and we wanted to be visible on the Internet early.
We decided it was easier, cheaper, and less of a financial risk to try publishing a purely electronic journal rather than reengineering our production and delivery process for our print journals when we had so little feedback about what authors and customers really wanted. Starting with Chicago Journal of Theoretical Computer Science (CJTCS), which was announced in late 1994 and which began publication in June of 1995, we began publishing our first purely electronic journals. CJTCS, as well as Journal of Functional and Logic Programming (JFLP) and Journal of Contem-
porary Neurology (JCN), are published article-by-article. We ask subscribers to pay an annual subscription fee, but we have not yet installed elaborate mechanisms to ensure that only those who pay have access to the full text. Studies in Nonlinear Dynamics and Econometrics (SNDE), begun in 1996, is published quarterly in issues with the full text password protected. Another issue-based electronic journal-Videre: Journal of Computer Vision Research -began publishing in the fall of 1997. You can view these publications at our Web site (http://mitpress.mit.edu/ ).
The lack of one format for all material available in electronic format has been a problem for these electronic journals and our production staff. The publication format varies from journal to journal based on several criteria:
• the format most often received from authors
• the content of the material (particularly math, tables, special characters)
• the cost to implement
• the availability of appropriate browser technology
CJTCS and JFLP are published in LaTeX and PostScript in addition to PDF (Adobe's Portable Document Format), which was added in 1997. JCN is published in PDF and HTML (Hypertext Markup Language, the language of the World Wide Web) because the PostScript files were too large to be practical. SNDE is published in PostScript and PDF. Videre is published in PDF.
Here I will present our preliminary results on the costs of electronic-only journals and compare them to the costs of traditional print journals. I will use Chicago Journal of Theoretical Computer Science as the model but will include relevant information from our experience with our other electronic journals.
Background on the Project
CJTCS was announced in fall of 1994 and began publication in June of 1995. Material is forwarded to us from the journal editor once the review process and revisions have been completed. Four articles were published from June through December of 1995, and six articles were published in 1996. The Web site is hosted at the University of Chicago, with entry from the MIT Press Web site. The production process includes the following steps:
1. manuscript is copyedited
2. copyedited manuscript is returned to author
3. author's response goes back to copyeditor
4. final copyedited article goes to "typesetter"
5. typesetter enters edits/tagging/formatting
6. article is proofread
7. author sees formatted version
8. typesetter makes final corrections
9. article is published (i.e., posted on the site)
Tagging and "typesetting" has been done by Michael J. O'Donnell, managing editor of CJTCS, who is a professor at University of Chicago.
The subscription price is $30 per year for individuals and $125 per year for institutions. When an article is published, subscribers receive an e-mail message announcing its publication. Included is the title, the author, the abstract, the location of the file, and the articles published to date in the volume. Articles are numbered sequentially in the volume (e.g., 1996-1, 1996-2). Individuals and institutions are allowed to use the content liberally, with permission to do the following:
• read articles directly from the official journal servers or from any other server that grants them access
• copy articles to their own file space for temporary use
• form a permanent archive of articles, which they may keep even after their subscription lapses
• display articles in the ways they find most convenient (on computer, printed on paper, converted to spoken form, etc.)
• apply agreeable typographical styles from any source to lay out and display articles
• apply any information retrieval, information processing, and browsing software from any source to aid their study of articles
• convert articles to other formats from the LaTeX and PostScript forms on the official servers
• share copies of articles with other subscribers
• share copies of articles with nonsubscribing collaborators as a direct part of their collaborative study or research
Library subscribers may also
• print individual articles and other items for inclusion in their periodical collection or for placing on reserve at the request of a faculty member
• place articles on their campus network for access by local users, or post article listings and notices on the network
• share print or electronic copy of articles with other libraries under standard interlibrary loan procedures
In February 1996, Michael O'Donnell installed a HyperNews feature to accompany each article, which allows readers to give feedback on articles. Forward pointers, which were planned to update the articles with appropriate citations to other material published later, have not yet been instituted.
Archiving arrangements were made with (1) the MIT Libraries, which is creating archival microfiche and archiving the PostScript form of the files; (2) MIT Information Systems, which is storing the LaTeX source on magnetic tape and refreshing it periodically; and (3) the Virginia Polytechnic Institute Scholarly Communications Project, which is mirroring the site (http://scholar.lib.vt.edu ).
Direct Costs of Publication
To date, CJTCS has published ten articles with a total of 244 pages. I have chosen to compare the direct costs we have incurred in publishing those 244 pages with the direct costs we incurred for a 244-page issue (Volume 8, Number 5, July 1996) of one of our print journals, Neural Computation (NC). NC has a print run of approximately 2,000 copies, and typesetting is done from LaTeX files supplied by the authors (as is the case for CJTCS) (Table 5.1). Several important differences in production processes affect these costs:
1. The number of articles published is different (10 in CJTCS, 12 in NC).
2. The copyeditor handles author queries for NC and bills us hourly. This contributed $100 to its copyediting bill.
3. Composition for CJTCS is done on a flat fee basis of $200 per article. Tagging and formatting has been done by Michael O'Donnell, the journal's managing editor at University of Chicago, because we were unable to find a traditional vendor willing to tag on the basis of content rather than format. The $200 figure was developed in conjunction with a LaTeX coding house that we planned to use initially but that was unable to meet the journal's schedule requirements. In comparison, the typesetting cost per article for NC is approximately $326, which includes a $58 per article charge for producing repro pages to send to the printer and a $21 per article charge for author alteration charges. These items are not included on the CJTCS composition bills.
For comparison, Table 5.2 shows the direct costs associated with three other electronic journals to date: Journal of Contemporary Neurology (JCN), Journal of Functional and Logic Programming (JFLP), and Studies in Nonlinear Dynamics and Econometrics (SNDE). JCN's cost per page is much higher than the other e-journals because the typesetter produces PDF and HTML formats and deals with complex images.
The issue-based electronic journal Studies in Nonlinear Dynamics and Econometrics (SNDE) is comparable in direct costs with a standard print journal, with the only difference being the lack of printing and binding costs. Table 5.3 is a comparison of the direct costs incurred for SNDE, Volume 1, Number 1, April 1996 (76 pages) and an 80-page issue (Volume 8, Number 4, Fall 1995) of one of our print journals, Computing Systems (COSY), that follows a similar production path.
Composition cost per page is comparable in these journals, but the total pro-
duction cost per page of SNDE is only 24% of that of COSY, which includes the printing and binding costs associated with a 6,000-copy print run.
The overhead costs associated with CJTCS and the comparable issue of NC vary greatly. Overhead for our print journals is allocated on the following basis:
• Production-charged to each journal based on the number of issues published
• Circulation-charged to each journal based on the number of subscribers, the number of issues published, whether the journal has staggered or nonstaggered renewals, and whether copies are sold to bookstores and news-stands
• Marketing/General and Administrative-divided evenly among all journals
For CJTCS, MIT Press incurs additional overhead costs associated with the Digital Projects Lab (DPL). These include the cost of staff, and the cost of hardware and software associated with the Press's World Wide Web server. These costs are allocated to each electronic publication on the following basis:
• Costs of hardware and software for the file server, network drops, staff time spent maintaining the server, and so on, are allocated to each e-journal based on the percentage of disk space that the journal files occupy as a function of all Web-related files on our server
• Amount of time per issue or article that DPL staff work on the journal is multiplied by the rate per hour of staff
Table 5.4 shows a comparison of overhead costs associated with CJTCS and the comparable issue of NC. CJTCS's production overhead is much higher than NC's because it is almost the same amount of work to traffic individual articles as it is an entire issue. Even though each batch of material was much smaller in terms of pages than an issue of NC would have been, it still required virtually the same tracking and oversight. Correspondingly, the general and administrative overhead from the journals division for CJTCS is dramatically higher than NC because of the small amount of content published in CJTCS. The overhead costs associated with publishing CJTCS for 11/2 years had to be allocated to only 244 pages published, whereas NC published 2,320 pages in the same period of time.
JCN takes additional time from our DPL staff because of the HTML coding and linking of illustrations, which adds an additional $7 per page to its costs. The total of direct and indirect costs per page for JCN is, therefore, in line with our print journals even though there is no printing and binding expense. SNDE incurs an additional $1,400 per issue in indirect costs for the staff, hardware, and software in the DPL.
The other side of the picture is whether the market reacts similarly to electroniconly products. Since this question is outside the scope of this paper, I will only generalize here from our experience to date. For the four electronic journals we have started, the average paid circulation to date is approximately 100, with 20 to 40 of those being institutional subscriptions. For the two print journals we started in 1996 (both in the social sciences), the average circulation at the end of their first volumes (1996) was 550, with an average of 475 individuals and 75 institutions.
There appears to be a substantial difference in the readiness of the market to accept electronic-only journals at this point as well as reluctance on the part of the author community to submit material. It is, therefore, more difficult for the publisher to reach break even with only one-fifth of the market willing to purchase, unless subscription prices are increased substantially. Doing this would likely dampen the paid subscriptions even more.
From the comparison between CJTCS and NC, it seems that the direct costs of publishing an electronic journal are substantially below that of a print journal with comparable pages. The overhead costs, however, are much higher-1,240% higher in this case-but that figure is adversely affected by the small amount of content published in CJTCS over the course of 18 months of overhead costs compared with NC which published 12 issues over the same period of time. The disparity in the markets for electronic products and print products is, at this point in time, a very big obstacle to their financial viability, as is also the conservatism of the author community.