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Publishers and Open Access

October 27th, 2011 by Graham Attwell

In a blog post circluated widely on twitter yesterday Gerge Siemens reports: “At the EDUCAUSE 2011 conference today, I had the pleasure of attending a lecture by Hal Abelson – founding director of Free Software Foundation and Creative Commons. He presented on the state of openness in education. While on the surface openness is gaining traction through scholarship and publication, content providers and journal publishers are starting to push back”

Goerge posted the slide (reproduced left) from Hal’s presentation used to argue that journal publishers have a monopoly. George goes on to say: “The surface progress of openness belies a deeper, more dramatic period of conflict around openness that is only now beginning.”

The slide is taken from a discussion document (pdf) containing “pertinent information, arguments, and data about the current debate over open access (OA)” for the proposed US Federal Research Public Access Act of 2009. The document contains a second and perhaps more shocking diagramme comparing the profits made by academic publishers to other industries.

I suspect, though, that such inflated profits are confined to the large global academic publishers. Whilst in New York, I talked to Michael who works for a relatively small publisher in the city. He gave me the impression they were certainly not raking in so much money! His main current work was focused on providing e-book versions of older manuscripts and publications which are now out of press. He felt there was much valuable knowledge which was presently lost to the system because of the nonavailability of older print based publications and saw the possibilities of cheaper e-book publishing as opening great possibilities to bring this knowledge back to life.

He was not concerned about the possibilities of e-publications being pirated, arguing instead that if every 100 pirate editions brought one sale, then that was good for the publishers and of course good for learning and knowledge sharing.

In this regard I wonder if there is the basis for some kind of alliance between the Open Access movement and the smaller academic publishers.

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