Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

OA can create new business opportunities for publishers, which can help or hurt the academy

Don Waters, Doing much more than we have so far attempted, a position paper for the NSF/JISC Repositories Workshop (Phoenix, April 17-19, 2007).  Excerpt:

...Another area of vigorous innovation is also occurring on the edge of the traditional and formal system of scholarly publication that will deeply affect sustainability of new forms of data-driven scholarship.  For such scholarship to thrive, there is little question that data and other forms of content need to be open, in the sense that economic, intellectual property, and other barriers must be low enough to permit an easier flow of information into rich computational environments.  In many fields, these barriers are falling with innovations such as embargo periods, moving walls, toll-free access, and special forms of license.  Even the major publishers, like Elsevier, Wiley, and others are actively participating in these activities, opening their published content.  However, these publishers are not innovating in the direction of greater openness for its own sake, but to advance innovative new business opportunities built precisely around new forms of data-mining and other services that depend on open content.  The principle of openness thus is crucial in the formation of public policy for scholarship and may be necessary for new forms of sustainable businesses to emerge that support scholarship, but simple advocacy of openness for its own sake is not necessarily sufficient or wise.  Here are a few examples of how focused research in this area of rapid innovation could deepen and sharpen our thinking about economic and intellectual property policies....

Indeed, sophisticated publishers are increasingly seeing that the availability of material in open access form gives them important new business opportunities.  That is, they can begin to incorporate and recombine materials that they and other publishers have produced with data and other related materials in sophisticated databases, subject them to sophisticated search, data mining, and semantic algorithms, and then present these as services to a variety of specialized audiences willing to pay for the added value over and above the original content.  These may be desirable outcomes in the end, and certainly present opportunities for useful partnerships among scholars, libraries, and publishers.  However, what is worrisome about many arguments in favor of open access is the lack of strategic thinking about how open access material will actually be used once it is made available, and the faith-based assumptions that only beneficial consequences will follow from providing open access.

One worry is that open access to traditionally published monographs and serials will cannibalize the sales of smaller publishers, pushing them into further decline, and make it difficult for them to invest in ways to help scholars select, edit, market, evaluate, and sustain the new products of scholarship represented in digital resources and databases.  The bigger worry, which is hardly recognized and much less discussed in open access circles, is that the large, heavily capitalized publishing firms will exploit open access repositories, cherry-picking the most valuable open access products, combining them with the most valuable new databases and resources, and selling them back to the academy at a significant profit, while chasing out sources of capital from within the academic community that are desperately needed to advance scientific, humanistic, and social science study....