Richard Smith, a former editor at BMJ, reviews Jason Schmitt’s film, Paywall.
“As I watched Paywall: The Business of Scholarship, I was taken back 30 years to when I thought for the first time about the business aspects of academic publishing. I was an assistant editor at the BMJ, and the editor asked me to join a meeting with a group of rheumatologists who wanted a share in the Annals of Rheumatic Diseases, a journal we owned. “We do the research published in the journal”, said one of the rheumatologists. “We do the peer review, we edit the journal, we read it, and we store it in our libraries. What do you do?” “Tell them what we do”, said the editor to me. I was at a complete loss….”
“Shadow Librariesis a collection of country studies exploring “how students get the materials they need.” Most chapters report original research (usually responses to student surveys) in addition to providing useful background on the shadow library history of each nation (Russia, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, India, Poland, and South Africa). As editor Karaganis puts it in his introduction, the book shows “the personal struggle to participate in global scientific and educational communities, and the recourse to a wide array of ad hoc strategies and networks when formal, authorized means are lacking… ” (p. 3). Shadow libraries, sometimes called pirate libraries, consist of texts (in this case, scholarly texts) aggregated outside the legal framework of copyright.
Karaganis’ introductory chapter does an excellent job summarizing the themes connecting the chapters, and is worth reading by itself. For example, the factors leading to the development of shadow libraries are common to each country covered: low income; a dysfunctional market in which materials either aren’t available or are overpriced; a rising student population; and easy access to copying and/or sharing technology. The student population boom in low and middle-income countries in the last 20 years is remarkable- quadrupling in India, tripling in Brazil, and doubling in Poland, Mexico, and South Africa. At the same time, reductions in state support for higher education have exacerbated the affordability problem, leaving the market to meet (or more commonly, not meet) demand. Add to this the tendency of publishers to price learning and research materials for libraries rather than individuals, and the result is a real crisis of legal access….”
“As for the articles themselves, Suber is a witty, intelligent, and compelling advocate for OA. In the first sections, Suber lays a foundation explaining OA and its emergence as a response to the serials pricing crisis and the development of the web. Across multiple articles, Suber lays out his strongest arguments for knowledge as a public good and for OA specifically, describes and refutes the opposing arguments, creates the vocabulary that distinguishes between flavors of OA, and presents evidence that OA can and will work.
Moving from the early overview chapters, Suber explores some practical applications that are useful for librarians looking to learn more about how OA can be implemented. One of the interesting concepts that he explores is “flipping a journal” (150), a process by which a journal could become OA by replacing the subscription fees imposed on readers with publication fees imposed on accepted authors. The model is not perfect, and Suber devotes considerable space to envisioning the realistic obstacles that would be faced in practice, but he ultimately views the process as a win-win that would allow publishers to explore OA without much risk. Elsewhere, Suber discusses scenarios for creating OA digitization projects, establishing OA for electronic theses and dissertations, and setting an OA policy for a funding agency or university. Suber’s advocacy is pragmatic throughout, arguing that different forms of OA are suited to different contexts and that, although some forms are more ideal than others, it is important to recognize all progress and not let the perfect become the enemy of the good….”
“This compelling blend of theory, policy, and practice is also on display in Suber’s fascinating new book, Knowledge Unbound: Selected Writings on Open Access, 2002-2011, published last year by MIT Press. Anyone with an interest in the rich history and evolving landscape of academic publishing should take note of Suber’s work. Director of both the Harvard Office for Scholarly Communication and the Harvard Open Access Project, Senior Researcher at SPARC and the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, and Research Professor of Philosophy at Earlham College, Suber became a leader in the open access movement during its pivotal decade, a period traced in this collection of forty-four essays….
For Suber, asking vital questions about the future of scholarly publishing naturally requires a critical stance toward “the assumption that the interests of the research community should be subordinated to the business interests of publishers” (p. 21). With forceful clarity, Suber guides the reader away from bended-knee paeans to a tiresome red herring, encouraging serious reflection about what scholarly publishing ought to accomplish in the first place….”
Andrew Lang’s review of Peter Suber’s Knowledge Unbound. “Suber is a witty, intelligent, and compelling advocate for OA. In the first sections, Suber lays a foundation explaining OA and its emergence as a response to the serials pricing crisis and the development of the web. Across multiple articles, Suber lays out his strongest arguments for knowledge as a public good and for OA specifically, describes and refutes the opposing arguments, creates the vocabulary that distinguishes between flavors of OA, and presents evidence that OA can and will work….Suber’s advocacy is pragmatic throughout, arguing that different forms of OA are suited to different contexts and that, although some forms are more ideal than others, it is important to recognize all progress and not let the perfect become the enemy of the good….Knowledge Unbound is an excellent resource for librarians looking to take a deep dive into the subject of open access.”
“Bhaskar winds down his argument with attention to likely futures and gives significant credence to open access publishing as the most plausible future for academic publishing: ‘Free content is becoming the norm in academic communications; academics, at least, want information to be free. It won’t eradicate prestigious names like Harvard and Chicago. However, it’s already forcing publishers with serious overheads to re-examine their business and content models. When a host of new entrants can survive on tiny or non-existent APCs then most players with financial drag face a stark choice: either adapt to OA or become uncompetitive and unappealing to authors (ch. 6).’ He encourages publishers to focus on being “amplifiers of content” rather than “makers of books,” and stresses the increasing amplificatory importance of good metadata, the strategic need for cooperation between small publishers as a “means of withstanding novel pressures,” and the exigency of smarter data collection and experimentation. All of these elements funnel into “harnessing attention” as an inexorable priority: “those who can gather and create attention are the new bankers of an attention economy” (ch. 6)….If Bhaskar is right about the future of publishing (and I think he is), his is in many ways an argument in favor of the library as the basecamp for the new scholarly publisher….“