Publishing and the problems of sharing: open access and music cultures

Stuart Elden has just posted a couple of short pieces that both reflect on the problems of free downloading in publishing. The first uses music downloading as a starting point, and the second responds to some criticisms of a specific publisher. Both pieces reflect briefly on some of the problems that are created by the uploading of PDFs of entire books (this follows on from an earlier post about publishing models). The main point is that the free sharing of books might be damaging for publishing because it might prevent publishers from covering their costs. The result is that the type of stuff getting published might be limited. I suppose it might also make publishers more wary of taking risks as they attempt to manage tighter budgets etc. I noticed a little while ago that there is now a PDF of my new media book circulating.

I thought I’d just post a short response to Stuart’s posts, particularly as his first post links debates in music culture to the problems now facing academic publishing. This is something I’ve tried to write about in a short piece for the debate on publishing that is ongoing in Political Geography. The piece on ‘Open access and academic publishing: some lessons from music culture‘ is available as on early online view article at the moment, I think it will be made open access once it is in the journal. This piece looks at how we might use developments in music culture to think about the impact of open access in academic publishing. In the piece I had a 2,000 word limit (and a focus on open access), so I had to exclude a section I wrote about the differences between music audiences and academic publishing’s audiences. At the moment, or at least over the last ten years, these audiences have been very different in their approach to consumption. The music audience have consistently,and on mass, been engaged in the sharing of content for free. The result is that the business models of the music industry were largely undermined. The industry has had to find new models to extract value as a result. With varying levels of success. The changes in these business models were forced by the behaviour of consumers and the need to find value. In academic publishing, at least so far, the audience has not really behaved in the same way. As a result the business models have largely remained intact. There are always some activities there that undermine these models a bit, but these are too marginal to have any impact – a paper shared here and there for instance. There has been no equivalent mass sharing of free academic content. The risks to academic publishing have instead come from reductions in library budgets and changes in reading/book buying cultures amongst students. But what Stuart Elden’s posts point toward is the potential slipping of the culture of sharing into academic publishing. If this continues and becomes a more collective and ordinary activity, then we might suddenly see the existing business models being undermined – which is of course what Stuart is pointing towards in the post on Verso. If this were to be the case, I’m wondering if new business models will emerge or if we will simply lose some of these valued publishers. Or it might just be that our opportunities to publish our work will be drastically reduced, at least via traditional means.

I have kept the section I cut covering the importance of the differences between audiences from my article on open access. I’ll probably try to work this into something soon, particularly as it looks like these problems are likely to continue for some time. But a culture change in academic audiences could really have some profound implications for publishing.

This entry was posted in infrastructures, music, objects, web cultures, writing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Publishing and the problems of sharing: open access and music cultures

  1. stuartelden says:

    Reblogged this on Progressive Geographies and commented:
    David Beer offers a thoughtful post on file sharing – music and books.

  2. David: As the person who had you cut the paragraphs that discussed the differences between file-sharing in the two media, I want to encourage you to develop it further. [As I think I noted to you when I was editing the piece, I thought the point was fascinating; it just didn’t really fit into the focus of the specific argument that you were making….and the piece was too long anyway.]

    Of course, a big difference in the industries (as I think you discussed in those cut paragraphs) is that the people purchasing academic articles are not the actual consumers of the text, so there’s no reason to think that purchasing will stop just because consumers trade the articles. Libraries purchase journal subscriptions for lots of reasons that are independent of whether people actually read the journals:so that they can brag to potential employees, students, and accreditation agencies about about the number of titles to which they subscribe; so that scientists can write in their grant proposals that they have access to key, timely results of others’ experiments; so that they can get the few journals that they REALLY want that are bundled with the other journals. So long as authors still publish their articles in journals (which, of course COULD be changed, but that’s another issue…and one that’s addressed in the Political Geography exchange), I think libraries will continue purchasing them, even if scholars increasingly rely on versions that they receive via e-mail or via others’ websites. Indeed, that probably explains why publishers have done little to enforce laws that ban reposting of published articles on schlolars’ personal websites: Such ‘illegal’ posting provides free publicity and prestige for the journal (after all, the posting of an article on a scholar’s website increases the chance of its getting cited, and thus improving the journal’s impact factor) while having little if any direct negative impact on publishers’ revenues.

    • Thanks Phil. And Thanks for the encouragement. Yes, This point just didn’t work in the original piece. It’s definitely going away on a tangent to think about the audiences, so it needs a different piece. Thanks for the comments. I’ll have a go at thinking these points through. You are right, the audience is a bit more complicated in the case of journals.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s