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.