ACM journal asks its readers to weigh in on OA

Elizabeth Churchill and Mark Vanderbeeken, Open, closed, or ajar? Content access and interactions, interactions, September/October 2008.  Excerpt:

…[W]hen our website went live earlier this year,…a number of people expressing surprise that only the first paragraphs of articles were available for download, unless one had a subscription to the ACM’s digital library. Currently, two pieces in each issue are available in their entirety on the interactions website….But a subscription to the magazine is needed to read the rest of the articles.

At CHI 2008 in Florence in April, a panel was held on whether interactions should or should not publish more articles and possibly the magazine in its entirety, for open download…Mark Vanderbeeken of the experience design consultancy Experientia and I spoke on this panel. We discussed some of our personal thoughts and experiences of open content, and discussed our perspectives on whether the content of interactions should or should not be freely available online. Some of the points we brought up there are reiterated here.

First and foremost, paraphrasing John Thackara, quality that is not communicated is simply not quality. To put it crudely, who cares how great the ideas are if we make barriers to hearing/reading those ideas so high that the ideas only reach a small in-group. Closed content is restricted content, and restricted content shared among the few is likely to have limited impact.

Secondly, digital publication of articles is simply not a replacement for a carefully designed printed artifact. In my mind the core product, the print magazine is not going away. Print and digital artifacts have very different properties, they invite a different interaction; the experience of the content is radically different. A magazine with its layout is very different from how I would lay the same content out digitally on the web….Digital artifacts should invite the reader to want, to desire the physical artifact. And vice versa….

Thirdly, there are many kinds of value aside from charging hard currency for content. Value may be purely non-monetary; it may be about personal satisfaction, or reputation and contribution to the community….

Experientia…has demonstrated that the paradigm that company information is proprietary and should be protected at all cost is now completely bypassed. Rather, an alternative approach is being taken there: everything not protected by NDA or of strategic value (e.g. the markets they plan to address in the next four months), should be open to all…All important content and ideas are published on the company blog, Putting People First….

The company has directly experienced several benefits of this approach: … [PS:  Omitting a list of 10 benefits.]

As the Experientia example suggests, the value-add of the open content is the ripple effect – the other things that become known which do generate monetary reward. In the case of scholarly journals and magazines like interactions, much of the labor of content production is volunteered, not for monetary gain. But the labor fits within a system where the rewards are very real – promotion of ideas, of products, of companies, of self, personal satisfaction, growth of future opportunities.

Before we get too carried away with all this happy, skipping, open sharing, printing a magazine costs money. The costs of production that need to be covered somehow are things like editing, illustrating, lay-out, printing, distribution, and archiving. Online distribution does not erase operating costs; funds are needed to cover platform and interface development and maintenance, promoting and archiving. The revenue model that is currently being followed to cover these costs is subscription, or what has been called “reader page charges”.

Other models that we can start playing with are:

  • free access after an embargo period: for those who want content immediately charge, but after a while the content can be made freely available…
  • author page charges: charge authors for the content
  • institutional, governmental and vested agency payment: many argument for open content in the academic domain argue that taxpayers have already paid for government funded work through taxes, so the results should be freely available
  • advertising: arguably the model that drives much of the internet
  • sponsorship is another possibility: this could be issue-based sponsorship or section-based sponsorship….

So the question is, what does open content mean for a magazine like interactions?

What are your views? Are you someone who would/do pay for the subscription, who would pay to download the articles…. do you have artful suggestions for business models not explored in this brief article? Please share your thoughts below!

Comment.  Many subscription journals are thinking through the same question as interactions, a journal on the interactions between people and technology published by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM).  But I haven’t seen another journal open the question to its readership.  Kudos to the interactions editors, and the ACM, for taking this open approach.

Update.  Also see co-author Mark Vanderbeeken’s blog post on the article, which quotes some dialog between Richard Anderson and Jon Kolko, the journal’s two editors in chief:

Jon: …It could be argued that interactions magazine should cost money because the content in it is worth something: The content has value. I suppose it could also be argued that the magazine should be free so that value can be shared by the masses. To which argument do you subscribe?

Richard: Neither. The content in interactions is worth something – it has great value, but that alone doesn’t mean that the magazine should cost money. And though you and I are working to broaden the scope and readership of the magazine, it isn’t intended for the masses, and it can be argued that we can extend the reach of the magazine more effectively if it does cost money. Open access to interactions content might become appropriate. Indeed, we’ve already begun to increase access in a couple of ways….