There’s big problems with the market for academic ebooks | Wonkhe

For Rachel Bickley, market pressure alone cannot solve the problems in the market for academic ebooks.

In the time since a small group of academic librarians launched the #ebooksos campaign with an Open Letter asking for an investigation into the academic ebook publishing industry, we have faced some questioning of our actions.

In spite of the letter having attracted, at the time of writing, signatures from over 3800 librarians, lecturers, students, heads of services, university senior managers and two vice chancellors, indicating that the cost and availability of ebooks is a significant concern across the sector, there have still been suggestions that perhaps we could sit down and discuss the issues with the publishers instead.

However, these issues are not new. The pandemic has brought the lack of availability of ebooks for institutional access, and the astronomical prices and restrictive licences under which those which are available can be procured, into sharp focus, but librarians have been dealing with this situation for a long time. Dialogue with publishers has been attempted, but it went nowhere useful. The investigation route was not a knee-jerk reaction to being unable to obtain the resources that we need for our students; it was the only option that those of us who set up the campaign could see remaining.

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Four Concerns About the new UC-Elsevier Deal

“I can only speak for myself, but here, in a nutshell, are some key things that make me hesitate to cheer this new deal:

Elsevier does what’s best for Elsevier. The serials crisis—the slow-motion catastrophe that has seen a few journal oligopolies commandeer library budgets, crowding out other investments—is not an accident or a natural disaster. It is the result of a deliberate business strategy, implemented by commercial firms whose sole duty is not to science but to their shareholders. By far the largest and most-boycotted (to little effect) of these firms is Elsevier. That Elsevier loves this deal is enough to make me worry. That concern only deepens when we see sharp independent observers like Roger Schonfeld argue persuasively that these deals will ensure Elsevier’s continuing dominance of scholarly publishing in the open access future.

It transforms access, but caters to IF mania. Open access activism has long been focused on how commercial academic publishers use copyright to lock up and monetize research. Open access aims to remove copyright as a barrier to access to knowledge, and on those terms, the UC-Elsevier deal is a success. But copyright is only half (maybe less) of the dysfunction in academic publishing. The deeper, more insidious problem is the journal prestige economy (aka impact factor mania)—the academy’s reliance on journal reputation and metrics like journal impact factor in evaluating the quality of scholarship and of scholars. A publisher who controls a high-prestige title has a captive workforce of authors who must struggle to publish in their outlet in order to advance professionally. Transforming the copyright aspect of this system without also upsetting the prestige economy (e.g., by reforming promotion and tenure) only shifts the unsustainable cost of IF mania from readers to authors (and author-supporting institutions, like the UC).

Far from unsettling the prestige economy, the UC deal seems to cater to it, offering authors reassurance that publishing fees will not be a barrier to their participation in this system. When libraries urge faculty to embrace open access, a common rejoinder is “Then the library should pay my APCs.” When I hear that suggestion, the ensuing conversation is typically about why that’s an unsustainable model, and why more radical change is needed to address the many harms of the old system. The UC’s response, at least in this deal, is, “Sure, here you go!” That may put the rest of us in a difficult position.

It undermines the only potential upside of charging authors to publish. Shifting costs to authors is generally a disaster for them, especially authors in less-wealthy countries and those without access to grant funds to offset publication costs. But advocates for this cost-shift have long argued that this pain is good because it will give authors a reason to publish in more efficient (read: cheaper) journals. Once they have “skin in the game,” the invisible hand will lead authors to choose cheaper journals, forcing publishing charges down as journals compete on price to attract authors. But that hasn’t happened so far, and there’s little reason to believe it will. In any event, deals like the UC-Elsevier deal undermine this potential upside of charging authors by subsidizing and, if necessary, completely covering the cost on their behalf. Insulating academics from the exploding costs of their choices is exactly the 

Dotawo 7: Comparative Northern East Sudanic Linguistics – Dotawo Journal

“Furthermore, it appears that the turn toward open access in the scholarly communications landscape is increasingly facilitating the agendas of an oligopoly of for-profit data analytics companies. Perhaps realizing that “they’ve found something that is even more profitable than selling back to us academics the content that we have produced,”5 they venture ever further up the research stream, with every intent to colonize and canalize its entire flow.6 This poses a severe threat to the independence and quality of scholarly inquiry.7

In the light of these troubling developments, the expansion from Dotawo as a “diamond” open access to a common access journal represents a strong reaffirmation of the call that the late Aaron Swartz succinctly formulated in his “Guerilla Open Access Manifesto”: …

Swartz’s is a call to action that transcends the limitations of the open access movement as construed by the BOAI Declaration by plainly affirming that knowledge is a common good. His call goes beyond open access, because it specifically targets materials that linger on a paper or silicon substrate in academic libraries and digital repositories without being accessible to “fair use.” The deposition of the references from Dotawo contributions in a public library is a first and limited attempt to offer a remedy, heeding the “Code of Best Practices in Fair Use” of the www?Association of Research Libraries, which approvingly cites the late Supreme Court Justice Brandeis that “the noblest of human productions — knowledge, truths ascertained, conceptions, and ideas — become, after voluntary communication to others, free as the air to common use.”9 This approach also dovetails the interpretation of “folk law” recently propounded by Kenneth Goldsmith, the founder of public library www?Ubuweb….”

Amazon’s monopoly is squeezing your public library, too – The Washington Post

“Turns out, the tech giant [Amazon] has also become a publishing powerhouse — and it won’t sell downloadable versions of its more than 10,000 e-books or tens of thousands of audiobooks to libraries. That’s right, for a decade, the company that killed bookstores has been starving the reading institution that cares for kids, the needy and the curious. And that’s turned into a mission-critical problem during a pandemic that cut off physical access to libraries and left a lot of people unable to afford books on their own….

Amazon is the only big publisher that flat-out blocks library digital collections. …

In testimony to Congress, the American Library Association called digital sales bans like Amazon’s “the worst obstacle for libraries” moving into the 21st century….

“All books in all formats should be available through libraries. Authors want their books available through libraries,” Mary Rasenberger, executive director of the Authors Guild, told me….”

 

Amazon’s monopoly is squeezing your public library, too – The Washington Post

“Turns out, the tech giant [Amazon] has also become a publishing powerhouse — and it won’t sell downloadable versions of its more than 10,000 e-books or tens of thousands of audiobooks to libraries. That’s right, for a decade, the company that killed bookstores has been starving the reading institution that cares for kids, the needy and the curious. And that’s turned into a mission-critical problem during a pandemic that cut off physical access to libraries and left a lot of people unable to afford books on their own….

Amazon is the only big publisher that flat-out blocks library digital collections. …

In testimony to Congress, the American Library Association called digital sales bans like Amazon’s “the worst obstacle for libraries” moving into the 21st century….

“All books in all formats should be available through libraries. Authors want their books available through libraries,” Mary Rasenberger, executive director of the Authors Guild, told me….”

 

Brill kauft Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht

From Google’s English:  “Brill is one of the leading international science publishers in the fields of humanities, social sciences and international law, headquartered in Leiden, the Netherlands. After reaching an agreement with the shareholders of the traditional publishing house Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, founded in 1735 , Brill announced the takeover of the group today.”

To Prevent the Resurgence of the Pandemic, Can We Talk About Open-Source Research? – Center for Economic and Policy Research

“But suppose Pfizer, Moderna, and the rest insist they are not selling, or at least not at a reasonable price. Then we go route two. We offer big bucks directly to the people who have this knowledge. Suppose we offer $5-$10 million to key engineers for a couple of months to work with engineers around the world. Yeah, Pfizer and Moderna can sue them. We’ll pick up the tab for their legal fees and any money they could lose in settlements. The sums involved are trivial relative to lives that could be saved and the damage prevented by more rapid diffusion of the vaccines.

If these companies actually pursued lawsuits it would also be a great teaching opportunity. It would show the world how single-mindedly these companies pursue profits and how incredibly corrupting the current system of patent monopoly financing is.

Okay, but let’s say we can overcome the obstacles and get the knowledge from these companies freely dispensed around the world. We still have the claim that there are physical limits to how rapidly vaccines can be produced.

There are two points here. First, while there clearly are limits, we can still move more quickly in the relevant time frame. No one had vaccines in March of 2019, but the leading producers had the capacity to produce tens of millions of doses a month by November, a period of less than eight months….”

Fight for the Future – News – 2021-02-24-new-tool-shows-how-amazon-and-other-book

“WhoCanGetYourBook.com offers letter grades in accessibility and availability for books, laying bare prohibitive licensing costs, exclusive deals such as Amazon’s Audible Originals, and usability concerns that are keeping popular books out of the hands of our nation’s most-vulnerable readers….

The ‘Who can get your book?’ quiz offers authors and publishers a letter grade, granting one point for each equitable decision in how a book is released. For example, Trevor Noah’s Born A Crime receives a letter grade of D, based on the memoir’s lack of availability in audiobook format due to an exclusive with Amazon’s Audible—as well as restrictive licensing agreements for the ebook.

 

Access issues with audiobooks in particular don’t stop there. Despite an orientation to equity of access and rare download-and-own options for ebooks, PM Press’ Pictures Of A Gone City still received a C grade because the audiobook they paid to produce via Amazon’s ACX Services is only available on Audible….”

 

The Monopoly of Journal Subscriptions and the Commodification of Research – The Wire Science

“So the final question is whether the government of India should try to address the basic problem of proprietorship of knowledge, and its subsequent commercialisation, by negotiating for a better deal from journal proprietors for access at less exorbitant fees; or should it examine how to change the law to give proprietary ownership to the creators of the knowledge?

The earlier bulk subscriptions negotiated by Uruguay and Egypt, cost them about Rs 48 per capita, while India currently spends about Rs 12 per capita. For India to arrive at an agreement at the same rate as Uruguay and Egypt would mean an expenditure of roughly Rs 6,500 crore (or $890mn). As it is, in India, public funding for research is scarce and becoming scarcer by the day through market-friendly policies. Changing the law, on the other hand, would either mean modifying existing legal provisions or at least passing legislation with respect to publicly funded research and its products within India as well as free access to such research globally….

Meanwhile, we must be quite clear that Sci-Hub and Library Genesis are providing an enormously useful service to scholars all over the world. It will be a long time before any official agency in India will be able to provide a comparable service. The best we can hope for is that the court cases against them languish for as long as possible as they do for much less laudable causes.”