Resisting Corporate Enclosure in Scholarly Communications

Members of the OAC concerned with questions and issues in scholarly communication may find an essay that I have recently written of interest. In it, I suggest 5 basic steps that scholars can choose to undertake to diminish the corrosive influence of for-profit scholarly publishing relative to not-for-profit publishing of several kinds. One need not be an advocate for open access publishing to see value in the proposition that we are harming ourselves by freely giving our time, labor, and intellectual property to powerful multinational corporations whose interests do not align well with those of the communities we serve and belong to. The essay can be found on my blog/website here:

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Comment by Keith Hart on October 18, 2009 at 8:16am
I wish that moderated discussions could be advertised as such. If this one was, I didn't see it. But I am in the habit of giving my comments a final edit after pressing the Add button and now I can't.
Comment by Keith Hart on October 18, 2009 at 8:14am
Thanks for this timely piece, Jason. As one of the principals behind the recent launch of the OAC Press, I found that your essay resonates deeply with many of my own concerns. I too believe that the corporate monopolists of academic journal publishing are damaging public intellectual life. And I admire your stance in taking practical steps to oppose it, while trying to launch a campaign of sorts among colleagues. In such a campaign, it is necessary to simplify anf you would have use not give free labour to 'commercial' or 'for profit' firms in this field, while stating an explicit preference for 'university presses'. For the purpose of discussion and without wishing to dilute your campaign, I would like to interrogate this division.

The corporate privatization of universities has had negative consequences for academic life at many levels. But, as I have argued in relation to Lindsay Waters fine polemic, Enemies of Promise: publishing, perishing and the eclipse of scholarship, it is not money, markets and new technology as such that are undermining the universities. See in brief The Hit man's Dilemma (lite). In the case you raise, would it be better if academics were paid by these corporations or chose only to give free labour to academic presses?

My point is that we have to be specific about the damage these corporations are doing. They are absorbing an ever increasing share of library budgets, the quality of their journals is often appalling, nobody reads them, they pursue absurdly restrictive access policies etc. Then we should ask not what the academic presses were, but what they have become. Waters' complaint came from first-hand experience at Harvard. Chicago and Cambridge have pursued aggressive policies of commercial expansion of late, reaching quasi-monopoly status in book publishing. I have noticed how the outsourcing revolution has seriously reduced the quality of editing in such firms. So I fear that the opposition commercial/academic may not stand up.

Let me take an example for information technology. In India today there is a huge battle to bring computing to scores of thousands of schools and government offices. Microsoft offer partnership with bureaucracy in regulating access to the internet, Red Hat Linux offer cheap, robust, flexible computing. IBM have been helping Lula's government in Brazil to convert the national bureaucracy to open source. Hewlett Packard have a programme to bring computing to the world's 4 mn poorest people.They are all corporations, but we can surely distinguish between them.

Neither you nor I have used the C-word, capitalism. I guess I am saying that a good deal that is progressive and regressive in our world is performed by capitalist corporations. I have not yet found a grass-roots movement that can launch a communications satellite. In my own self-publishing enterprises I try to make do with free labour. And, as I said, I think the firms you identify are harming our profession. I just feel that we should not rest with simple cultural categories, but rather specify the functions we don't like and adopt a flexible strategy of alliance and opposition in combating them.

In the meantime, if you want to share you experience with our fledgling Press, in any way, you would be more than welcome.


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