Freedom From The Press: Alternative Academic Publication Strategies and the True Potentials of Information Technology

[The author would like to acknowledge the helpful comments of anonymous referees on a previous draft of this paper.]

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The same idea [to create an online publishing cosortium] has been bandied about by university leaders and head librarians in the United States for the past year. But the consortium . . . may be the first large-scale project designed to encourage scholars to publish their work on their own.

Lisa Guernsey
Chronicle of Higher Education, 1998
[date of article? needs citation in the reference section]

As Mary Case (1998) notes in a recent special issue of the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), scholarly communication and research "are the life blood of the advancement of knowledge." This is certainly true, much more so today than 25 years ago when Daniel Bell (1973) first envisioned the Information Age in which we are now living. Access to information of all sorts—from basic to applied, social to natural—is essential for researchers, graduate students, industry, and even government. Indeed, establishing an adequate information infrastructure has become a basic policy requirement of many international governments.

However, society currently suffers from an information crises caused by a high-cost scholarly communication system. Until recently, this has been called a "serials" crises because the stakeholder most affected has been the academic library. As libraries have cut back serials and monograph acquisitions, thereby "decimating their collections" (Case, 1998), it has become increasingly clear that this crisis extends past the library, into our classrooms and laboratories. Not only are whole lines of scholarship in danger of disappearing, but professionals in industry, government, and education are finding that the information that does remain available is too expensive to access.

What is the solution to the information crisis? For many years, electronic journals have been offered as a potential solution. Electronic journals are said to be cheaper, faster, and more efficient ways of distributing scholarly information. They supposedly do away with the high cost of paper (thereby eliminating 75% of production costs) and streamline the editorial process (thereby eliminating some of the administrative overhead). They should, in short, revolutionize the scholarly communication system. Unfortunately, this revolution has not occurred. While we wait for it, even exclusively electronic journals demand subscription rates as or more expensive than their paper counterparts, despite the fact that there are no paper or printing costs.

Has the revolution failed? I do not believe so. The potential to make information technologies easily accessible barely has been tapped. In some cases, the potential has been totally ignored. This is perhaps because of a lack of awareness and expertise. But it also could be due to a failure of nerve or an inability to see "outside of the lines" of entrenched practices and conceptual schemas. [Whose lack of awareness, expertise, failure of nerve, or inability to see outside the lines? Publishers? Journal editors?] Peter Boyce, senior consultant for electronic publishing for the American Astronomical Society [is he one of many consultants (in which case his title might not be capitalized), or THE consultant (in which case we chould cap Senior Consultant for Electronic Publishing)?], suggests this possibility:

Most publishers can't step back far enough from the day-to-day production demands to visualize what "ground zero" really is. They can't shed their old habits. I think it says something that the real innovators, (us with UC Press, High Wire, Community of Science, the LANL xxx [what is LANL xxx?] preprint server, etc.) all originated from groups who were not publishers. We were able to start with what it is the users would want and design a system to get there. Professional publishers, even most non-profit publishers, could not, apparently, blaze this trail. [Citation needed]

Boyce points to what is essentially a lack of vision. If he is correct, this absence of vision has important ramifications, namely that the potential inherent within new technologies is not being recognized or exploited. Instead, new technologies are being forced to serve old production patterns—which is akin to forcing a round peg into a square hole. Consequently, and to the detriment of the scholarly world as a whole, the ineffective utilization of technology is contributing to the serials cost crisis.

What is perhaps needed are more projects like that of the AAS [spell out in first use] and the LANL [spell out in first use] preprint server, which overtly demonstrate the potential of information technology. [How? I don't know what these projects are, much less how they operate.] If more [more what? companies? publishers?] demonstrated that IT can be leveraged to enhance flow and access to information, then more readers of serials would pressure publishers to change the production patterns that lead to costly access.

This is the underlying motivation for the International Consortium for Alternative Academic Publication (ICAAP). ICAAP is a consortium of scholars, libraries, programmers, and universities; [can we make these all human nouns -- scholars, librarians, programmers, and university officials?] it is based at Athabasca University and devoted to proving that a high- quality scholarly communication system can be created without incurring the high cost of the old paper-based system. The strategy is simple and based on a three general  tactical movements. The first step is to leverage economies of scale. ICAAP localizes many key "information" services, such as archiving, site management, conferencing and list services, and the provision of a secure server (HTTPDS). By providing these basic services, individual journal editors are freed from supervising a substantial portion of the administrative and technical overhead.

The second step is to leverage the potentials of information technology in order to create a simple and efficient journal production infrastructure. For example, ICAAP has developed an internal XML document system [what is this? Can you provide the reader with a brief parenthetical explanation of the system and then link to a more comprehensive description?] that allows ICAAP to create a low cost, but extremely flexible, production system. The XML system has two components: A "header" structure, where bibliographic information is kept, and an enhanced "body" structure, which allows tight control of SGML markup [what is this? Can you provide the reader with a brief parenthetical explanation of the system and then link to the Sosteric paper?]. (For more information, see Sosteric, 1999). The system known as ICAAP eXtended Markup Language (IXML) allows ICAAP to, among other things, deliver its journal articles in multiple formats at the flick of a switch [so? what are the advantages of multiple formats?]. Currently, ICAAP is able to produce both regular HTML and Dynamic HTML (complete with pop-up notes and graphics) instantly from the IXML source (for examples, see The provision of printable documents (perhaps PDF or a similar technology) from the IXML source is also being investigated. [You use technical terms and jargon that many of our readers will not understand. Definitions, explanations, illustrations are ways of making your paper more readable to these readers. Please consider writing the main article in easy to understand terms and then linking to the technical references and descriptions for those readers who understand IXML sources, LASE engines, etc. The lay reader will be completely turned off by these terms and won't read your article. What you are describing is an important new development in scholarly publishing; it needs to be comprehensible for a very general audience ranging from college presidents, through poets, as well as by information scientists.]

The third step is to develop a "distributed" production system that allows various "centers of excellence" to provide essential services. ICAAP has recently starting working with the Internet Applications Laboratory at the University of Evansville [in what state?] on a project designed to provide sophisticated indexing services for ICAAP journals. The IALab [is it really written with no spacing?] will deploy a powerful Limited Area Search Engine (LASE) that will index scholarly journals on the Internet.[And this means....] The functionality of the engine will be extended by exploiting the IXML head structure mentioned above. With the IXML head, bibliographic information will be incorporated automatically and, for the first time, structured queries of scholarly resources on the internet will be possible. In addition, the inclusion of unique identifiers for each ICAAP article will allow all journal articles to be tracked even as the original location changes (for a working example, see This project is jointly administrated by Anthony F. Beavers, Director of the IALab, and Mike Sosteric, Director of ICAAP.

By leveraging economies of scale, exploiting the potentials of advanced information handling systems like SGML, and developing a distributed production system, ICAAP will provide a full set of production services to journal editors at a drastically reduced cost. It is ICAAP's intention to provide production support for 30 journals at the rate of about $300.00 to large institutions ($10.00 per title). [It would be impressive here to state what 30 journals now cost libraries.] ICAAP will then be able to make an unequivocal statement about the potential of IT to revolutionize the scholarly communication system.

Is this scenario attainable? Officials at ICAAP believe that there is a verifiable potential to reduce the cost of distributing scholarly information. The extend of the final reduction will depend on many factors, not the least of which is ICAAP's ability to elicit broad and voluntary support [what kind of support? monetary? or general enthusiasm?] from the scholarly community. The final outcome will also depend on others carrying forward the vision and solutions developed at ICAAP. It is not a cliché to say that ICAAP will accomplish nothing alone. Everything depends on the ability and willingness of other universities and other scholars to adopt and adapt the ICAAP model. Only when the ICAAP model becomes commonplace will the inertia of the current system be overcome. It seems senseless not to use technology to reform—even revolutionize—the current scholarly journals system in order to control spiraling costs.


Bell, D. (1973). The Coming of Post-Industrial Society. New York: Basic Books.

Case, Mary. (1998). Views of the current marketplace for scholarly journals. Association of Research Libraries Newsletter 200. Available on the World Wide Web:

Guernsey citation needed.

McCabe, M. J. (1998). The impact of publisher mergers on journal prices: a preliminary report. Association of Research Libraries Newsletter 200. Available on the World Wide Web:

Sosteric, M. (1999). ICAAP eXtended markup language: exploiting XML and adding value to the journals production process. D-Lib Magazine 5(2). Available on the World Wide Web: