Clinton Watts’ new book, Messing with the Enemy: Surviving in a Social Media World of Hackers, Terrorists, Russians, and Fake News, is a sobering recounting of the nearly 20 years of information warfare that Russia, al-Qaeda, ISIS, and others have waged on Western alliances and their members. Watts, whose testimony last year before the Senate Intelligence Committee was a wake-up call to anyone watching, carefully describes the through-line from a simple HTML world where connectivity liberated information from its local stores to the intrusive, abusive, and divisive information landscape of today.

paying In cash

A filter bubble — a term coined by Eli Pariser in his 2011 book of the same name — is a familiar concept, but Watts believes that over the ensuing years something more fundamental has taken hold which has changed how we perceive ourselves, one another, and our relationship with the physical world and empirical reality, writing:

The Internet brought the world together, but, over time, social media has torn the world apart. There are many reasons why this has happened, but one factor stands above the rest: preference. . . . The relentless pursuit of preferences turns smart crowds into dumb mobs, leads to the selection of preferred fictions over actual facts, and creates an environment where humans have access to more information than ever but actually understand less about the physical world. . . . Online, the pursuit of comfort and confirmation create an alternative reality.

What was once pursued as “personalization” has become a habit of inhabiting a world made up of only the things you prefer. For those of us who remember the early drivel about personalization, and our gut-level anxieties about its empty promise, the reality has turned out to be far worse than we could have imagined. Setting the individual at the center of the world always struck me as the start of a spiral of self-involved living — if I have my current preferences fed, how will I get new ideas, expanded preferences, new options?

The resulting ability for hall-of-mirror fantasies to be whipped up online has never been more powerful. Groups have become self-targeting. With smartphones extending everyone’s fantasy world deep into the real world, and online shopping, gossiping, and romancing further elaborating the preference fantasies, we expect only rewards and gratification. Boredom, doubt, and dissipated attention are no longer regular companions. At the same time, the companies and agents erecting these mirrors are able to target us without us knowing. “Fake news” is at its heart relativistic — fake to you is real to someone else. It’s all about what they prefer to believe. In a virtual fantasy world, finding approbation is easy.

Much of the success of the past few centuries of information has been the healthy relationship between what Watts calls “the core” and the crowd. That relationship has flipped in the new information economy, and has become toxic in many cases.

At the base of the changes wrought by social media — a euphemism at this point, surely, for coercive media — were at least three important factors:

  1. Coercive media was available to anyone — targets and agents — at no cost. It made no distinction between the core and the crowd.
  2. There was an initial assumption that the core — educated, experienced professionals — would remain highly influential within social media, which led to the lax development of guardrails. The engineers thought the guardrails would install themselves. But now, the crowd competes quite effectively with the core, even dominating it in many instances.
  3. The traditional and well-known core is being replaced by a new and unaccountable core — shadowy, corrupt, and power-hungry — that is using social media to seed dissent, confusion, and divisions in Europe, the US, the Phillipines, Myanmar, and elsewhere.

The first element clearly enabled the second and third elements, as various disenfranchised groups — disenfranchised in some important cases because society had rightly marginalized them (e.g., racists, terrorists, and criminals) — were provided with free access to platforms where they could target like-minded individuals (i.e., other racists, other terrorists, and other criminals), masquerade as legitimate entities, and slip by societal screens put in place to marginalize them, thereby gaining new handholds in society. Not only that, but these platforms were instantly global, allowing racists, terrorists, and criminals to appeal to others and coordinate activities across continents, countries, and time zones.

The business model has evolved into one of surveillance and data dominance, as Watts writes. We now have companies with quasi-governmental powers, who have to worry about their influence on elections in multiple countries simultaneously.

Could a better business model help? Email provides an interesting analog to my mind. Multiple times, the US Postal Service experimented with email, from the 1970s into the 1990s, thinking it had a role in delivering paid email. Migrating a paid model forward may have led to a small charge being levied on every 100 or 1,000 emails. However, for a variety of reasons, the USPS missed the opportunity, and email became an unregulated and “free” offering via AOL and others, bundled into Internet access at no apparent cost, tied in with our employer or services from companies that make money in other ways — a free service.

What followed from this “seems free” model is well-known to us all — spammers, phishers, hackers, and others using email to annoy, exploit, and intrude. It continues today, with Sci-Hub famously exploiting academia with phishing scams, and Iranians charged by the FBI with the same. A market of services to fight these problems was created, and spam filters and other imperfect tools became commonplace. CAN-SPAM and other laws in Canada and the EU have been somewhat effective, as well, but unsubscribing seems to fail as often as it works in actual practice. The new GDPR regulations simply led to a few days of hitting “delete” as mail purveyors went through the motions.

Making email a paid service would have likely nipped most if not all of these problems in the bud. Requiring business and individual emailers to pay to send emails is not anti-democratic — we pay to send physical mail — and reveals a few key things about those sending:

  1. Who is actually sending the emails?
  2. Who is serious enough about sending emails to be willing and able to pay for the privilege?
  3. Who is accountable if something goes wrong?

A paid model would control certain annoying things about email, including volume, frequency, and appropriateness — that is, you send only to those who you really think want the emails, rather than a “spray and pray” approach. It would make spam emailing economically non-viable. It would cleanly differentiate core from crowd far upstream.

Many of these same factors are at work in coercive media. Made freely available and without adequate controls over who posts what, social media was initially used in many beneficial or at least benign ways, but soon became a tool of increasingly destructive and purposely disruptive methods of incursion. Worse, malefactors are difficult to trace because a free service operating at surveillance scale leaves tangled and obscure commercial trails. It took months for sophisticated technology players like Twitter and Facebook to detect and trace illicit activities on their platforms, and many, myself included, are convinced they’ve only explored the tip of the iceberg. Exploiters come and go as they please, adopting various personas without consequence, and working from the shadows.

This shadow group of influencers is what Watts calls a “hidden elite core,” a group of unaccountable but influential people and organizations (or nations) who are able to instigate the crowd to achieve their goals while remaining hidden from view:

A hidden elite core will social-engineer an unwitting crowd into choosing the policies, politics, and preferences of the hidden elite, all without the crowd’s ever realizing it. Future social media influence will be dominated by those who can aggregate and harness the collective preferences of audiences, deceiving the crowd into willingly selecting the core’s agenda.

Russia, with its tiny global influence otherwise, has become a power once again using these techniques.

A “hidden core” in scholarly publishing came up in a recent article in the Economist outlining how some journals that claim to do peer review do not actually do so. These journals can be propped up quickly because their revenue model is easier to create, has immediate payback, and gives the readers no leverage. Whether fly-by-night or more enduring like some other exploitation publishers, the enabler is the business model. The Economist article outlines the myriad ways that academics are exploited by fake and predatory journals, how efforts to combat them through whitelists or blacklists have proven only passingly effective, and how the system remains vulnerable despite increased awareness. The author ends with this bit of speculation:

One far-fetched solution is a return to journal subscriptions. These have for so long been excoriated as rent-seeking profit-inflators restricting the flow of information that a change of course would now be unthinkable. But those who pushed for their elimination might be wise to pause for thought.

I would disagree in that it is not too late to “return” to journal subscriptions, because they still dominate the market, and for good reasons — they spread costs more widely, they reflect and bolster actual trust relationships, they align reader and publisher interests, and they give readers leverage over their information sources.

Watts also points to the lack of barriers to entry, barriers that paid services erect natively — some call them paywalls, some paypoints, some subscriptions, but the point is that if something requires someone to pay to use it, there is a modest but important barrier. That’s not always a bad thing, even if some of us reflexively view such barriers as “undemocratic” or “elitist.” Democracies are usually democratic republics, and assume an accountable elite core will correct what the crowd gets wrong, something worth remembering as a lesson our forebears learned. Watts writes:

No barriers to entry and unlimited preference in the virtual world have overtaken compromise in the real world.

Lowering or eliminating barriers to entry sounds laudable, but in reality it has allowed fringe viewpoints to go to scale on the major platforms. Gatekeepers who believe in lower barriers to entry can be reluctant and ineffective. Facebook famously has resisted calls to be more involved in evaluating the content on its platform, with Twitter and YouTube also doing poor jobs of monitoring the flood of content infesting their outlets — from bots to lies to terrorists. Our profession’s experimentation bends in this direction, whether it involves fewer peer review standards or post-publication review in place of pre-publication review. Even preprints smack of the mentality of a reluctant or confounded gatekeeper.

Information can be weaponized. Giving malefactors unbridled access to the raw materials of information warfare while platforms and preference systems have given them the targeting tools needed to divide and conquer far-flung constituencies, opponents, and rivals portends further problems. Scholarly publishing is not yet caught up wholly in the debacle that is modern coercive media, and one reason may be the dominance of the subscription model, which does keep out the crowd and limit access more or less to a discoverable and accountable elite core. Our core group is well-described, registering their activity with each paper published. Our goals of influence are clear — we want a more fact-based, empirical, and reality-based world, and we want to explain what we don’t understand.

I recently gave a talk about these issues to a group of academic editors and authors. One of them stopped me after the talk, telling me he had been in military psychological operations (PsyOps) for more than a decade, and was glad to see that people in our industry were actually starting to realize how the tools of psychological warfare were being used against them and the population at large. It was a sobering moment, a realization much like the one I had reading Watts’ book — the exploitation and weaponization of free information has been a campaign others have seen evolving for a long time. They’ve known we’ve been playing into it.

One of Facebook’s early advisors, Roger McNamee, wrote about this months ago, as well, urging Facebook to consider a subscription model to right its wrongs:

Facebook could adopt a business model that does not depend on surveillance, addiction, and manipulation: subscriptions.

Some in the media business have seen it coming, as well. In a recent Digiday podcast interview, New York Post CEO and Publisher Jesse Angelo described their success as having seen this coming:

I think our company [NewsCorp] has been really prescient about this. We are not just talking about this now. We were talking about this a decade ago, and people looked at us like we were crazy, and said, “But Google and Facebook are so cool.” And we said, “Yeah, but there are some very real issues here about the provenance of news and content, and separating publishers from their audiences.” Now, people are suddenly sitting up and going, “Oh, wow!” . . . People are now realizing there are some very, very real issues with the platforms. . . . I always think about it [publishers repeatedly caving into platform demands] like a horror movie where the person keeps going to the basement to check on the noise.

The platform threat is now not only at our doorstep, but in our basement — with anti-science people in power, emerging from preference bubbles into powerful positions that are maintained by those same preference bubbles. Decades of social and scientific progress are stalling out or being reversed because small preference bubbles have been pushed to the top of multiple cultures at once — from Europe to the US to the Phillipines to the Middle East — all by social media.

Meanwhile, there seems to be no downside for this warping of cultures and societies. Billionaires continue to amass vast amounts of wealth, to the dismay of many, including Rose Marcario, the socially conscious CEO of Patagonia, who was asked in a recent interview with Kara Swisher on the Recode Decode podcast why she referred to these billionaire CEOs as “weenies”:

What’s Zuckerberg worth, $60 billion? What’s Larry Page worth, $100 billion? . . . I have family in the military that fight for this country, and it’s our democracy that’s at stake. We got attacked on their platforms, and they haven’t done anything about it. They won’t step up and explain the problem. They won’t come out and, in plain English, say what they’re doing about it. And it’s pathetic! That’s why I say they’re weenies.

The mental model of scholarly publishing has been changed by the belief that it could and should mirror the commercial model of the broader Internet — free to users, paid by producers, technocentric, technocratic. As a result, we dress up weak business models and lowered barriers to entry in terms like “open” and “democratic,” in a way reminiscent of society using “social media” as a euphemism for coercive media.

Pre-2016 Silicon Valley thinking about the information economy can be safely considered to be old-fashioned at this point. The information world has changed dramatically. Looking at how things actually turned out using these approaches — by reading books like Watts’ or others — is a reminder that the destructiveness unleashed by the lack of barriers to entry, the diminishment of the obvious and expert core for the sake of the hidden illicit core and the crowd, and commerce that depends on psychological exploitation. Yet, we continue to ignore an upstream solution that is not only being more widely embraced in myriad other industries, but one that we have traditionally excelled at — the subscription model, paid access, and business models that foster trust and cooperation.

Business models are an instantiation of ethics, priorities, and alliances. Catering to producers, exploiting users, and feigning neutrality is a broken model from a societal standpoint. Catering to users, earning trust, and advocating for actual people is what the subscription model does at its best.

The business model may be a key to making things right again.

Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson is the CEO of RedLink and RedLink Network, a past-President of SSP, and the founder of the Scholarly Kitchen. He has worked as Publisher at AAAS/Science, CEO/Publisher of JBJS, Inc., a publishing executive at the Massachusetts Medical Society, Publishing Director of the New England Journal of Medicine, and Director of Medical Journals at the American Academy of Pediatrics. Opinions on social media or blogs are his own.

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Discussion

34 Thoughts on "The Core vs. the Crowd — Why Barriers to Entry May Help Restore Trust"

Hi Kent
The government of Uganda is imposing a fee for users of social media with the revenues supposedly going to education and other poverty alleviation programs with much of the sentiments you register.

Interesting how academic journals get a segued into the social media discussion. Already OA is based on an author pay model. But that does little to the scihubs and “pop-up” for profit journals which you are addressing nor those journals that have editorial controls as gateway guards as to whose theories and materials get published, ones that control the paradigm flow thru.

On the social media and academia, there is an interesting movement “unkoch my campus” which shows that since Mont Pelerin society founding, conservatives from academia as well as funding sources have been playing a “long game” in bringing their ideas into academic programs. So there may be more problematic paths for socio/economic influence.

Governments and affiliated groups across the globe have been involved in propagating their views, often subsidizing various groups including the US citizens which we could discuss in the current climate. You are right in that people selectively choose what they view or participate on/in social media. Cambridge Associates, I believe, is claimed to be dead, but not forgotten and similar Big Data skills are being applied by parties on all sides of the spectrum funded by significant resources and more sophisticated than the random bloggers which is why FB and Google are reluctant to release their algorithms which are critical to keep a consumptive society hooked on physical and ideological persiflage.

In the end, subscriptions for users or end users will, in the long run, concentrate what an individual chooses to selectively access since few can afford to pay for the firehose of material propagated on the Internet.

OA is still a minor business model, and Sci-Hub and ResearchGate are probably hoping that OA succeeds because then their business models (built around surveillance) would have a clearer runway.

I believe you meant “Cambridge Analytica,” not “Cambridge Associates.” If so, its vestiges are still kicking about in political circles, hoping to perpetrate the same actions again (https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2018/06/data-propria-run-by-cambridge-analytica-alumni-working-on-trump-2020-campaign/).

“Sci-Hub and ResearchGate are probably hoping that OA succeeds because then their business models (built around surveillance) would have a clearer runway.”
Of course Sci-Hub hopes that OA will proceed. It was only set up to obtain articles, and to make all information free. If everything was OA, there would be no need for Sci-Hub, and their current efforts to break into universities’ networks for access to documents would be superfluous, and so would go away. There might still be a model for ResearchGate, but it would become more like a Facebook for scholarly literature, asking questions, highlighting information that various people found interesting, and serving as a place for ‘invisible colleges’.

Sci-Hub was presented as a way to obtain articles, but it was also a way to obtain credentials. Many think, myself included, that Sci-Hub has been either a front for or a tool of Russian hackers writ large. Their scraping of entire sites and coincidence with Russian and Iranian hacking brings to mind the “I don’t believe in coincidences” line.

If the world went OA, Sci-Hub could openly pivot into the surveillance space they already inhabit in secret. They would find ResearchGate there, as well.

What “seems free” often has hidden costs. Sci-Hub has been a boon to hackers, even if they didn’t intend that (but I think they knew). They also reportedly have expenses and revenues now, which they might find hard to get rid of (especially the revenues).

It’s better to pay the price for information and connections openly and honestly to someone who will try to keep your trust to earn your money again because their recurring revenue model depends on it. Paying to attend an “invisible college” might make it so that the invisibility isn’t the current one-way mirror, with you on the opaque side of it being surveilled by the “invisible administration.”

That’s certainly possible, but I’m not sure if the path of OA or subscription will affect that.

True, if one assumes the sole purpose of Sci-Hub is to obtain copyrighted publications. I’m not so sure that it is.

Hi Kent,

Would you elaborate this quote, “Sci-Hub and ResearchGate are probably hoping that OA succeeds because then their business models (built around surveillance) would have a clearer runway.” a little more fully? If you have already done so in another post, please point me to it. Thank you.

Sure. ResearchGate is the clearer example. They appear to be seeking to become the Facebook of science, which means gathering reams of data on users and their preferences, connections, readings, publications, associations, and habits. That’s the kind of surveillance I’m referring to, the kind that Roger McNamee and others believe Facebook itself should move away from.

As for Sci-Hub, their intrusions into academic institutions’ systems have been well-documented, and they are probably feeding the larger system of Russian cyber-surveillance at work and well-described in Watts’ book and elsewhere. If OA were to succeed, Sci-Hub could pivot into a legitimate surveillance role, and leverage much of what they probably have pilfered for commercial gain.

Subscriptions to either ResearchGate or Sci-Hub would make those entities susceptible to user satisfaction, rather than user exploitation. I remain bewildered at why Facebook, Twitter, and others won’t shift to subscriptions. The recurring revenues are better, the moral ground firmer, and the business case stronger.

Kent,
Thank you for a fascinating/frightening article. I just requested Messing with the Enemy, as I regret to say, I haven’t yet read it. Your observations are especially interesting to me as I am now working with my higher-ed colleagues in Montana to bring OER to this state. Although, I don’t really consider OER in the same category as OA (or social media) – for now.
I do recall my initial reaction to blogging as one of annoyance, concern, and even nausea over a freewheeling platform that provided anyone with a megaphone. I can get the same shivers when the “sage on the stage conversation” is brought up.
I’m a librarian. When you mention the goals of “a more fact-based, empirical, and reality-based world, and we want to explain what we don’t understand,” know that there are a million librarians behind you.
However, the publishers? Sure, they aren’t all evil incarnate, but they do put “economy” in the phrase “knowledge economy.” There is nothing wrong with making money. I do have a problem with how much money is being made and from whom. I completely understand your reasoning behind the suggestion of a subscription model. In an ideal world, I would like to see an amalgam between open access and the authority/quality control provided by publishers. But, just as you noted that social media engineers thought guardrails would install themselves, we can’t believe that publishers will responsibly and reasonably police themselves and provide a product without some external regulation.
In the past, librarians have been viewed as gatekeepers to information. That, of course, is now an anachronism and our role should be more as information sherpas. This we can do, as long as people, and libraries, can actually afford to access trustworthy, quality information. Perhaps a subscription model is a viable road back to respectable information, but only with a LARGE degree of modification.

I think in general publishers have been very responsible partners with authors and readers. Publishers shield authors from risk, and aim to deliver value to readers.

There is nothing wrong with having an economy around knowledge. Quite the opposite, I’d assert. Besides, whether the economics are based in money or trade or prestige or some other transaction or trade, there are always economics at work. There was a knowledge economy present in the age of patronage, or when the church ran the monasteries with copyists. The question isn’t whether there is a knowledge economy, but what kind it will be.

The benefits of the subscription model is that it creates a dynamic in which readers “police” the publishers — canceling if they fail to deliver value or misbehave. It puts the power in the readers’ hands to a greater extent. Isn’t that how it should be?

I don’t think the readers do that great of a job “policing” the publishers. If they did, they would be a little more aware of the ridiculous profit margin being made by so many of them. Also, if the readers include not just researchers but faculty that teach, they would notice that a whopping percentage of their students can’t afford to purchase the textbooks the publishers so generously provide the professors for free.
However, back to journal subscriptions, the publishers have been double-dipping for some time. The current “subscription business model” would not be tolerated by normal consumers in any other open, supply and demand economy.
btw – Yes, the church did have copyists in the monasteries and look how things turned out for the church. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_wealthiest_organizations#cite_note-2
Sorry, I can only provide the Wikipedia article noting that the Catholic Church has $200 billion + and not the Bloomberg article it cites, because that access is via subscription only.

The “check” on publishers is not about how much they make, but on whether they deliver value (price is what you pay, value is what you get). And, as another commentator has noted, margins vary widely, from presses that lose money (some UPs and others) to big publishers that make hefty margins. There are also commercial publishers who fail. Risk is everywhere.

I’ll make no comment on textbooks as they are not subscription-based generally, and this post was about the virtues of the subscription model as a bulwark against exploitation and surveillance.

As for so-called “double-dipping,” you may not be surprised, but I think that’s a mistaken concept at its core, and that fighting what it represents at every turn is self-defeating. You can read an entire post on it here: https://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2017/11/20/creating-safety-net-double-dipping-wrong-term-right-approach/.

As for the paypoint you encountered, Bloomberg’s journalists are excellent, and their content always interesting and relevant. I’m a subscriber to BusinessWeek. I am happy to support professionals who deliver me valuable articles at about $4/month in cost to me. I take no umbrage at that. I think the exchange is more than fair.

Yes, I should have clarified that I’m referring to the for-profit, commercial publishers. I also agree that the amount of data that algorithms are – and will – be able to retrieve should be make people more than worried.
Again, I have no problem with commercial publishers making money. However, the profit margins of many academic publishers are simply not defensible – especially in STEM. https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/jun/27/profitable-business-scientific-publishing-bad-for-science.

Interesting to see a Guardian piece referenced here, given how low their standards have fallen, basically letting anyone write anything for them on the hopes that it will spur pageviews and advertising revenue. Last year they had a spectacular year and massively cut losses, and “only” lost £45M (https://www.theguardian.com/media/2017/jul/25/guardian-media-group-cuts-losses-by-more-than-a-third-to-45m). Perhaps there’s a lesson in there about business models.

“The “check” on publishers is not about how much they make, but on whether they deliver value (price is what you pay, value is what you get). ”
I think the point the librarians as buyer organizations are making is that there isn’t a check on large profit margins for some of the large publishers. Yes small publishers may be having problems meeting overhead, but for the large publishers, going back to my Economics 101 a long time ago, the demand is not very elastic, so there is no large check on pricing. Value is probably constant, but its hard for libraries to not buy certain publications even when they get very expensive, due to demand by the researchers.

Output has been increasing at about the same rate as most local pricing for a long period, especially as China’s research output has surged. Overall, pricing has been confusing for a long period of time.

Take a study of the period 1990-2010. Prices increased by 9% overall during that period while output of journal content tripled. https://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2016/03/10/revisiting-have-journal-prices-really-increased-much-in-the-digital-age/. This study could be updated, but it’s clearly describing something a little different than a market standing still and raising prices. This portrays publishers absorbing more content into the system and passing little of the cost along, and in fact pulling back after a wrenching transition into digital. The differential effects have been striking of that transition — smaller publishers are hurting, larger publishers are thriving. As usual, the middle gets squeezed, especially with technology, which rewards scale.

What’s partially driving the growth of the larger for-profit publishers is that smaller publishers and organizations are seeking shelter under their umbrellas, and they are differentiating into other areas (both geographic and from a business perspective).

It’s probably worth separating out prices, value, and margin here. It is possible to have high prices and low margins (see the price tag on any scholarly monograph — the audience for such books is so small now that even with a seemingly crazy high price, many lose money). It’s also possible to have low prices and enormous margins (Google charges a tiny amount for most advertisements, yet their margin is currently at more than 30%).

The issue with value and prices is further complicated as those who are determining the value for the publications are not the same people as those who are negotiating and paying the prices. Much of this is the result of universities switching to site licenses and “The Big Deal”, away from a system where individuals (or research groups) subscribed directly and had to budget for themselves, rather than relying on a third party (librarian) to do this at some remove.

University Presses–and other not-for-profit academic publishers–have also often been considered gatekeepers of knowledge and information. A role we gladly play, alongside and in a slightly different way as our library colleagues.

But, please. Can we stop tarring all publishers with the for-profit label? We’re not a homogeneous group–no more than all librarians are. And there are many kinds of economies (perhaps knowledge among them) that are based on an exchange of something other than money.

Kent – another excellent article, one i wish i could have articulated. But you said everything i would have wanted to. Over and over I hear academics (particularly in Germany) say that there is enough money in the system to switch to OA immediately. However, currently many high value subscriptions are bought by industry and the corporate sector. Most industry does not publish (so no OA revenues), yet they are arguably reaping the greatest rewards from STM publications by turning ideas into products and applications In an OA world they will no longer need to pay for this information so subscriptions from the corporate sector will disappear – significantly reducing the amout of money in the system. As you say – OA is still an unproven business model.

As I said, way in the beginning, Kent’s piece starts out talking about the persiflage in the social media and suggests a subscription model. Basically, that model in Uganda is, in part, to curb some of that media and also to provide revenue to support an under funded education system.

That’s great but Kent’s point that the social media community tends to pick and choose, or concentrate what it wants to see. A subscription model will drive an even more selective set of choices which is problematic.

As I note, Kent’s article uses the social media argument to segue into the scholarly publishing arena which brings out the standard arguments well worn in SK. Kent clearly points out the beneficence of the large publishers willing to absorb the poor step children- Oh, how kind, knowing that researchers will demand these orphan publications to increase the impact factor and raise the value of the “big deal”. Since academics are the gatekeepers of submissions, the value added argument is seriously flawed especially for those journals requiring camera ready copy. The “insurance” policy claimed as added value is about as worthy of many product warranties or the limited “flight insurance” in a heavily controlled and managed systems, especially in countries from where most of the research is created. And, most of these flight and international health policies stand behind most policies provided by the researchers. Yes, corporations and research institutes would welcome OA but that is of benefit to those who publish works of significance in both STEM and the social sciences as we know from the many abstracting product of ISI and its current owners. And since the publishers see revenues from OA with APC’s, they may see their margins drop but not fatally but maybe in an amount that the investment banking community will loose interest in IPO’s

My point wasn’t about beneficence but purely descriptive. It’s happening. End of point. There is no kindness involved, just pragmatism.

Kent states he is quite happy getting Business Week at a very low cost in USD but does not mention that, like many such publications, it’s the adverts that creates the positive cashflow. Similarly he leads off with “Messing with the Enemy” which needs to be juxtaposed to the volumes that show the correlation of the current refugee crisis, particularly at US borders to the US covert and overt and inept intervention in Cuba, Central and South America and similar activities, globally, “trumped” up by fear of “communism” or Perkin’s writings as an “economic hit man”

Most publications have prices that are part of a constellation of revenues, including scholarly publishers. Corporate site licenses, advertising, reprints, permissions, membership subscriptions, individual subscriptions — all are part of most publishers revenue portfolio. Books, meetings, webinars, sponsorships, and more are also often included.

As for the geopolitical points, yes, acknowledged, but this post wasn’t about that. Central America has been a venue for proxy wars for decades, unfortunately. We could at least have the courtesy to treat the refugees with kindness and respect.

All very interesting, but the big publishing companies don’t charge subscriptions to keep up the standards, they charge subscriptions to make money, lots of money taken from the public purse which could be doing much more useful stuff. That’s what makes OA so attractive to librarians, not low-barrier-to-entry, so much as “let’s not waste the scarce resources we have”.

What makes you think the big publishing companies won’t treat OA exactly the same way that they treat subscriptions? All evidence to date is that they already are doing so.

Publishers come from a legacy of charging readers because they emerged from communities — medical professionals, engineers, etc. Subscriptions were a natural result of a community standards approach — meet the community’s needs, maintain value, get renewals, have a thriving business.

You’ll notice that as journals more and more based on APCs and scale have emerged, editorial standards and community alignment have both shifted to accommodate, and not in good ways in most cases.

As for OA being more cost-effective, that’s been disproven a number of times, from the UK’s experiment (RCUK) to the sheer logic of having the producers pay, which means the larger research organizations. OA also feeds industry consolidation, and has led to fewer viable independent non-profit and university publishers, and greater concentration among the large for-profit commercial publishers.

The subscription model has many virtues, including spreading costs more equitably, aligning reader and publisher interests, and so forth. Even OA publishers have repeatedly sought recurring (i.e., subscription) revenues of some kind, because these also take a lot of pressure off, as other posts on this topic have outlined.

Subscriptions made sense in a print world, yes. But the world has changed. We have the opportunity to rethink how we do things and not just say “this used to work really well”. No I don’t agree that the current model spreads costs equitably, and I don’t agree it aligns reader and publisher interests. Try telling that to an acquisitions librarian whose budget shrinks each year while the journal subscriptions increase above inflation. How does that align reader and publisher interests? The OA model might have it’s problems, but to a small university that doesn’t do a huge amount of research, it’s usually someone else paying for apcs, so it’s not our problem! Not that I’m in favour of profiteering from apcs either. What we really need is a not-for-profit scholarly ecosystem where the interestes of both readers and researchers comes before profit.

While I agree strongly on supporting not-for-profit publishers, it’s always worth noting that in order to survive, these NFPs must create a surplus. And let’s be clear, there are some NFPs out there with high prices and high margins.

As far as equitable spreading of costs — the UK produces around 5-6% of the world’s published research, yet pays 2-3% of the world’s subscription revenues. So if we move to OA where the producer of the research pays, this means the publishing spend in the UK would have to double.

You are not the reader. You buy things on behalf of the readers. As for budgetary problems, that’s in most cases now a symptom of a taxation system skewed to cut taxes for the wealthy, push burden on the middle and lower classes, and so forth.

As for subscriptions being a print vestige, tell that to Amazon (Prime), Netflix, Spotify, movie theaters (https://www.theringer.com/tech/2018/6/21/17488220/moviepass-amc-subscription-model), automakers, cell phone providers, internet providers, and others. The digital world is rampant with successful subscriptions. Publishers who have embraced it are doing quite well. See https://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2018/01/30/fixing-instead-of-breaking-part-two-the-subscription-model/ toward the bottom third for an interview that might shed more light.

I think that there is an aspect of OA which was left out from this story: the discoverability. With increasing research output in practically every discipline, we need new tools for searching and processing the data and the text. One of the arguments that the proponents of OA use, and that I think is reasonable, is that it is difficult to devise the tools like this if you hit a paywall wherever you turn. How is the subscription model going to address this issue?

In general, I agree with the idea that the subscription model puts the reader in the centre of interest of the publisher, where the reader should stand. However, I – in my idealistic part of nature – keep thinking of all these who in this model can’t afford to be readers.
The first part of the story reads to me awful lot like a longing for a small group of privileged people – should I say privileged men? – who are privileged because they defined themselves the criteria for being privileged. I think that we’ve been there before. Do we really want to go back?
In other words, there is nothing nice in having a core, if you’re part of the crowd. In ideal world, the core should inform the crowd, but frankly, what is their motivation to do so, if they are already in the privileged inner circle?
The article does feel a bit counter to the often-mentioned care for being inclusive, as the subscription model is exclusive per se.

The argument about OA discoverability often fails to take into account two things — the new information environment, rife with pay-to-play distractions; and the costs and hard work of SEO, which attracting readers and subscribers incentivizes better. OA by itself does not ensure discoverability. In fact, a lack of attention to usage and readership may work against that. See a post on this here: https://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2017/05/31/detours-and-diversions-do-open-access-publishers-face-new-barriers/

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