Giving It Away: Sharing and the Future of Scholarly Communication
Journal of Scholarly Publishing
The last talk I gave at MLA 2012 was a keynote for the Council of Editors of Learned Journals, the text of which is below. I'd love any feedback you might have to offer. -Giving It Away: Sharing and the Future of Scholarly Communication As you might guess from my title, this presentation focuses in large part on questions of open access as they might affect our thinking about the future of scholarly communication. "Open access," I'm sure I don't need to tell you, is a fraught concept among both
... scholars and publishers, one beset by a lot of misunderstandings, both intentional and unintentional. Arguments circulate out there saying, for instance, that open access will open the floodgates to a lot of bad scholarship, when in fact open access publishing is perfectly compatible with peer review, and there are many OA journals that are more selective than their closed-access counterparts. There are folks who argue that open access is financially unsustainable, or even, as has been suggested by the recent proposal of the Research Works Act in Congress, an unreasonable infringement on publisher income, when in fact a range of new models for open access publishing are coming into being, and several of the major commercial journal publishers have recently announced new OA ventures, which they of course would never do if they hadn't found a business model in it somewhere. On the other hand, there are equally misguided convictions out there that open access publishing is free; clearly that's not so. What I am hoping to do in this talk, however, is to shift our thinking about open access, for the moment, from a focus on costs to a focus on values, though without entirely leaving behind the overwhelming and at times quite grim economic realities by which we're surrounded. To begin, a bit of background: discussions of the possibilities for new open publishing models began online in the early 1990s, as a number of scientists and librarians recognized that the growth of the Internet made possible the free and open reproduction of scholarly literature. This is not to point of distribution, if we were to embrace the gift economy of scholarly communication and make a gift of our work to others? What might happen if outreach, generosity, giving it away were our primary values? Such ethics need not be economically unsustainable. Larry Lessig has argued at length that the most successful potential business model of the digital age is not the sale of closed, proprietary content, but instead the "hybrid" model under which so much of contemporary online communication operates: the production of content is freely done by users; the distribution of content is provided equally freely by the company; but the company charges for certain kinds of services surrounding that content, whether premium tools for engaging with that content or additional space for storing that content or what have you. This so-called "freemium" model underwrites services including Flickr, Dropbox, WordPress, and a range of other internet-based communication tools. In all of these systems a basic level of access is provided for free, while value is created through services or tools; with Flickr, for instance, the value the company provides comes not from the site's wealth of photographic content -users provide that, and are able to do so through a basic level of service available for free -but instead in providing access to a suite of tools that allow users to share, tag, search, connect, and so forth. The value in the system, which users are willing to pay for, is the means of interacting with the content, rather than the content itself. Such a model works best for user-generated content -and of course all scholarly communication is "user-generated," created to be shared, producing the most substantive benefits for its authors when its distribution is as broad and as open as possible.