AAUP on open access / business as usual? 03.01.2007, 2:26 PM
posted by ben vershbow
On Tuesday the Association of American University Presses issued an official statement of its position on open access (literature that is "digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions" - Suber). They applaud existing OA initiatives, urge more OA in the humanities and social sciences (out of the traditional focus areas of science, technology and medicine), and advocate the development of OA publishing models for monographs and other scholarly formats beyond journals. Yet while endorsing the general open access direction, they warn against "more radical approaches that abandon the market as a viable basis for the recovery of costs in scholarly publishing and instead try to implement a model that has come to be known as the 'gift economy' or the 'subsidy economy.'" "Plunging straight into pure open access," they argue, "runs the serious risk of destabilizing scholarly communications in ways that would disrupt the progress of scholarship and the advancement of knowledge."
Peter Suber responds on OA News, showing how many of these so-called risks are overblown and founded on false assumptions about open access. OA, even "pure" OA as originally defined by the Budapest Open Access Initiative in 2001, is not incompatible with a business model. You can have free online editions coupled with priced print editions, or full open access after an embargo period directly following publication. There are many ways to go OA and still generate revenue, many of which we probably haven't thought up yet.
But this begs the more crucial question: should scholarly presses really be trying to operate as businesses at all? There's an interesting section toward the end of the AAUP statement that basically acknowledges the adverse effect of market pressures on university presses. It's a tantalizing moment in which the authors seem to come close to actually denouncing the whole for-profit model of scholarly publishing. But in the end they pull their punch:
For university presses, unlike commercial and society publishers, open access does not necessarily pose a threat to their operation and their pursuit of the mission to "advance knowledge, and to diffuse it...far and wide." Presses can exist in a gift economy for at least the most scholarly of their publishing functions if costs are internally reallocated (from library purchases to faculty grants and press subsidies). But presses have increasingly been required by their parent universities to operate in the market economy, and the concern that presses have for the erosion of copyright protection directly reflects this pressure.
According to the AAUP's own figures: "On average, AAUP university-based members receive about 10% of their revenue as subsidies from their parent institution, 85% from sales, and 5% from other sources." This I think is the crux of the debate. As the above statement reminds us, the purpose of scholarly publishing is to circulate discourse and the fruits of research through the academy and into the world. But today's commercially structured system runs counter to these aims, restricting access and limiting outlets for publication. The open access movement is just one important response to a general system failure.
But let's move beyond simply trying to reconcile OA with existing architectures of revenue and begin talking about what it would mean to reconfigure the entire scholarly publishing system away from commerce and back toward infrastructure. It's obvious to me, given that university presses can barely stay solvent even in restricted access mode, and given how financial pressures continue to tighten the bottleneck through which scholarship must pass, making less of it available and more slowly, that running scholarly presses as profit centers doesn't make sense. You wouldn't dream of asking libraries to compete this way. Libraries are basic educational infrastructure and it's obvious that they should be funded as such. Why shouldn't scholarly presses also be treated as basic infrastructure?
Here's one radical young librarian who goes further, suggesting that libraries should usurp the role of publishers (keep in mind that she's talking primarily about the biggest corporate publishing cartels like Elsevier, Wiley & Sons, and Springer Verlag):
...I consider myself the enemy of right-thinking for-profit publishers everywhere...
I am not the enemy just because I'm an academic librarian. I am not the enemy just because I run an institutional repository. I am not the enemy just because I pay attention to scholarly publishing and data curation and preservation. I am not the enemy because I'm going to stop subscribing to journals--I don't even make those decisions!
I am the enemy because I will become a publisher. Not just "can" become, will become. And I'll do it without letting go of librarianship, its mission and its ethics--and publishers may think they have my mission and my ethics, but they're often wrong. Think I can't compete? Watch me cut off your air supply over the course of my career (and I have 30-odd years to go, folks; don't think you're getting rid of me in any hurry). Just watch.
Rather than outright clash, however, there could be collaboration and merger. As business and distribution models rise and fall, one thing that won't go away is the need for editorial vision and sensitive stewardship of the peer review process. So for libraries to simply replace publishers seems both unlikely and undesirable. But joining forces, publishers and librarians could work together to deliver a diverse and sustainable range of publishing options including electronic/print dual editions, multimedia networked formats, pedagogical tools, online forums for transparent peer-to-peer review, and other things not yet conceived. All of it by definition open access, and all of it funded as libraries are funded: as core infrastructure.
There are little signs here and there that this press-library convergence may have already begun. I recently came across an open access project called digitalculturebooks, which is described as "a collaborative imprint of the University of Michigan Press and the University of Michigan Library." I'm not exactly sure how the project is funded, and it seems to have been established on a provisional basis to study whether such arrangements can actually work, but still it seems to carry a hint of things to come.
Chris E on March 1, 2007 5:17 PM:
A good case of the library successfully becoming the publisher, in fact at Univ of Michigan, is "Philosophers' Imprint," an open-access philosophy academic journal in philosophy supported in perpetuity by the university library. See their description and mission statement under the `About' button here.
Maria Bonn on March 2, 2007 1:54 PM:
Maria, one of the project leads from digitalculturebooks here. You say "I'm not exactly sure how the project is funded, and it seems to have been established on a provisional basis to study whether such arrangements can actually work, but still it seems to carry a hint of things to come." Well, to be blunt, we're not exactly sure how we're funded either, but it's part of what we're doing to figure it out. We believe that the Press and the Library are natural partners in developing new forms of scholarly communication and exploring new economies of publishing. The Press has deep expertise in the selection, acquisition and review of high quality scholarship, while the Library's Scholarly Publishing Office provides a robust electronic publishing infrastructure and several years of experience with using digital technologies for scholarly communication. That said, precisely because of the differing business and service imperatives of the two partners (that you suggest here), it has been challenging to define a model that that serves the needs of both partners and of our readers and authors.
Currently, we are experimenting with a relatively small subset of the books from UMP but it is our hope and expectation that we will create models that can potentially be extended to all Press content. For now, we are working with a hybrid business model in which Press activities continue to be funded by the sale of print editions, while SPO's contributions are made possible by the institutional investment the Library has made in a publishing infrastructure. Our administration is watching our experiment with a keen eye and may be open to greater investment in this kind of publishing. Our challenge, at digitalculturebooks, will be to create enough of a production system to justify that investment. The University cannot underwrite expensive experiments; it is looking for cost-effective, mainstream ways to distribute scholarship and will need to be convinced that it is getting a good return on its dollar. That return will be reflected in the quantity, quality and impact of the projects in digitalculturebooks. It's early days in our experiment. But we have some excellent synergy going and are excited about the directions in which we're developing.
Dorothea Salo on March 2, 2007 2:33 PM:
There is also the University of Tennessee's Newfound Press, and Rice University's collaboration efforts.
Michigan also offers quite a few services to would-be academic publishers in departments and research units; this is "covert" publication, but it cuts off publishers' air supply nonetheless.
Thanks for the nod!
bowerbird on March 3, 2007 1:22 AM:
the idiocy here is extremely difficult to fathom,
especially since it is located smack-dab in our
universities, where the denizens are supposed to
the reason academic presses "make money" is that
university libraries subscribe to their journals.
is there anyone, at all, who doesn't know this?
so our educational institutions are taking money
out of their "library" pocket and putting it into
their "publisher" pocket, minus a sizeable chunk
taken by the companies outsourced to do the work.
(at least _some_ of the work, anyway, since the
bulk of the work is still done by academics, who
do research and write it up and peer-review it.
nonetheless, the outsourcers take a huge chunk,
and they're even getting _increasingly_ greedy!,
since they have come to realize they're stuck in
a vicious cycle of unsubscribes and price-hikes.)
and now the libraries -- having been stretched
as far as they can, and then some -- are saying
"we can't afford to do this any more." and so
the university presses are all up in arms too...
as if nobody ever realized it was a shell game.
what a bunch of idiots.
i'm so glad i got out of academia when i did.
the answer, at any rate, is extremely obvious:
the universities -- who have been paying for
the publishing of the academic record all along
-- will keep on paying, and they should be glad
that they are now able to realize huge savings
by taking the bulk of those publishing activities
to cyberspace, which is more readily available
to their users (and the public too) than paper
ever could have hoped to have been, thank you...
(and so nice to lose the outsource leeches too!)
in sum, this is no "crisis", it's an opportunity!
Monica McCormick on March 6, 2007 11:43 AM:
Sigh. I would respectfully suggest, Bowerbird, that the explanation for the current messy state of scholarly communications is more complex than "idiocy." There are many stakeholders with diverse roles in the process. Faculty can be authors, peer reviewers, journal editors, administrators, officers of scholarly societies, members of university press boards, members of library advisory boards. In each role they may have legitimate yet conflicting interests. Short-term and long-term goals may not easily mesh.
The finances are equally challenging. There is not simply a "library" pocket and a "publisher" pocket for university funds. Every university has a library, but most do not have a press. And the process is not simply paid for by universities -- granting agencies, taxpayers, sales revenues, endowments all provide funds with strings attached. University presses and libraries are neither staffed nor resourced to take over the work being done (yes, often greedily) by commercial publishers. There are, so far, no "huge savings" in converting from print to digital.
The collaborations mentioned at Michigan, Tennessee, Rice (as well as Cornell, Columbia, Penn State, California, and elsewhere) are impressive but slow to develop. I'm encouraged by Ben's reports from the Emerging Libraries conference. All of us can be pushed to be more creative and bold, but I find it discouraging, as someone working on both the library and the publisher roles in these developments, to be called an "idiot." I get plenty frustrated, no doubt, but please cut us some slack. This set of structures took a long time to develop, and it isn't going to be reconfigued quickly.
bowerbird on March 6, 2007 5:11 PM:
monica, i'm very sorry to "discourage" you.
my criticism is of the _system_, not people.
but _idiocy_ is _exactly_ what i see,
and i'm gonna call 'em like i see 'em.
and i will have you know that i am _not_
just sitting on the sidelines throwing rocks.
when i say it's simple to publish to cyberspace,
it's because i can tell you exactly how to do it.
so if you can't figure it out yourself, just ask...
same with the financing part. add up all the
costs that are currently being paid, figure out
who is paying 'em, and i'll be happy to tell you
how those same entities can pay the same amount
to produce a scholarly record that's accessible
not just to the current recipients _but _also_to_
people all around the world, 24/7, for _free_,
which is exactly the way education should be...
you can't "reconfigure" the present-day system.
you've got to rebuild it without misconceptions.
Sandy Thatcher on March 12, 2007 9:17 AM:
I guess I'm one of the "idiots" Bowerbird rails against since I have been in publishing for 40 years and haven't seen the light yet about how publishing in cyberspace will save us all. But I am director of Penn State Press, which through the Office of Digital Scholarly Publishing operated jointly with the Library is at the forefront of experimentation with new models of publishing in the digital age, and I do know a thing or two about real costs. Monica McCormick is right: it is a much more complicated business than Bowerbird's vision of the revolution would lead one to believe. I would welcome Bowerbird's explanation of the finances, since he (or she) has offered to provide one. I hope Bowerbird will keep in mind that, unless one is satisfied with simple posting of materials online by individual scholars with no peer review, no editing, no design, no marketing, etc., which would constitute a very bare-bones and unsatisfactory model of publishing in the scholarly world, there are many costs involved in publishing that do not disappear when one goes online. Only about 30% of costs are associated with the print format of books, for example. And even in the bare-bones world of self-publishing, one might want to remember that if one wants to print out anything longer than an article to read, the economics of printing via home printers is much more expensive than the printing done by traditional offset or even the new digital printing technology that publishers use. Before Bowerbird educates us all about the finances of publishing, I suggest that he (or she) consult the articles that press director (and trained Cambridge economist) Colin Day has written comparing the economics of traditional with online publishing. I await illumination.
bowerbird on March 12, 2007 2:48 PM:
i was _hoping_ somebody would ask for details...
i even wrote some up in advance. i will reply
_specifically_ to sandy's post when i get time,
but for now, here's what i had already written...
just in case there are some people out there who would
rather not spend 5 minutes thinking how to solve all this,
i'm happy to just tell you.
first, let's concentrate on work that's _been_ published.
later on, we can decide how to do the job in the future...
if we just made 3 simple rules, we could get a _massive_
amount of the scholarly record put online at very little cost,
and indeed a good amount of our entire published history...
1. let any author post their own work online, without fear
of retribution from their publisher. since the consideration
that an author receives in making the publishing contract
is that the publisher will _make_public_ the author's work,
authors retain the natural right to perform the job themselves;
they have most assuredly _not_ "traded away that right", no sir.
on scholarly papers, recognizing the spirit of recent convention,
a 6-month embargo after initial publication will be recognized.
but any paper over 6 months old is fair game for public posting,
even by secondary authors.
2. scholarly work that was funded, in whole or in part, by public
money can be placed online by any taxpayer, after its embargo...
this rule is intended to be understood the broadest way possible.
3. for deceased authors, who cannot put their own work online,
any person is allowed to post their material if a publisher has not.
of course, it would be nice if a specific _infrastructure_ was
put together, so that all these postings were _organized_, but
even if they're strung through cyberspace, google will find 'em.
these rules _will_ result in an amazingly quick posting of _much_
of the material in our societal infrastructure, because _authors_
_want_ their content to be available, enough to post it themselves.
bowerbird on March 12, 2007 3:11 PM:
i thought it was odd that sandy didn't give us
any references where we could find colin's work.
a quick google shows some papers from the mid-90s.
and, um... well, a lot has changed since then...
sandy, can you point us to anything more recent?
Gary Frost on March 12, 2007 7:52 PM:
"...mid-90s and, um... well, a lot has changed since then..."
Actually, you want go backward to the 17th c. for some up-dating on the situation of scholarly publication today. The Nature of the Book by Adrian Johns is the ticket, University of Chicago Press. The on-line habitat is fine for promoting, tagging and cross-linking scholarly works, but not for publishing. In the early stages it is best to present orally at a conference rather than submit on-line drafts. Later it is best to print (in any of a number of presentational print technologies) rather than sacrifice legibility, haptic efficiency and persistence with on-line presentation. Once printed, on-line processing again kicks in with promotion, tagging and cross-linking as well as commentary and review. These are the publication steps that have been used for a long time and work better than ever now.
bowerbird on March 13, 2007 1:28 AM:
gary, is it necessary to interject the same comment
into each and every thread?
Gary Frost on March 13, 2007 1:40 PM:
No...I am signing off for a year.
But I also get bored with some of the dictums here; that we are in a one-way transition from print to screen, that the print library is obsolete or that screen based books can be equivalent to print books.
I will take another look next March...
bowerbird on March 13, 2007 2:18 PM:
for goodness sake gary, don't leave on my account!
just tailor your main point to the specific thread!