Legal publishing is broken because it only serves to keep information locked away from people. And, given the unique status of legal information (which we can define here as cases as well as laws and regulations passed by all levels of government bodies), you don’t even have to be one of those “information wants to be free” hippies to agree that there is no reason why this shouldn’t be free, open, accessible and preserved for all.
She makes some excellent, excellent points. Even if you don’t have to deal with the law for your job (or you intentionally avoid law stuff like the plague), this affects you because you have to live under these laws that often aren’t all that accessible to you.
Excellent commentary on a recent NYT Op-Ed by Scott Turow (head of the Authors Guild). I definitely recommend reading both.
What if the trade-offs many have been portending between big:small, old:new, and open:closed actually were dependencies?
A recent analysis of the scientific publishing marketplace focusing on the financial implications of OA policies and business practices presents these issues in between the lines, concluding that commercial publishers have weathered the storm and adapted to changes, making it unlikely OA would be much of a problem for them going forward, while suggesting that the ultimate solution to providing OA on a widespread and sustainable basis will depend upon a robust subscription market much like the one we have today.
This is an interesting conclusion, though I guess only time will tell whether it’s accurate.
One of the best summaries of the problem with academic publishing that I’ve seen:
Has there ever been a business more ripe for disruption than academic publishing? For anyone who’s not been following along, the business model of academic publishers, built on solving 18th century distribution problems, incarnates the Shirky Principle: that “Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution.” Far from making research public, as the name “publisher” suggests, their business now works by accepting researchers’ donations of manuscripts, refining them by other researchers’ donations of editorial services and peer review, assuming copyright, and locking up the results — work that they neither wrote, edited, reviewed or paid for — behind paywalls. By artificially causing a scarcity problem, they’re able to sell solutions to that problem: subscriptions.
(The rest of the article is vastly interesting too. :) )
Recently, Colin Robinson, a respected founder of a New York-based independent publisher, OR Books, wrote an essay for The Guardian entitled “Ten Ways to Save the Publishing Industry.” The summary paragraph was grim: “Book sales are stagnating, profit margins are being squeezed by higher discounts and falling prices and the distribution of book buyers is being ever more polarized between record-shattering bestsellers and an ocean of titles with tiny readerships.” For the most part, Robinson’s recommendations are common sense: an emphasis on selection, pricing, effective use of the Internet, and a focus on readers by devoting more effort to reaching them directly through social media. Jeremy Greenfield, editorial director of Digital Book World, in a response to Robinson’s manifesto makes a strong case with observations that I generally share: “The publishing industry isn’t a monolithic thing: some publishers are doing well and others are not. … I don’t see an industry that’s flailing—I see one that’s managing a complicated transition much better than would be expected.”
There’s a choice academic and public libraries face. One is to focus entirely on providing access to the published information that our community members want. The other is to make libraries a platform for creating and sharing culture.
But we too have choices to make, both libraries and scholars. The next time your library spends $40 to get you an article you want to read, think about the implications. Is this really how we want to do it? Do we conduct research and write it up so that those who are affiliated with institutions that can afford to subscribe to lots of journals or can pay $40 for the temporary personal use of an article can have that knowledge, but nobody else can? Really?
Here’s my conclusion: ebook models make us choose. And I don’t mean choosing which catalog, or interface, or set of contract terms we want — though we do make those choices, and they matter. I mean that we choose which values to advance, and which to sacrifice. We’re making those values choices every time we sign a contract, whether we talk about it or not.
YA Highway—Publishing Road Map: Your Guide to Reading, Writing, and Publishing Young Adult Literature
Some of these points are applicable to libraries, as well.
Mistake #2—Paper is Married to Petroleum DOOM
Mistake #3—Reliance on Outdated Gimmicky Marketing Tactics
Mistake #4—Over-Fixation on Tools
Mistake #5—Expecting Commerce Before Community
An interesting perspective, though the comments have some quibbles with the argument put forward.
I think there are three, maybe four key principles that libraries must adopt to deal with ebooks. All of them are finding resistance from the Big Six. Ownership: if we pay public dollars for content, then we need to be able to take possession of the copies. Anything else is sheer vendor lock-in, and shirks our obligation to preserve the public record. Discounts: volume purchasers (that would be us) get a break on price. Integration: our job isn’t to make it harder for the public to find content (the misguided notion of “friction”) – it’s to make it easier. One search should bring up everything the library offers. We can’t base our business model on customer frustration.
The fourth principle may be revenue sharing. Again in the name of patron convenience, I’m more than happy to provide a link through our catalog to purchase an ebook. But if we do, I think we should get a piece of the sale. Insistence on that is the only way publishers will take us seriously – and constitutes a powerful ongoing demonstration of our value.
Ten years ago, when preparing for a panel on the future of book publishing, I jotted down some quotes from Publishers Weekly that still sound fresh, a decade and a technology revolution later. “Too few children are raised in houses with books,” one worried publishing professional declared. “The emphasis on bestsellers,” another wrote, “has lately been carried too far” and harmed the chances for other books to find an audience.
I should point out these Publishers Weekly articles were published in 1927 and 1929. The publishing sky has had almost more practice falling than night.
So, basically, the more things change, the more they stay the same. ;-) (But definitely read the rest of her post.)
Indie writers owe Amazon big time for what they’ve given us. Are they perfect? No. Do they make mistakes? Yep. And they’ll continue to make mistakes. But I promise you that traditional publishers never call up their authors and ask what they can do better. I nearly wet my author pants when I got a call from someone in the Kindle publishing department who wanted to know what publishing and promotional features I’d like to see. He wanted to know all about my experience with them, what I liked, what I didn’t like, and on and on. I was floored. Amazon messed up their sales reporting page not that long ago, and you know what they did? They sent a goddamn email out to their authors explaining what had happened! And then they fixed it! Do you think a big publisher would do that? No, they certainly would not.