Memorandum from Mr David A Rew
I have been editor of the EJSO since January
2003, having previously been deputy and associate editor over
six years under a number of publishers. The EJSO is presently
jointly owned by the British and European Societies of Surgical
Oncology, and by Elsevier. It is published by Elsevier Science.
The EJSO is a speciality journal of 10 issues
per annum with a print circulation of some 2,000 copies, and a
rapidly growing worldwide profile by proactive adoption of internet
distribution systems, previously IdealFirst, and now using the
ScienceDirect system of Elsevier.
Our electronic survey data indicates that we
receive several thousand internet "inspections" of articles,
contents and abstracts each month, translating into an annual
growth rate in manuscript submissions of 25% from specialists
across the world, and a small but significant success story for
"UK Science plc".
As editor, I aim to promote the highest standards
of scientific enquiry and reporting of clinical activity, and
the highest standards of concise, elegant presentation of written
scientific English to our influential worldwide professional audience.
I am an NHS employee, paid an additional annual
stipend by Elsevier in recognition of the substantial voluntary
work which I put into the editing process. I am otherwise independent
of Elsevier and am afforded complete editorial and intellectual
independence, subject to our common goal of producing a high quality
ethical journal in a highly competitive specialist market.
I start from the general viewpoint that well
intentioned legislative intervention in this highly complex and
competitive area is likely to realise once again the Law of Unintended
Consequences, at a time of rapid evolution of publishing models.
Profitability is the driver in many areas of human endeavour,
and scientific publishing would appear to be no exception. It
provides the measure of success of the idea and of the acceptance
and utility to the consumer.
In the current context, profitability is the
driver to massive innovation in electronic publishing, distribution
and archiving. Without it, much of what is presently happening
would not have occurred and much of the justification for the
enquires of this Committee would not have arisen. The fierce international
competition between Journals and publishing houses, and between
technologies, seems certain to ensure that any perceived monopoly
profit or practices arising as the reward for innovation will
be short lived.
There has been much speculation that electronic
and internet publications will supercede printed journals. There
are some areas of science, for example high energy physics and
astrophysics, where this may well be the case, and all publishers
and editors keep the matter under review. For the present, both
models are complementary.
This is an area of rapid change, which is driven
(a) Dramatic evolution of electronic technology,
New access technologies, eg mobile
(b) Consumer acceptance of the technology.
In many cases, individual professional readers
are suspicious of new technology and hesitant to adopt the new
technologies however much utility they may appear to offer. However,
this changes with time and is not predictable. For example, we
have seen a dramatic increase in the use of email in the past
year among surgeons.
The markets are unable to predict the rate and
extent of adoption and utility of these technologies or the eventual
mix of paper and electronic issue, and any interference in the
market experimentation with a wide range of different publication,
distribution and revenue models would seem likely to delay or
distort the establishment of durable systems. These would in any
case seem likely to vary from publisher to publisher and from
journal to journal, according to variables which would include
the size and nature of the target audience.
All publishers recognize the value of electronic
systems, in that:
they hugely expedite the processes
of collation, preparation and distribution of material;
they reduce the cost of distribution
of published digital material to marginal levels;
they can make available the material
in a wide range of digital formats, and facilitate its further
processing by scientists and consumers; and
they allow new ways of accessing
historic data. For example, Elsevier is making a huge investment
in the backward electronic cataloguing of all its historic journals
over a century or more. This will give immediate transparency
to scientific knowledge which is otherwise rapidly lost from view.
There are clearly substantial technical and
labour costs to this form of value added activity. This must be
driven by profitability, and which would otherwise be far beyond
the resources of individual journals.
There is a general consensus that printed copy
continues to have a utility which far outweighs the print and
distribution costs, for a number of reasons:
Paper is portable. Many people do not wish to
spend their lives at a computer screen, and prefer the convenience
and flexibility which portability provides.
The printed page holds much more information
and is much kinder on the eye than the computer screen. People
are trained and adapted from their early years to absorb information
from the printed page.
The challenges of putting together a printed
issue impose the disciplines of quality and technical excellence
on the production process. This in turn conveys quality and the
reliability of the journal title, the brand name, to the reader.
The durability of paper. Paper has stood the
test of time as a medium for the transmission, storage, referencing
and archiving of information. We have no way of knowing whether
any of today's electronic storage media will stand this test.
Indeed, electronic media are subject to significant decay with
time, while there is no assurance that systems will be available
to read current storage methods in 50 or 500 years time. Consider,
for example, the fate of the 5.25 inch floppy disc, or the chemical
decay of CDs and DVDs with time.
The quality and reliability of published scientific
data is to a large extent dependant upon the peer review process.
The organisation, distribution and collation of reviews is intensive
of labour and time, with associated administrative and staffing
Without the power and profitability of a large
publishing house such as Elsevier, my own journal would be unable
to survive, and a significant opportunity for UK clinicians to
influence European and worldwide clinical practice would be lost.
A large publishing house brings to the EJSO:
Economies of scale in administration.
For example, we have access to a modern headquarters office for
administration, conferencing and electronic systems.
The cost effective sharing of staff
and data sets with other in house journals.
The cost effective worldwide electronic
distribution of the journal through individual enquires to our
web site, though packaged sales to institutions, universities
and other organizations at marginal cost, and through scientific
cross referencing systems.
The opportunity for our entire back
catalogue to be archived and searched electronically.
The reputation, ethos, management
skills, promotional and marketing reach of a large international
The opportunity to grow a small speciality
journal into one of worldwide reputation. For example, we have
a long term plan to compete directly with the major US journals,
which would not be possible with a small publisher.
The electronic dissemination of information
allows for the much more rapid distribution of information to
users in economically underdeveloped states at marginal cost.
The UK has a strong tradition of supporting
the growth of English overseas through the British Council and
other aid initiatives.
English is now established as the worldwide
medium of communication, a situation which can only advance understanding
and cooperation between peoples and nations with time.
If there is to be any state intervention in
the current publishing revolution, then financial support for
access to speciality journals in developing countries, such as
at terminals in British Council offices, might produce some worthy
initiatives which would help advance the educational and overseas
policies of HMG, while not distorting market competition and innovation.
In response to the specific issues raised by
the Committee, from my perspective as an ambitious British specialist
journal editor, in those areas where I have knowledge or competence
to respond, I conclude that:
Technology and investment by the publishers
has brought huge utility to institutions in the access to hitherto
inaccessible scientific data. The price of this access must be
met by somebody, which is currently the institutions served. Profits
are the reward for this innovation. Interference in this evolving
process by bureaucratic fiat or political puritanism seems likely
to delay and disrupt further innovation and a revolution which
still has some way to run. No one has a monopoly of wisdom as
to how the balance between electronic and paper publishing will
finally look. The two processes are in any case complementary.
There already appears to be a highly competitive
market between the big publishers. Government bodies should keep
matters under observation, but otherwise follow the advice of
King Canute and let the forces of nature and natural selection
continue their work.
The Government should not interfere or artificially
distort the free market for ideas and attention in which scientific
journals compete. If electronic open access journals prove durable
and trustworthy to the scientific community, as seems far from
certain at present, then they will thrive at the cost of established
titles, on the basis of intellectual market processes. Most rational
observers and readers will continue to hedge their bets for some
years to come. The balance of demand will change with time and
The role of Legal Deposit Libraries: I have
no relevant experience with which to answer this question.
Scientific fraud will always occur. The editorial
and peer review processes, and the brand reputations of individual
journals will help keep it to an acceptable minimum. Distrust
will be a particular problem for electronic journals, as for Internet
publishing in general. This will only be resolved with time and