Why Danah Boyd is depressed and angry, and so am I, about scientific lockdown by publishers

Danah Boyd is depressed and angry, because she has written a marvellous essay on Facebook privacy, but it is locked down between a paywall, by her own publisher Sage.

She writes:

I’m deeply depressed because I know that most of you will never read it. It is not because you aren’t interested (although many of you might not be), but because Sage is one of those archaic academic publishers who had decided to lock down its authors and their content behind heavy iron walls. Even if you read an early draft of my article in essay form, you’ll probably never get to read the cleaned up version. Nor will you get to see the cool articles on alternate reality gaming, crowd-sourcing, convergent mobile media, and video game modding that are also in this issue. That’s super depressing. I agreed to publish my piece at Sage for complicated reasons, but…

I vow that this is the last article that I will publish to which the public cannot get access. I am boycotting locked-down journals and I’d like to ask other academics to do the same.”

I’m also angry, but at Routledge, and for a very similar reason. Not for myself, but for my friend Johan Soderbergh. Johan was so kind to have me sent a review copy of his truly marvelous book about the free software movement, called Hacking Capitalism. I have read the intro and first chapter, and so far, I’m enthralled by this deeply insightful book, that is also well written.

But here is the problem. That book costs well over $100 …!!.

Who else will be able to read it, how many libraries will invest in such a book, let alone individuals?? To increase the infamy, Johan could not even get his own edited manuscript back, talk about abuse of power.

This is a truly shameful attitude by a scientific publisher, who is locking excellent scholarship away, betraying the very ideal of scientific publishing.

I’m thinking of writing a more formal open letter about this, and polled the p2p research mailing list about it, I’m waiting for reactions. You might hear more about it.

Why did Johan accept this? Though he is an activist, he must also build a career, and Routledge is a reputable scientific publisher. So the opportunity was there, and a young and budding author is very weak compared to a corporate juggernaut. But what a price to pay, to see your own work made inaccessible to the very people you would want to reach.

5 Comments Why Danah Boyd is depressed and angry, and so am I, about scientific lockdown by publishers

  1. AvatarSam Rose

    Perhaps it is time for Scientific content producers to work together and create their own means of production and distribution?

    The technology now exists to accomplish this.

    A very small co-funding by writers could set up an infrastructure, complete with networks of hard and soft bound production, and distribution to libraries, plus an electronic publishing system, such as OJS.

  2. Avatarpaulbhartzog

    Yes, Larry Lessig and I discussed this years ago, when he decided to boycott closed Law Journals, and his advice to me was not to sacrifice openness for a shot at a career.

    Needless to say, I took his advice, do not publish anything except under copyleft, and that’s probably why no one knows who I am.


  3. AvatarAnon

    Hacking Capitalism is released at the moment as hardback only. I think you will find that the price is therefore competitive if you look at the cost of monographs everywhere. Once it is released as paperback, the price becomes more accessible. Even Stephen King books are sold like this. Why the moral outrage?

    Slopping blogging in my opinion.

  4. AvatarS Rhodes

    If being “competitive” is the goal, and not communicating ideas, then I suppose trying to find the price point that earns the most money makes sense. Yet, most of that money is still going to the publisher, so the author his or her self is hardly being competitive. If making profit is more important than communicating, then I have to wonder why the person is doing research at all; follow Stephen King’s lead, by all means. This may be insulting to some researchers, but tough cookies. Time to wake up.

    With sites like http://www.lulu.com , there’s simply no excuse not to make affordable hardcopies, and if a person wants to communicate their ideas, to make free electronic copies. We’re moving to a service model, with the author providing the service of creating content and communicating ideas. Academia is being left in the dust because, generally, they’re so tied to old-guard process that they’re keeping their information walled off. My advice: come out of your silos, or suffocate in them.

    There have been numerous studies about the importance of information flow and low barriers of entry in fields of study, that found raising those walls and cutting off that flow stifles innovation and progress. I know this, not because I bought some $100 book, but because I used Google scholar to find and read some excellent research.

    What gets more attention? Open access articles. What gets more citations? Open access articles. http://biology.plosjournals.org/perlserv?request=get-document&doi=10.1371/journal.pbio.0040157

    People who find themselves in obscurity need to communicate with more people and look at the purpose of their work. Are they trying to solve a problem? Are they trying to reveal insight about something? Are they reinventing the wheel? If so, talk to more people, and look at the ideas you’re presenting. Maybe they’re not easy to understand, and the ideas need to be expressed more clearly. Maybe people can’t see why the ideas are important, and the ideas need context. Maybe the ideas aren’t actually useful to anyone, but that seems unlikely. It’s far more likely that the ideas aren’t a conversation to anyone. They’re sitting out there, all alone, unconnected, and unloved. Markets are conversations.

    Is it time for a PLoS Books, like Sam Rose is suggesting? Yes, it’s overdue. Maybe someone’s already working on it.

    Being angry at publishers, to me, ignores the whole issue. Are we to be angry when a for-profit business tries to maximize profit? Are we to expect them to do something different because it’s the right thing to do? They’ll only be interested if it generates more profit. They’re middlemen: they’re waste. Publishing is a service, and it can be done in batches, practically on demand (again, http://www.lulu.com). Trying to reform for-profit business into functioning like non-profits will never work. Better to make them obsolete.

  5. Pingback: Smart Mobs » Blog Archive » Why Danah Boyd and Michel Bauwens are Depressed and Angry About Scientific Lockdown by Publishers

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