Thursday, 26 April 2012

Academic publishing and the 'tragedy of the commons'


I'm sure Mr Worstall did so inadvertently but his castigation of the Royal Society's 'save the planet' report also explained another first world problem - why 'open access' publishing doesn't work:

"...if you have an open access commons and then demand for that resource exceeds the regenerative capacity of the resource, then you have to move away from a Marxian (his word) open access commons to some form of limitation of access. This limitation of access could be social (socialist) or private property (capitalist) but some form of limitation there must be."

You see that the problem for academics (and university libraries - although this is mostly special pleading to protect their budgets) is that 'open access' still uses up the limited resource of time and money available for the purpose of publishing. And because the user is not paying, that money and time isn't replaced. Or rather, the taxpayer's representatives trim the money available as they choose to direct it to other purposes.

So the outcome of 'open access' publishing won't, in the end, be open access but will be access that is rationed or controlled in someway. Most likely, since this is how the world works, by charging users for the use they make of the resource. However, it will be the Universities that collect this money rather than publishers.

And where did all those publishers start? Oh, yes - universities. Looks to me more and more like a power grab rather than a liberalisation of access.


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