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Chapter 9— Electronic Publishing Is Cheaper
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Optimum Optimism

Digital prophets soothsay that electronic publishing will exacerbate monopolies and class divisions, or that a slow, steady spread of access will lower costs and promote democratization. In 1951 a new technology led Theodor Adorno to predict a publishing revolution: "In a world where books have long lost all likeness to books, the real book can no longer be one. If the invention of the printing press inaugurated the bourgeois era, the time is at hand for its repeal by the mimeograph, the only fitting, the unobtrusive means of dissemination."[3] By contrast, Mario Morino, founder of the Legent Corporation, electrifies campus audiences


by asking, "Which corporation will be the first to acquire a university?"[4] Costs are not everything. Even if they were, the Internet is full of threads on the inconsistent costs of access from place to place. If the digital revolution is a revolution rather than a colossal marketing scheme, it is because so many people and institutions are involved and invested.[5]

It may be that computers will be as ubiquitous as television sets and an Internet connection as cheap as a telephone,[6] but when I look at the role of the Internet in higher education, I see higher costs and foresee only more differentiation between universities based upon their ability to pay those costs. The conversion from print to pixels is not merely an expensive change of clothes: it is an enormous expansion of capability. The chief reason that scholarly electronic publishing costs more than print is that it offers more, much more, and students, faculty, and libraries want all of it.

Under the domain plan that Project MUSE, JSTOR, ARTFL, and other experiments are refining, electronic publishing achieves no less than seven advances in scholarly transmission: (1) instead of a library maintaining one copy of a work that can be read by one person at one time, the work can now be read by an entire campus simultaneously; (2) instead of having to search for a location and hope that a work is not checked out or misshelved, a user can find the full text at the instant it is identified; (3) the work can be read in the context of a large and extensible compilation of books and journals, including back issues, each as easily accessible as the first; (4) the work is capable of being transformed without disturbing an original copy; pages can be copied without being ripped out; copies can be made even if a photocopier is jammed or out of toner; (5) the work can be electronically searched; (6) there is no worry about misplacing the work or returning it by a due date; and (7) the electronic library can be open all night every day of the year. The increased value, if offered by a corresponding increase in price, permits libraries to spend a little more to be able to acquire much more: more content, more access, more use. Librarians pay close attention to what they pay for and many are willing to purchase ambitious electronic publishing projects. Project MUSE has already attracted 100 library subscribers who previously subscribed to no Johns Hopkins print journals, including libraries in museums and community colleges (see Figure 9.1).

If some claims for the digital revolution are laughably inflated, it is not for lack of information: the revolution has occurred with unprecedented self-consciousness and organizational care. That care comes from many sources. Foundation support has proved essential. The Association of American Publishers has led the way for standardization, defense of copyright, vigilance against piracy, and scrutiny of current and pending legislation. At Hopkins, Stanford, Chicago, and many other places, frank and frequent discussions between publishers and librarians have focused on the price and appeal of potential projects. Conversations with Jim Neal remind me that libraries are the original multimedium. For multiple reasons, librarians' reactions to the systemic costs of digitalization are immediately relevant


Figure 9.1.
Project MUSE Subscription Base

to publishing decisions. Many libraries are asked to acquire extraordinarily expensive databases without a clue about the relationship between price and actual costs, but partnering libraries know better.

For Project MUSE, the greatest cost is for personnel. For decades, it has been possible to maintain a journals program staffed by literate and dedicated people; MUSE employees also have to be adept with computers, software, protocols, and platforms. To raise MUSE from infancy, its employees must also be creative, patient, resourceful, and endowed with heroic stamina. Because their jobs require higher and higher levels of education and technical skill, starting positions are more expensive. Disregarding administrative costs, the staff of MUSE cost about 20% more per capita per month than the staff of print journals, and the differential is rising.

We are just beginning to understand the costs of hiring, training, and retaining qualified staff. Because the skills of the Project MUSE team are pioneering, those


who succeed are subject to recruitment raiding for higher salaries. Due to the inordinate pressures put upon them-the stress of tight schedules, the frustrations of downtime, the frictions of incompatible programming and opposed ideas-these young people are prone to rapid burnout.

Excluding independent contractor costs, personnel costs account for 46% of the start-up and maintenance costs for Project MUSE. Including independent contractor costs, which are themselves chiefly a matter of personnel, that percentage rises to 59%.

The second-largest expense has been hardware, accounting for 12% of total costs. Third is rent, at 3.3%. Fourth, surprisingly, has been travel, requiring 2.9% of investment. The travel budget is a consequence of the need to parlay and negotiate on every frontier: with the learned societies and editorial boards that run the journals, with the librarians who buy them, and with editors who contemplate moving their journals to MUSE. In the first two years of MUSE's development, our efforts to build MUSE were distracted by the novelties of the Internet-training staff, dealing with journal sponsors, conversing with libraries-each a task as vital as the selection of software or the conversion of codes. Marketing was kept to a minimum until MUSE had a complete package to deliver. With the completion of the 40-journal base in December 1996, Hopkins is now in high gear marketing MUSE. Travel and exhibits will have higher costs as MUSE strives to attract a subscription base strong enough to become self-supporting.

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