The forces leading to the democratization of knowledge exchange and creativity continue to push at the foundations of academia and traditional publishing. And they aren’t about open access, but about free knowledge exchange — two very different concepts (as you’ll see, open access is about getting a pass to the castle, not about democratization.)
This past weekend seemed rife with examples of these trends, many courtesy of John Sack’s Twitter feed.
the problem with castles, whether physical or intellectual, is that they dominate the landscape, they make the majority subservient and apathetic
Brian Whitworth and Rob Friedman, the authors of this paper, talk about how intellectual feudalism is defended because it defends against error — either errors of commission or errors of omission. Yet in the information ecosystem we have now, are these bastions of quality just slowing things down, and for the sake of a 10% savings on errors of commission? Has the inherent premise of a feudal scarcity economy led to high rejection rates, equated these to quality, all the while leading to errors of omission?
Can we have the speedy, rich, and community curated scientific literature that’s conceivable today while we have castles at the center?
Around the same time, ReadWriteWeb published Part 3 of its series on the destruction of the book business. They cite a video description of an alternative book business model — an alternative to the consignment model — proposed by Canadian book publisher Bruce Batchelor, an innovator in self-publishing. Batchelor talks about the mathematics and financing of book sales currently — the discounting, the costs of returns, the fat in the system, the waste — and makes a convincing case that the Canadian book publishing industry could save $300 million immediately by stopping the insanity (the US market would easily save 10x more, he posits):
Through the publication of my novels, I’ve also been involved in a set of discussions around a group I’ve been invited to join, a set of independent authors who publish literary fiction in various genres. Called Backword Books, this little consortium is a friendly arrangement among smart, talented people. A number have published traditionally, but have shifted to self-publishing for the enhanced control and better financial model.
We’re trying to do in books what has already happened in music, film, and other arts — create a vibrant, quality, independent alternative. Think “Sundance for readers.”
The group recently had a long discussion with an author who is currently publishing traditionally (through a publisher) while also self-publishing other works. He defended traditional publishing and disavowed his self-publishing activities, as if ashamed of them. As the discussion continued, it became clear that what he was defending was that he’d gotten into the castle and talked with the royals — and not much more. The traditional approach didn’t have a better financial upside, a stronger marketing plan, or a clear path forward. But after having visited the royals, he didn’t want to be associated with any of his more plebeian efforts.
Feudal. And futile.
Which brings me in a strange way to a recent inflammatory stance apparently taken by James Neal at Columbia University, who is quoted in the Library Journal as stating that a “Doomsday Clock” is ticking, marking the hours until publishers and librarians must clash in “potentially explosive conditions.”
Really? How feudal. The lords of one set of castles (librarians) must bring arms against the lords of another set of castles (publishers). Will we array our forces on the field of battle, shed blood together, and those who did not fight will think their manhoods cheap when years from now those in battle speak of that day?
Perhaps there is another way — the continued democratization of knowledge exchange. Google seems to think there’s a way forward for books that doesn’t require bloodshed, but perhaps does threaten a few castles. Others seem to think there’s a way to publish thoughts about science without using the journal form.
Maybe we should focus on the ends instead of the means. We’re so busy defending the means (open access, impact factors, copyright enforcement) that they have become ends in themselves, castles preserved so that we have castles.
Meanwhile, has anyone else noticed the large world beyond our respective moats? Funny, but the Googles, Facebooks, Amazons, and Twitters seem to be doing quite well with democratic information exchange.
Makes me feel positively North Korean at times.
Will the shift of academia from feudal to democratic happen? What will it take? Is it true, as Whitworth and Friedman state, that:
people produce more when control is shared. One driving force for this change will be the breadth and speed of knowledge exchange required by cross–disciplinary research.
I sense change happening in creative writing. I sense it changing in scholarship. Where will it lead?
And isn’t that the beauty of democracy . . .