This article originally appeared in the 5.31.12 of Metroland
A lot of what we talk about here is about how the internet has
brought many traditional companies that trade in copyrights (like in the film,
music, and publishing industries) to their knees. This is largely because a number of functions
these companies controlled and charged monopoly prices for (like duplication
and distribution) are now uncontrollable and egalitarian. The industries’ responses have been to sue the
bejesus out of people, to lean on the government to cede control of the internet
to them, to corrupt the copyright laws, and to pressure the rest of the world
to join into their freedom-killing and innovation-stifling agenda designed only
to protect business models that could not survive otherwise.
interesting side-battle in all this involves academic publishers. For a significant category of scholar works,
the traditional model has gone something like this: Scholars at universities create works that
are submitted to publishers, which engage in some sort of “peer-review” process
to determine which works shall be awarded the “prize” of publication. The scholars aren’t paid, but rather readily
submit their works for free to these journals because publication has always
been vital to getting academic tenure (“publish or perish”) and to other types
of professional advancement. The
publishers then sell these journals, which typically have limited print runs
and incredibly high prices, to libraries at academic institutions. The publishers keep all the money.
For all sorts
of reasons, including not only the alternatives now provided by the internet,
but also the eroding economics and public financial support of higher
education, a disappearing middle class, etc etc etc, the
wheels are falling off this rather strange model.
are getting greedy, or shall we say greedier.
Prices for these journals are sky-rocketing, and the prices for
e-versions of the books are kept artificially high to avoid “cannibalizing” the
market for physical books. Scholars are finally
saying “enough” to simply handing over works that represent years of their lives,
their expertise, and their blood, sweat and tears to the academic publishing
units of massive multinational corporations.
And the questionable symbiotic link between the publishers and academic institutions is breaking down. And at the front lines of this fight
are the most courageous, intrepid, industrious, forward-thinking, brilliant,
and, yes, sexy individuals in all of academia: the librarians.
librarians are saying no to the absurdly inflated prices of these journals and
the particularly heinous publisher practice of bundling multiple journals
together so libraries are forced to buy three overpriced journals it doesn’t
want or need in order to get the one or two that it does. University libraries simply can’t afford these obscure titles any more.
happening, and quickly, is that librarians and scholars are creating
open-source web-based journals with their own peer review standards. From the scholars’ perspective, if they are
going to be giving their work away anyway, doesn’t it make more sense for the
works to be ultimately given away to anyone who wants to read them, rather than
sequestered in expensive journals on library shelves and behind insanely
expensive digital paywalls? Of course it
of academic institutions are starting to take notice, too. Why should a university pay scholars nice
salaries to create content that the university then has to pay for again, in
the form of an overpriced journal? Isn’t
paying for the research once more than enough?
And it’s dawning on the powers-that-be that the price of outsourcing criteria
central to tenure decisions by supporting the bloated academic publishing
industry just ain’t worth it anymore.
finally, the public is waking up. There
is a movement afloat to require all publically funded research to be made
available to the public. I mean, pretty
basic, no? This includes not just
academic research but funded scientific work done by corporations; so much of our government-funded
research currently ends up inaccessible, fenced in by scientific / academic
publishers or held in secrecy by private corporations. This inaccessibility has traditionally been justified by claiming that researchers need some extra incentive to profit
from research they’ve already been paid to do, or that publishers need an
incentive to “disseminate” the work. The
second argument has been rendered absurd by the internet. And the first has
been largely disproven by a pilot public access policy administered by the National
Institutes of Health which found that sharing research findings with the public
does not stifle research, it actually
encourages more research. Duh!
help push this open access policy to all publically funded research by signing
the petition at the White House’s “We The People” page at wh.gov/6TH . This site’s functionality is surprisingly
sucky, but I found I could get in by using a Firefox browser. Go vote for the future.