Wednesday, 16 January 2013

But that's the Way It's Always Been

Yesterday I organised an Open Access Forum at the University. It was well attended, and a great opportunity to voice concerns, to debate the issues, and to begin to formulate a policy to deal with this changing landscape. I will post some proper notes from this event shortly.

In the evening I was following this up by reading around the subject online, reading the responses and position statements, the blog posts and comments. At the same time I was reading about HMV going into administration, and it struck me that both these events - the implementation of OA and the death of these retail giants - were not a million miles apart. Perhaps it was the tone of the comments about both that did it: that elegiac paean for a past that was - to be frank - not that great. 

The current framework for academic publishing relies massively on the goodwill of academics to write, review, edit - free of charge- and then pay through the nose to read them. Not only that, but they demand that academics sign away any kind of rights to the distribution or use of their work. They hide away and paywall their knowledge. Similarly, the old behemoths of the High Street provided poor service, lack of knowledge, and overpriced goods. Both of them relied on the fact that 'that was the way it has always been'. 

New technology has opened up the market, and both retail and academic publishing faces a new and uncertain future. Sure, it's scary, but it's also exciting. In place of the bland and depressing chain stores might come more responsive, interesting outlets that provide customers with what they actually want. In place of the traditional model of academic publishing might come one that genuinely responds to the needs and desires of the sector.

I don't want to be unrealistic about the dangers ahead. I am aware and worried about the future of learned societies, for instance, or how we can make the new funding model work. I'm worried about the potential inequalities, about the funding divide, about protecting intellectual property. But at the same time I think there's real potential here for something new, something better, to fit this new century, that can complement and suit the age of the iPad and the connected researcher, that will make knowledge - and the distribution of knowledge - truly open. 

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