Hard Truths

Yesterday was all sweetness, light and lovely old books. Today, reality sets in.

We began talking about the major issues affecting e-publishing in academia. How do you provide quality access to quality content for everyone who wants it while still making money?

I’ve been thinking about this fundamental problem a lot this week, after reading this Open Letter to Emily, the NPR intern who recently confessed to essentially stealing many GBs of music. David Lowery makes an incredibly sane argument against file sharing, in a world when it’s seemingly quite easy to justify. But unlike stealing pennies from the pockets of my favorite musicians, it’s a lot harder to quantify who’s getting cheated in the world of academic publishing.

This is a world where academics are willing to pay to publish if it means open access. I can’t imagine any indie band paying for people to download their songs. Radiohead, maybe, but not someone who just cut their first album.

We talked about a few different ways to solve the access problem.
1) A combination of subscription and open access to share costs
2) A more open publishing platform in which the best articles get ranked and rise to the top, but everyone pays to publish

Both of these seem kind of haphazard– like they’ll satisfy publishers and academics without really fixing the problem of how to provide quality digital content and quality access. Both solutions really exclude a significant person in this equation. Me!

As a grad student, I pay tuition and I want to research. But both of these systems assume zero student demand. Which is strange, considering that I’ve already payed for the rights to read these articles; I’m just counting on my school’s library to buy access to the right journals. But if these journals can figure out how to leverage demand (maybe with some exciting discovery layers!), by actually promoting their articles among a community outside of high level experts, it might make this dilemma a bit easier to solve.

Hopefully, we’ll hear some thoughts on this at tomorrow’s Bloomsbury Conference.

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