November 2012

As the academic book publishing field is erupting, there have been a couple of very good conferences recently. Besides the “Public Library – HAIP Festival 2012!” Simon describes below, one of them was “Books in Browsers 2012” held at The Internet Archive in San Francisco. There, the famous technology publisher O’Reilly Media introduced its new book publishing platform “Atlas”, which is in beta at the moment as the publisher and a couple of authors are testing it. Introducing Atlas, Adam Witwer (who oversees the publishing services division at O’Reilly Media) said something that is partly true: “We’ve got the tools. Let’s start using them!”

It is true. More and more book publishing platforms are developed. Our own lab, for example, has recently looked into Booktype and Open Monograph Press, and there are many more. But look at this screenshot of the editing interface of Atlas below. Is this really a writing environment for everyone? Do we really have the tools?


For sure, Atlas is very good an online collaborative writing tool as it is keeping track of your versions. It is also excellent that it comes with four different book layouts, and you don’t have to get lost in InDesign. It nicely converts your text in three different formats (pdf, epub, mobi) using the open source software development environment git. But while this might be good for engineers, I am not sure this is also suits academic writers really, and here is where I disagree with Adam Witwer. We do not have the tools…

At the moment, everyone is looking at the cloud trying to get authors and publishers working on certain platforms. Even when these would be developed a bit more user friendly guiding/locking users in the Apple way… could it be, that the platform idea might be the wrong track? Not only, because academic genres have very different ways of publishing. Also because…

To write and develop ideas and thoughts is a strange thing, and Derrida has said that the concept of writing is what defines the field of a science.

It is a process with a certain weight.  It is a burden. Therefore writing isn’t necessarily and at all times a process you want to do in an environment that already feels public. Digitizing the writing/editing/publishing process should take this a bit more into account. While it is possible to mingle all three in code, to do two steps in one might not be the best digital environment for all of us researchers. Thinking about publishing needs to start with writing, and for a lot of us humans writing is much more than just typing words.

Extreme Librarianship at its limits

Extreme Librarianship at its limits

Public Library – HAIP Festival 2012! Kiberpipa/Lublijana 28.-30.11.2012

Come join us at the festival, come hackathon, come coordination meeting to explore cyber-librarianship exploring art as infrastructure and autonomous infrastructures.

The Hybrid Publishing Consortium, the open source software infrastructure part of the the Hybrid Publishing Lab will be presenting an outline of its newly hatched plans.

We’ll keep you posted on MIKRO our micro-blog corner of the free and open web.

In the catalog of History the Public Library is listed in the category of phenomena that we humans are most proud of. Along with the free public education, public health care, scientific method, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Wikipedia, Free Software…

It’s one of those almost invisible infrastructures that we start to notice only once they go extinct. A place where all people can get access to all knowledge that can be collected seemed for a long time a dream beyond reach — dependent on the limited resources of rich patrons or unstable budgets of (welfare) states.

Internet, however, as in many other instances, has overturned what we take as given and as possible. The dream of all people getting access to all knowledge suddenly came within our reach. It seemed just an issue of interpreting when the trajectory curves of global personal computer distribution and internet access penetration would finally make universal access to knowledge a reality. However, the actual trajectory of development of public libraries in the age of internet are pointing in the opposite direction – that the phenomena we people are most proud of are being undercut and can easily go extinct.

Public libraries now cannot receive, and sometimes not even buy, the books of some of the largest publishers. The books that they already hold they must destroy after lending them 26 (?!?) times. And they are loosing the battle to the market dominated by new players such as Amazon, Google and Apple.

In the catalog of History the emancipatory revolutions are listed in the category of phenomena that we humans are most proud of. They empower the oppressed and give them the means to reach their dreams. That the dream of Public Library in the age of internet, the dream of universal access to all human knowledge, should now be relinquished, that cannot be let happen. And artists and hackers, as in many other instances, are taking upon themselves to make dreams a reality.

Melvil Dewey would be happy. “Free schools & free libraries for every soul” shall never wither away.


Picture by biblioteekje – licensed under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA 2.0)

There is evidence which clearly indicates that Open Access (OA) has entered mainstream discourse. Open access can work in the immediate and short term in providing better access to the research literature, whilst some of the longer term consequences and effects are still emerging. But is this just for rich contries?

The old publishing system we have inherited from the 20th century, has marginalized research from developing countries. With Open Access there are new opportunities and possibilities and this gives also new hope for academic publishing in the developing world. Yet, in the developing world context there remain specific challenges and untapped opportunities for OA. The African Commons Project now has published a positioning paper on “Open Access and Development: Journals and beyond” (PDF). This report sets out to explore the current and potential uses of open access in the context of the developing world and how OA can be used to redress some of the imbalances, which currently exist within the traditional models of scholarly communication.

Note: If you want tp take part in the discussions on OA in the developing world aimed at world critical thinkers, activists and academics by the UNESCO’s Knowledge Communitiy, you can Register for the online discussions on the UNESCO’s WSIS Open Access Knowledge Communitiy Forum. The first debate with the topic “Production, publication and consumption of scholarly knowledge and OA.” will kick off on Tuesday, 27 November 2012.

A recent article published by the Times Higher Education is causing quite a bit of discussion particularly amongst business and management scholars. The article, written by Professor Simon Lilley, who runs the School of Management at the University of Leicester, is based on a contribution – free to download – to a forum of the journal Organization on the future of journals. In that piece, Lilley and his colleagues David Harvie, Geoff Lightfoot and Kenneth Weir scrutinize the business practices of some for-profit academic publishers, with some shocking results. Informa plc, for example, moved to a tax haven in Switzerland, while still turning a large profit on sales of journals to publicly funded libraries. And the practices of large commercial publishers to sell journals in large bundles to libraries (who then get access to many journals they need but also many they might not) means that with squeezed budgets it is independent journals whose subscriptions are cancelled. On profitability, Lilley writes in the THE:

Few would disagree that commercial publishers should be able to cover their costs and reap some profit from their investment. The figures in their accounts, however, give pause for thought. We found companies enjoying profit margins as high as 53 per cent on academic publishing. That compares with 6.9 per cent for electricity utilities, 5.2 per cent for food suppliers and 2.5 per cent for newspapers.

The contribution to Organization ends with a plea to the editors to force Sage to lower subscription costs to to the journal. The discussion on the pages of THE and also on lists such as the Jiscmail list Critical-Management take up these discussion of strategy, with positions ranging from a call for a pledge from academics to not submit work or review for any journals from tax-dodging and profit-hungry publishers to a call for a collective action to dismantle the current publishing practices and establish new ones.

'The Cost of Knowledge' by Guilia Forsythe

Picture by Giulia Forsythe – licensed under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA 2.0)

There are perhaps two questions that impose themselves most immediately for anyone concerned with hybrid publishing and open access in particular: 1) with many commercial publishers establishing open access offerings, does this kind of research on their business practices not seriously undermine them as partners in a scholarly publishing landscape? And 2) what kind of strategies should academics adopt to challenge the excessive profits and dubious business practices of commercial publishers, and how can alternatives be established?