Cite this as: J. Winters 2002 'Issue 11, Editorial', Internet Archaeology 11. http://dx.doi.org/10.11141/ia.11.9
I come from a family who likes looking for patterns in numbers and things in general, and it certainly came as no surprise that my sister got married earlier this year on 20-02-2002! So I sat down at my desk to write this editorial and saw a pleasing even spread of articles and reviews that make up this journal issue. The number 4 is obviously my number of the week because I have been working on Internet Archaeology for 4 years this month - since May 4th 1998 to be exact!
Four years has sometimes felt like 4 months and the journal has really undergone so many changes and developments all through this time, but the introduction of subscriptions has been the biggest milestone to date. In this editorial I would like to summarise the background to the path we have chosen and to set out our belief that only through subscriptions will the journal remain sustainable.
Announced at the start of December 2001, the introduction of online subscriptions for individuals provoked many reactions on both archaeology and non-archaeology mailing lists. It also generated much off-list discussion too. The journal's history and archive documents have always been available from the journal web site and of course many of you who have been following the development of journal since day one know the context out of which journal has developed. But here's a quick story so far...
Internet Archaeology was set up with funding from the JISC's Electronic Libraries Programme (eLib) in 1995 - a case of money from an non-archaeological source directly benefiting archaeology. Some eLib projects had a lifespan and simply closed after their funding finished, although some changed direction and focus and found other means of support. But whether the projects closed or continued, we all had to develop an 'exit strategy' and subscriptions were part of Internet Archaeology's from the very start. As we explored the mechanics and technicalities, there were some changes in how things were implemented but the fundamental agreement with eLib to introduce subscriptions was not something that we could avoid. Of course to eLib, Internet Archaeology was an experiment in setting up an e-journal and seeing if it could become self-sufficient. But to us, and hopefully to you, it was and still is an exciting way of publishing archaeology.
Our eLib funding paid for necessary overheads such as hardware, software, computing support and internet connection, office accommodation, as well as the smaller things that oil the wheels of a desk-based existence, such as telephone costs, stationary and postage. But most of it was used to pay for the essential input of journal staff - an Editor and an Administrator - with copy-editing and other technical expertise being bought in when required.
Certainly electronic publication allows us some savings because we do not require the physical distribution and reproduction of print. But the time and effort required to produce the first 'copy' is not all that different (Varian, 1997). In addition, the medium adds its own additional costs that print does not have (hardware and system administration, cataloguing, archiving, migration, network charges). Of course with all these costs initially being covered by the funding, we were able to keep access to journal content free. But, to paraphrase Kaser (2000), for that information to look free, eLib was paying and the costs involved did not go away when the funding did.
That information ought to be free is ingrained in our culture but even though much web content currently looks free, someone somewhere down the line is paying for it. The web's financial models are no different than any other arena. Either the user pays direct or the producer finds some other means to finance the operation.
Internet Archaeology is not an e-print archive. It is an active journal which demands considerable editorial input to maintain its quality and its content (which is a very active process, especially as hardware and software changes). This input is the greatest cost the journal faces, and is something that it cannot do with out if it is to continue to exist. Because of the range and number of tasks involved, it is not something that could be done by someone who has other full time commitments - as some have suggested. The editor, although an oft-unseen part of the final publication, gives the time and input to content that makes authors want to publish in the journal and readers want to read it. Some have argued that all the editorial tasks involved in the long run make it necessary to charge for access to electronic journals to pay for the expert help needed to run them (see Odlyzko, 1997).
"...electronic publishing is cheaper than print, if you rule out development, refereeing, editing, design, coding, updating, marketing, accounting, and interlinking." (Regier, 1997)
It is not that Internet Archaeology has a great financial need. We are merely recognising our needs because these have to be assessed (and met) by the journal's income at the end of the day. We have to prove our financial viability and be accountable to the University of York who hosts the journal (but also to our readers who now pay for the service). There may of course be room to develop and expand the subscription models we currently use, but having explored all sorts of other avenues in the last 5 years, asking those who use the journal to pay is ultimately the only way to sustain the journal. This would be the case whether the journal existed in an environment outside the academic one it finds itself in - perhaps even more so.
Internet Archaeology's challenge is whether our readers who had been used to free access can now be convinced to pay for it. It's early days, but initial indications since our launch of individual subscriptions show that they can. Most readers have accepted that it is reasonable for the journal to recover production and other costs - there were more concerns about the scale of charges than charging per se.
"Offering free services on websites is not a sustainable business model...
A Web that is totally free is not sustainable" (Jakob Neilsen, Alertbox, December 24, 2000)
As Jakob Nielsen predicted, we are now beginning to see the end of free content on the web. The Times, The Wall Street Journal, the Economist and Science all have introduced subscription charges for their online material. These subscription models are based on broad readerships and high volume demand. However recent discussion into payment models for mainstream web content in e-commerce forums and web-zines (e.g. e-commerce-guide.com and silicon.com) have signposted specialist niche markets (perhaps like archaeological publishing) as one area offering solid business alternatives to these large scale operations. Providing free content online may not be sustainable in areas like archaeological publishing, where there simply isn't sufficient scale of commercial and business interest to provide the necessary advertising or sponsorship to maintain the content and keep access free (see Bateman 2001).
This is a period of transition and yet again IA finds itself, perhaps reluctantly this time(!), at the forefront of culture change. Web users have become used to getting services for free. But I do see that the archaeological community is moving towards an understanding and acceptance of the economic realities of this form of quality publishing as well as embracing its potential and capabilities. Nielsen acknowledges that this is a time of difficult change since users have become quite accustomed to getting services for free, but the web now offers real services and real content (Cox, 2002). In Neilsen's words, we are seeing a shift from separating gullible investors from their money (the driving force of the dot.com boom and bust) to separating customers from theirs, which he sees as a much healthier way to build a business.
Much of the shifts in public attitude to paid-for web content are beyond our control and lie in the hands of much bigger players in the electronic economy. However if journals like Internet Archaeology are really to fulfil the predictions that say that specialist publishing is the one viable area of the internet economy, then the critical component in my strategy will be as Editor, nurturing and facilitating high quality content. Four issues a year certainly could yield some interesting patterns for my number-crunching family to chew over!
Bateman, J 2001 ' Re: The demise of the freely accessible e-journal'. Email to intarch-interest discussion list. 29 November 2001. Available: https://www.jiscmail.ac.uk/cgi-bin/wa.exe?A2=ind0111&L=intarch-interest&F=&S=&P=8918
Cox, B 2002 'As the Internet Comes of Age, More of Us Are Paying for Content' March 14, 2002. Available: http://ecommerce.internet.com/news/insights/trends/article/0,3371,10417_991721,00.html. Accessed: 28 May 2002.
Kaser, RT 2000 'If Information Wants to Be Free . . . Then Who's Going to Pay for It?', D-Lib Magazine, May 2000, Volume 6 Number 5. http://www.dlib.org/dlib/may00/kaser/05kaser.html. Accessed 23 May 2002.
Odlyzko, A 1997 'The Economics of Electronic Journals'. Paper given at Scholarly Communication and Technology, Conference organised by the Andrew W Mellon Foundation, Emory University, April 24-25 1997. Available: http://www.arl.org/scomm/scat/odlyzko.ht ml. Accessed 23 May 2002.
Regier, WG 1997 'Epic: Electronic Publishing is Cheaper'. Paper given at Scholarly Communication and Technology, Conference organised by the Andrew W Mellon Foundation, Emory University, April 24-25 1997. Available: http://www.arl.org/scomm/scat/regier.html . Accessed 23 May 2002.
Varian, HR 1997 'The Future of Electronic Journals'.Paper given at Scholarly Communication and Technology, Conference organised by the Andrew W Mellon Foundation, Emory University, April 24-25 1997. Available: http://www.arl.org/scomm/scat/varian.html . Accessed 23 May 2002.
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Last updated: Tues May 28 2002