Friday, June 18, 2010

Passing Typesetting Costs On To Authors

A couple of weeks ago, Brian Weatherson had a post at Thoughts Arguments and Rants about how to reduce typesetting costs incurred by journals. Apparently, the costs associated with typesetting are one of the most substantial costs associated with running a journal, and so cutting down on these costs would have a profound impact on a journal's bottom line. One of his proposals involved making the author either typeset the article herself in LaTeX (or get a friend to do it), or else pay two hundred dollars to cover the cost of hiring a professional typesetter.

In the ensuing discussion, a bunch of people said stuff like, "I don't know LaTeX; are there any online resources that could teach me how," and "yes, this."

Nobody said what I was thinking when I read this, which was "there is no way in hell I would ever submit to a journal that will charge me two hundred dollars to publish my paper." I don't use LaTeX (I started to explain why not, but now I think that this should be its own conversation), and I'm not going to take time to learn it in the foreseeable future—I have a lot of demands on my time, and LaTeX doesn't make the cut. And I definitely don't have an extra two hundred bucks laying around for this. Two hundred bucks is a lot of money for me, and if this model were to catch on, it would transform what should be an important career success—getting your paper accepted—into a significant financial burden. Maybe established philosophers who have tenure-track jobs with funding for research could get their departments to pay these costs, but people in VAP-type positions normally have no research budget and would have to use their own money. And this cost would simply be prohibitive for graduate students.

We provide the content for the journals. They can sell subscriptions to the journal only if philosophers write papers and then offer to let the journal publish them. We yield our copyright to them. And we do it for free. We do not get paid. We do not make any money for writing these articles that we then give to the journals for publication. And that's fine—I'm not in it for the money. But they cannot start charging us for this.

Why is it that whenever anyone proposes some way to fix what's ailing the journals, it's always something that would fuck over people who are just starting out?

--Mr. Zero

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is a tough one. Presumably, most philosophy journals require authors to submit their work as a word document, and so one must have a command of word (or money available to pay others to do the formatting) in order to publish in most philosophy journals. Not sure then why the switch to the far more workable and efficient LaTeX would burden anyone more in principle than the current word-based model.

One upshot would be that such a move would create a niche market for LaTeX formatting of which many grad students would be only too glad to take advantage.

Plus, any self-respecting methodological naturalist ought to be using LaTeX anyway. So, maybe we should leave the MS Word devil-spawn to the English departments and join the LaTeX revolution.

Kevin Klement said...

I don’t think there’s much of a chance that this model would be adopted by a philosophy journal. (Perhaps by a science or math journal, where LaTeX is already standard.) Even if it did, I wouldn’t worry about it that much. Chances are, this would only be enforced after acceptance, and if you didn’t have the time or motivation to learn LaTeX then, all you would need is a geeky friend who’d be willing to help you. (There are plenty of WordProcessor <-> LaTeX converters out there that could do the majority of the work.)

Hell, I am enough of a geek that if someone asked me to typeset their article for them, I’d happily do it without payment. It’s fun. Though of course, there would be a limited to how many people I could do this for …

But if typesetting through LaTeX could really save our library budgets from the insane prices currently being charged for academic journals, I’d be all in favor of requiring final submissions in LaTeX format. But there’s no way to completely spare the journal editors and staff from doing some typesetting work, at least if we want to keep the same typographical quality. A novice LaTeX user is still going to make mistakes that a fussy editor is going to want to clean up.

full prof said...

I agree completely.

With the possible exception of some special (maybe specialized) journal, I think BW's suggestion would be journal suicide. I do have a research budget, but there is no way I would submit to a journal that was going to charge me when I could submit to an equally good journal. Maybe Mind could get away with it -- maybe. Maybe Synthese, or JSL.

Anonymous said...

Isn't there a bit of a gap between "fuck over the people just starting out" and "I have a lot of demands on my time, and LaTeX doesn't make the cut"? Yes, you would have to spend an afternoon or two ramping-up, but if you're not typesetting math, it's really not a very big deal. Any switch is likely to be gradual, so at worst there would be a period of time where some journals would be more suited to your submissions than others.

Grow up.

Anonymous said...

Anon. 8:21 wrote:
>>...any self-respecting methodological naturalist ought to be using LaTeX anyway...<<

Absurd.

The "burden," clearly, is that those who don't know LaTeX would have to learn it. And I suspect those who don't know LaTeX are in the majority so, good luck herding that mess of cats.

Most journals (unless one is talking about logic and/or philosophy of science, or any journal where anything other than basic text/footnotes-type content is frequently necessary) have no need to burden either their typesetters or their authors with LaTeX.

I'm not into DIY except when it comes to my music. If a journal doesn't have a typesetting system in place already, or can't afford to pay professional typesetters, it shouldn't be in business. The day a journal starts charging for me to publish is a day that I stop publishing in that journal.

Anonymous said...

The $200 non-TeX-user publishing fee seems unfair, and biased in favor of those who most benefit from the symbols and formatting of TeX. How many ethicists do you know who write in TeX? Off the top of my head, I can't think of any. They don't need it.

That being said, I write in TeX and would happily format my own articles to their preferred style if they gave me a stylesheet a la Imprint. I would guess that other TeX-users would do the same.

Couldn't they give the option of formatting your own paper in TeX, without penalizing those who don't? I'd imagine just having a decent proportion of us take that option would cut formatting costs fairly significantly.

Anonymous said...

Dear Grow Up,

I think Zero (if I may call him such), is onto a broader point.

Persons needing a tenure track position are the ones most in need of funding. Yet universities typically do not give such individuals travel or reserch funds, or if they do, they don't give them in nearly the same degree as tenure track (deserving) tenured (not so deserving)

Those who earn the least, those who are least able to pay, are given the greatest financial burden.

What happened to "to each according to their own need"

I think its really seniority that is screwed up. research/travel funds should not alloted by the same principle as Salary is.

zombie said...

So lemmee get this straight. Not only should philosophers and academics get paid NOTHING for the articles they spend months writing (whereas other professional writers DO get paid), but they should also have to PAY to get published? Yeah, right.

On a slightly related topic, I was asked to review for a journal this week, and they offer reviewers a one year subscription to the journal and another related journal. Both very good journals in their specialty. That strikes me as a decent incentive to review.

Euthyphronics said...

Agree with anonymous 11:06. But when it comes to the practical side of things:: if the typesetting's the expensive bit, why isn't the solution for journals to hire grad students who know LaTeX (there are plenty of them) to typeset the journals? They'd do it for a fraction of the price that professional typesetters do it for; they'd feel like they're getting a good deal; and we'd be sending some of the money involved in running a journal to where it is most needed.

anon-phil-math said...

@Anon at 8:21am

You can submit your .tex file to the British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, and several other journals.

As much as I want to spread the gospel of LaTeX, I understand where Zero is coming from, especially with costs for submitting to the journal for non-LaTeX users.

That said, I imagine that folks submitting for places like the aforementioned journal are likely to be competent in LaTeX anyways. Would it be problematic for specialist journals to switch over to Weatherson's suggestion? Or would the disparity in operating costs for journals end up being too difficult and only make things worse journals that don't switch?

Anonymous said...

One must remember that BW makes more in one year than most assistant profs make in two (at good institutions) or three or four (at others). Skews your sense of affordability, more or less.

ModalPontiff said...

I think I understand most of the arguments from people suggesting that authors should just "nut-up and deal with LaTex,". In fact I might even be a bit sympathetic. However, it was my understanding that the point of journals was that they provide the service of publishing; typesetting seems to be an essential element publishing. So why is it on the burden of the author to do this sort of thing, when it seems to be a key part of the job that journals are trying to do?

Anonymous said...

I think the post and some of the comments have been a little unfair. First, it's a post that's explicitly billed as 'musing out loud'. It might be a bad suggestion, but I take it Weatherson's aim was to just put the idea out there and see what people thought. That doesn't strike me as something which should be discouraged, even if it produces some dud ideas along the way. Second, the scope of the proposal is explicitly restricted to open-source journals. So the stuff about journals selling subscriptions doesn't really apply. I agree, btw, that $200 to have a paper published is out of the question. Can't afford that, and don't want to. It's the journal's job - that's what they're there for, and if that means they incur a substantial cost, so be it. But jumping on Weatherson for daring to even so much as suggest otherwise seems out of place - I don't think he was out to dick over early career philosophers, even inadvertently.

Anonymous said...

Pay a month's worth of groceries for an article? Ahahahahahahaha.

I wouldn't want to pay even a nominal fee. Consider this: when journals start charging for submissions, it seems likely they'll turn into the various poetry/creative writing journals that do the same--they accept just about any and all comers so that they can make more money, then publish their work with minimal--if any--review or distribution. The incentive to make more money just takes over, and everything else suffers for it.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Klement and others in support of switching from Microsoft Word as the standard format in philosophy. LaTeX is an extremely simple document markup language, easier than html. There are about as many symbols to learn to use correctly as there are to learn in propositional logic. There are also wysiwygs available that generate .tex files. I've used LyX, but have come to prefer Kile (which isn't a quite a wysiwyg, but makes it really easy to write the "code").

The burden is essentially just that of switching from Word to another word processor that works slightly different. The payoff is a great decline in the cost of publishing, something which empowers academics over publishers by creating opportunities for greater publishing independence and greater affordable availability of texts. These are benefits to authors. THAT'S US! Now, there may be reasons, relating primarily to the way peer review is tied to the status quo structure of publication, that make greater publishing independence undesirable. This is something to think seriously about. But I just don't think that the slight time investment associated with weening off Word should be the primary issue.

Dan said...

I want to emphasise that the original article is about how to make starting an Open Source journal affordable. It is not about starting a journal that makes a profit - many people seem to be missing the point. I think it would be great if anyone anywhere on the planet could read for free an article that I have written. I would happily find a way to get my article into Latex if it means that then it can be open access, rather than only accessible to paying customers, as is the case with most current journals.

Anonymous said...

Euthyphronics hits the nail on the head. What's good about the idea is that the journals can reduce costs by having grad students typeset the document, rather than overpaying a professional to do it. What's bad about it is requiring the grad student, in each case, to be the same person as the submitter. There's no necessity for that - the journals could set up an online consortium of freelance typesetters, many of whom would be grad students, and reduce costs without imposing them on the person submitting the paper.

Anonymous said...

I'm all for switching over to LaTeX (I did it about 10 years ago, and I loathe word processors). However, the key point here isn't so much the LaTeX one as the fact that journals that behave this way provide one fewer service. So, what's left for a journal if it doesn't write or typeset content? Coordinating reviewers (i.e., more free labor)? Minor editing? Printing?

None of these amount to much value added given the availability of free (and excellent) typesetting systems and reasonably priced web hosting. That leaves manuscript editing and coordinating reviewers. Set up a large enough "philosopher's co-op" and the individual time/effort required to produce a high-quality, open-access journal is going to be relatively small -- at least, after you get it up and running.

Sadly, the real block preventing genuinely free access journals is the status factor.

Anonymous said...

"... any self-respecting methodological naturalist ought to be using LaTeX anyway."

Not only absurd, as Anonymous 10.14 points out, but ridiculous in the "conclusion" that's drawn from this:

"So, maybe we should leave the MS Word devil-spawn to the English departments and join the LaTeX revolution."

Ah. So if you're not a methodological naturalist you're not really doing philosophy, huh?

Brian Leiter would be SO proud.

This sort of narrow minded approach is just one of the many reasons that I'm beginning to tire of my so-called profession.

Hanuman said...

So, what's left for a journal if it doesn't write or typeset content? Coordinating reviewers (i.e., more free labor)? Minor editing? Printing?

None of these amount to much value added....

Sadly, the real block preventing genuinely free access journals is the status factor.


The real value of the journals comes partly from distributing content but mostly from identifying good content. It's the fact that good journals only publish material that withstands strong peer review (and/or comes from famous people that know the editors) that makes them important. That's where the status comes from, and it adds quite a bit of value. After all, why are you more likely to read an article in AJP than something that someone has posted on their own web site?

Also, FWIW, open access journals in the sciences charge significant publishing fees -- sometimes over $1000. The difference, of course, is that the people publishing in them have research budgets. Mr Zero's point, which I think is a good one, is that the philosophers who most need to publish, professionally speaking, are likely to have no research budget and no discretionary income to spend on getting their stuff published.

Anonymous said...

For those who are interested, Charlie Tanksley (UVA) has written a very nice introduction to LaTeX for philosophers. It's written for a non-technical audience and aims to get you up and running quickly.

Anonymous said...

Hey, Anon 11:20,

You are a fucking idiot.

I too am beginning to tire of my profession, but only because of its open door policy for painfully self-serious half-wits who think phrases like "devil spawn" are argument markers.

Dipshit.

Anonymous said...

Why are you more likely to read an article in AJP than something that someone has posted on their own web site?

Am I?

Isn't there a bit of a gap between "fuck over the people just starting out" and "I have a lot of demands on my time, and LaTeX doesn't make the cut"?

As far as I can tell, no one here has yet mentioned the standard LaTeXer's reply to the "I don't have time" argument: Learning LaTeX will reduce your stress level and save you time. Word crashes left and right, and slows you down (by encouraging thinking about formatting when you should be thinking about writing and by encouraging time-consuming re-formatting tasks when preparing manuscripts for different sets of submission requirements).

Not only should philosophers and academics get paid NOTHING for the articles they spend months writing (whereas other professional writers DO get paid), but they should also have to PAY to get published?

I think the convention of not paying philosophers for their work no longer makes any sense now that so many well-trained philosophers are underemployed. The AWP's main publication (for faculty in creative writing) pays 11 cents/word for 2,000 - 6,000 word articles. One reason for this, I suppose, is that it helps attract submissions from writers who happen not to be tenured or tenure-track academics (some of whom just can't afford to do work without being paid at least something).

Probably, many features of how journals do things would have to change in order for them to start paying authors. (The money would have to come from somewhere, after all.)

David Fitzgerald said...

LaTeX is incedibly easy to learn to a basic standard. Furthermore, it has advantages beyond science and maths articles. For example, the ability to automatically insert chicago references that keep track of whether it's the first reference, ibid. etc. This can be achieved in Endnote+Word, but is much easier and cleaner with LaTeX.

Other elements, such as lists, frequently used by philosophers, are cleaner and easier. Section headings, also much easier.

I am convinced that any philosopher that got to grips with LaTeX would never look back. I will never use MS Word again unless I have to.

Another advantage is that if you want to publish a paper of your own on, say, your website, then you can easily make it look professional.

All of these things don't change the fact that many people will never leave Word, but at least having the option to submit in LaTeX would be nice. I currently have to convert from LaTeX to Word after writing to submit a paper, which is not much fun. In other words, I have to undo the professional typesetting of LaTeX so that I can send in a paper, which the journal then pays to typeset.