OA textbooks from college bookstores

Jeff Young, College Bookstores Hope to Turn Their Web Sites Into E-Book Portals, The Wired Campus, September 24, 2009.

College bookstores are taking steps to turn their Web sites into e-book portals, hoping to stay relevant as publishers make a push to electronic textbooks.

A project announced this week by bookstore associations in the United States and Canada will bring a library of downloadable e-books to participating stores. A few stores in Canada are experimenting with the system this fall, and some U.S. stores will try the system starting this spring.

… [T]he groups — the National Association of College Stores and the Canadian Campus Retail Associates Inc. — have pooled their resources to develop a shared system. Each store can integrate it into its own Web site, to let students buy and download an electronic text in just a few clicks …

So far the groups’ collection is tiny — just about 200 titles. … [T]his first set of books is free to students, either because the books are out of copyright or because the publishers have agreed to make them free for now.

Anyone can download the free books from participating stores …

Also see the NACS press release.

Comment on Richard Poynder’s “Mistaking Intent For Action”

It would be churlish of me to criticize Richard Poynder’s friendly article, with most of which I can hardly disagree. So please consider this a complimentary complement rather than a cavil:

Annual institutional subscriptions for annual incoming journals do not morph in any coherent or sensible way into annual institutional “memberships” for individual outgoing articles.

This is true of the multi-journal “Big Deal” subscriptions with journal-fleet publishers, and it is even more obvious with single journals: Are 10,000 universities supposed to have annual “memberships” in 25,000 journals on an annual pro-rated quota based on the number of articles each institution’s researchers happen to have published in each journal last year? Or is this “membership” to be based on one global (and oligopolistic) “mega-deal” between a mega-consortium of publishers and a mega-consortium of institutions? (If this makes sense, why don’t we do all our shopping this way, putting a whole new twist on globalisation?) Or is it just to save our familiar intuitions about subscriptions? Wouldn’t it make more sense to scrap those intuitions, when they lead to absurdities like this?

Especially when they are unnecessary, as we can see if we remind ourselves what OA is really about. Open access is about access: about making all journal articles freely accessible online to all users. It is not about morphing institutional-subscription-based funding of publishing into institutional-membership-based funding of publishing. Indeed, it isn’t about funding publishing at all, since it is not publishing that is in a crisis but institutional access.

Here’s another way to look at it: The “serials crisis” is the fact that institutions cannot afford access to all the journal articles they need. They have to keep canceling more and more journals, thereby making their access less and less. If all institutions had free online access to all those journal articles then that would not make the journals any more affordable at current prices, but it would certainly make canceling them less of a big deal, because their content would be free online anyway.

And that is precisely the state of affairs that universal Green OA self-archiving mandates would deliver virtually overnight.

So why are institutions instead wasting their time and money fussing over how to fit the round peg of institutional subscriptions into the square hole of institutional memberships today, via pre-emptive Gold OA funding commitments that generate a lot of extra expense for very little extra access — instead of providing Open Access to all of their own journal-article output by mandating Green OA self-archiving today?

That “the access and affordability problems are part and parcel of the larger serials crisis” is altogether the wrong way to look at it. The OA problem is access, and affordability is part and parcel of that problem today only inasmuch as alternatives to journal subscriptions increase access today — which is very little, and at high cost, insofar as Gold OA is concerned (today).

So instead of waiting passively for journals to convert to the Gold standard, and instead of throwing scarce money at them pre-emptively to try to make it worth their while, why don’t institutions simply make their own journal article output Green OA, today? That will generate universal (Green) OA with certainty, today.

If and when that universal Green OA should in turn eventually go on to generate journal cancellations to the point of making subscriptions unsustainable for covering the costs of publication, then that will be the time for journals to cut obsolete products and services for which there is no longer a market (such as the print edition, the PDF edition, archiving, access-provision and digital preservation, leaving all that to the global network of Green OA institutional repositories), along with their associated costs, and convert to Gold OA for covering the costs of what remains (largely just implementing peer review).

Unlike today — when paid Gold OA is at best a useful proof-of-principle that publishing can be sustained without subscriptions and at worst a waste of scarce cash based on a premature and incoherent hope of morphing directly into universal Gold OA — after universal Green OA each institution will have more than enough money to pay those much reduced publication costs (on an individual article basis, not via an institutional membership) from just a small fraction of its annual windfall savings if and when they decide they can cancel all those subscriptions in which that money is tied up today.

Hence it is mandating Green OA that will rewire the “disconnect” between user and purchaser that Stuart Shieber deplores, putting paid to the inelastic need and demand of institutions for subscriptions (today) because of their inelastic need and demand for access (otherwise unavailable today). The reconnect will not come from (“capped”) Gold OA Compacts (like COPE and SCOAP3 but from the cancelation pressure that universal Green OA will eventually generate — once the demand for the obsolescent extras currently co-bundled with peer review fades out as the planet goes Green.

In other words, even if it is the affordability problem rather than OA that exercises you, the coherent way to morph from institutional subscriptions to universal Gold OA is via the mediation of universal Green OA mandates, not via a pre-emptive leap directly from the status quo to Gold via funding commitments, regardless of the price and modus operandi. Meanwhile, along the way, we will already have universal OA, at last solving the access problem, which is what OA itself is all about.

Stevan Harnad
American Scientist Open Access Forum

Prestigious literary journal goes OA

Alan K. Cubbage, Northwestern Reaffirms Commitment to University Press; TriQuarterly Magazine Goes Electronic, Northwestern University NewsCenter, September 21, 2009.

… The move to digital publishing [at Northwestern University Press] will continue with the transition of TriQuarterly, the Press’s literary journal, to an online format next year. TriQuarterly already has an online blog, TriQuarterly To-Day. …

The journal … will be made freely available on the web.

“This move will align publishing efforts more closely with the University’s academic enterprise while at the same time expanding electronic dissemination and public access to the wonderful literature and essays that are published in TriQuarterly,” [University Librarian Sarah] Pritchard said. “Scholarly publishing is increasingly moving to open access, allowing greater distribution of academic work. This reflects that trend and allows the journal editors to take advantage of the multimedia capabilities offered through online publishing.” …

Jennifer Howard, Literary Circles Reel at Northwestern’s Plans for ‘TriQuarterly’, Chronicle of Higher Education, September 24, 2009. Only an excerpt is OA.

Surprised, saddened, shocked: That’s how people in the literary-magazine world reacted when word came down this week that one of their own, the esteemed journal TriQuarterly, would cease print publication next year. …

The press reports to the university librarian, Sarah M. Pritchard, who played down the idea that TriQuarterly as we have known it would cease to exist. “The magazine is certainly continuing,” she said. “It’s going to solicit external content from prominent writers, as it always has. It’s going to go to an online environment, which will greatly expand its readership.” …

Going online, [Middlebury College professor of humanities Stephen Donadio] points out, is not a budgetary cure-all. “You might save money, but you lose revenue,” he says. “Nobody subscribes to online magazines.” …

Adding to the angst among editors is the lack of detail about what a born-again TriQuarterly might look like. The Northwestern news release is vague on the point. Without its traditional editorial structure, Mr. Donadio wonders, will the journal be the equivalent of an open-source blog? …

Neither [of the journal’s current editors] sees how an online version of TriQuarterly would really work and how it would preserve the spirit of the magazine they have known. “At this point, I don’t see a successfully open-source model for arts publishing,” [associate editor Ian] Morris said. “For me, that’s the crux of the matter.”

N.B. I’ve focused the excerpts here on the transition to online-only publishing and OA, but a lot of the angst seems to be wound up with other changes (such as sacking the existing editors and a greater reliance on student editors). This is a journal converting to OA at a moment of internal crisis, rather than in a moment of strength.

Mendeley growing rapidly; alternative model for repositories

John MacColl, Mendeley scrobbles your papers, HangingTogether, September 24, 2009.

Mendeley is a social web application for academic authors that has been receiving quite a lot of attention recently. Victor Keegan wrote about it in The Guardian last week, likening it to the streaming music service Last.fm:

How does it work? At the basic level, students can “drag and drop” research papers into the site at mendeley.com which automatically extracts data, keywords, cited references, etc, thereby creating a searchable database and saving countless hours of work. That in itself is great, but now the Last.fm bit kicks in, enabling users to collaborate with researchers around the world, whose existence they might not know about until Mendeley’s algorithms find, say, that they are the most-read person in Japan in their niche specialism. You can recommend other people’s papers and see how many people are reading yours, which you can’t do in Nature and Science. … There are lots of research archives. For the physical (but not biological) sciences there is ArXiv, with more than half a million e-papers free online – but nothing on the potential scale of Mendeley. Around 60,000 people have already signed up and a staggering 4m scientific papers have been uploaded, doubling every 10 weeks. At this rate it will soon overtake the biggest academic databases, which have around 20m papers.

The site has grown fast, aided by significant investment capital from investors associated with Last.fm, Skype and Warner Music Group. …

If it realises the potential many people are now predicting, the library community is bound to ask why a web application based on an entertainment model should have proved so much more attractive than the painstakingly built repositories we have been holding under the noses of our academic authors over the last several years?

I think there may be a few reasons for this. First, its appeal is intuitive. Put your papers in our service and we will give you lots of webscale data back on how popular they are. The system can show you instantly how your research profile compares with the average researcher in your field. Second, it is instant. The map of research adjusts daily as new papers are added. Want to find out who is the most popular author in your field today? Mendeley can tell you. … And third, the demands it makes are low compared to the benefits it provides. A range of simple tools allow you to ship your papers into it. … [Y]ou can scrobble. Scrobbling is the word Last.fm uses to describe the use of a tool that works invisibly in the background to add your music choices to your Last.fm account. … In Mendeley, the same notion is applied via the “Watched Folder” facility. With it, you can designate folders on your hard disk that Mendeley will monitor, and from which it will suck new papers as they appear.

By adopting these approaches, Mendeley has grabbed the attention of users because it understands what they like. They like simplicity. … What do they not like? Tedious rules about copyright (the Mendeley FAQ, perhaps ironically, quotes the E-prints Self-Archiving FAQ to reassure authors about the extent of Open Access tolerance among publishers). They don’t like rigorous requirements for metadata (Mendeley automatically extracts metadata, and asks users to help it make corrections where it gets things wrong). In other words, the requirements libraries often put up front are almost dismissed as non-issues. …

Comment. To me, the better analogy may be Napster. I don’t necessarily mean that pejoratively: both Napster and Mendeley watch a folder on the user’s computer and automatically share files in that folder. That takes the effort out of sharing, which means more documents get shared. It also means that metadata will often be incomplete or inaccurate. In addition, since there’s less emphasis on copyright compliance, I’d suspect that some authors may share documents in ways that violate their publisher’s contract — more so than traditional repositories. In short, the Mendeley model seems to have some major advantages over traditional repositories, but also some significant shortcomings vis-à-vis traditional repository goals. I think there’s a place for both in a healthy scholarly communications ecosystem, with both competition and collaboration.

See also our past posts on Mendeley.

Update. See also Dorothea Salo’s comments.

Open Access Week

Open Access Week is coming up on October 19-23, 2009. Here’s a taste of what’s coming:

See also our past posts on OA Week.

Profile of 2 OA authors’ funds

SPARC, Changing the Game: Pioneers Report on Efforts to Support Open-Access Publication, press release, September 24, 2009.

Last year, the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Calgary were among a handful of institutions that established pools of money, through their libraries, to cover the cost of openaccess journal fees. This approach – aimed at supporting a new academic publishing model that could ultimately relieve at least some of the burden of expensive journal subscriptions – has found a receptive audience among researchers on these two campuses.

SPARC (the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition) is highlighting two approaches to establishing and maintaining openaccess funds in a new SPARC Member Profile. SPARC is also preparing to launch a new initiative to provide additional information and resources detailing options for other institutions that may be considering such funds. …

At UC Berkeley, the Berkeley Research Impact Initiative (BRII) provides faculty, post-doc and graduate students up to $3,000 to cover the cost of publishing an article in an openaccess publication – and up to $1,500 for opening an article that requires copyright transfer to the publisher. During the 18-month pilot project, the fund covered 52 articles at an average cost of $1,500 for openaccess publications and $1,280 for articles requiring copyright transfer. During Calgary’s first 13 months, the library’s Open Access Authors Fund received 67 official submissions to cover openaccess fees at an average cost of $1,538 (in Canadian dollars). …