How to cultivate good closures: ‘scaling small’ and the limits of openness | Samuel Moore

Text of a talk given to the COPIM end-of-project conference: “Scaling Small: Community-Owned Futures for Open Access Books”, April 20th 2023.

Open access publishing has always had a difficult relationship with smoothness and scale. Openness implies seamlessness, limitlessness or structureless-ness – or the idea that the removal of price and permission barriers is what’s needed to allow research to reach its full potential. The drive for seamlessness is on display in much of the push for interoperability of standards and persistent identifiers that shape the infrastructures of openness. Throughout the evolution of open access, many ideas have been propagated around, for example, the necessity of CC BY as the one and only licence that facilitates this interoperability and smoothness of access and possible reuse. Similarly, failed projects such as One Repo sought to create a single open access repository to rule them all, in response to the perceived messy and stratified institutional and subject repository landscape.

Yet this relationship between openness and scale also leads to new kinds of closure, particularly the commercial closures of walled gardens that stretch across proprietary services and make researcher data available for increasing user surveillance. The economies of scale of commercial publishers require cookie-cutter production processes that remove all traces of care from publishing, in exchange for APCs and BPCs, thus ensuring that more publications can be processed cheaply with as little recourse to paid human labour as possible. Smoothness and scale are simply market enclosures by another name.