Editor’s note: Today’s guest post is by Adam Hyde, co-founder of the Collaborative Knowledge Foundation (Coko) where he leads technical projects, building platforms, methodologies, and communities to support open source collaborative knowledge production and publication as part of the academic process.

There are many misconceptions about open source and scholarly publishing that often overshadow the enormous potential it has to lead organizations to modernized, efficient workflows and to allow them to innovate sustainably. Let’s take a first look at some commonly asked questions…

scenic vista
Image courtesy of Adam Hyde under CC BY license.

What is Open Source?

Open source is a license, or more accurately, a group of licenses. They grant liberal rights so that anyone can access, use, and modify the source code at no cost. This is contrasted to proprietary software (also known as ‘closed source software’) where the source code is not available to reuse or modify and, generally speaking, you must negotiate a fee with the creators to view the code, use or request a change to the software.

Open source as a term should not be conflated with arguments for or against open access. Similarly, considering software security and weighing the benefits / risks of commercial vs non-commercial or amateur vs professional should be independent of the choice between open or proprietary software. If you are getting advice about software from someone that makes these kinds of conflations (e.g., “Open source doesn’t scale” or “Open source is not secure”), then you are getting bad advice.

Is Open Source an ‘amateur’ or ‘part time’ endeavor?

Open source is a license, as stated above. The license itself does not suggest any specific software production methodology (e.g., Agile), or who is involved in producing the software, be they amateur or professional. There are diverse ways to create open source tools and many open source projects are staffed by talented, experienced, full time professionals.

At Coko, for example, professional publishing staff, UX and UI people, project managers, software developers, facilitators, production staff, XML experts, deployment experts, and others, are all involved in the production of the various software solutions. These are industry professionals with many years experience. Further, while Coko does accept contributions from our community, code is only merged if it passes QA checks.

This is true of many open source projects we know of in the publishing sector. OJS, Janeway, Hypothes.is, Libero (to name a few) are all also staffed by experienced software and publishing professionals.

Open source in the world of the Coko community (eLife, Hindawi, University of California Press, California Digital Library, European Bioinformatics Institute and others) is produced by well paid, experienced professionals who work on the projects full time.

Is Open Source Secure?

From a high level, there are two issues to consider with software security with regard to your content and data:

  1. Security of the software itself
  2. Security of the hosting environment

As for item 1, open source is no more inherently insecure or secure than proprietary software. Remember, open source is a license, and you cannot infer how secure a software is from the license alone.

Having said this, while proprietary vendors will say their software is secure, you have no way to validate this, as you cannot audit the software yourself. With open source, you have access the source code and can conduct your own independent review (or pay someone else to do so). From our experience, we have also found that most open source projects will welcome this feedback and address any security issues found. You can validate these fixes by looking at the source code. Again, proprietary software providers may state they have fixed security issues, but because you cannot see the code, there is no way to validate this and you must take their word for it.

As for the second item, open source software, like any other software, if it is to be available online, it must be hosted in a robust, secure environment. These kinds of secure environments are equally available to both proprietary software and open source software products. Again, you cannot infer the quality of a hosting environment by looking at the license. However, an advantage of open source is that if you do not like the quality of the hosting provider, you can take your data and source code and go somewhere else. Such portability is not so easy with proprietary software if the software creators are also the sole hosting providers.

Interestingly, many of the software that makes hosting environments secure (for hosting open or closed software) is itself open source.

Do I have to have a software team to use open source?

No, you don’t. In the publishing sector, there have been suggestions that you need a development team in order to merely use, let alone deploy, open source solutions. This argument is made to (incorrectly) argue for the apparent ease of proprietary vendor offerings that sell the software and hosting in a single bundle as opposed to ‘more difficult’ open source offerings. This is misleading, as open source is not only for the technically gifted.

The important thing to remember is that services and software are two separate things. Further, publishing service providers can (and do) offer services on top of open source software, which eliminates any need for you to have an internal tech team or any tech skills yourself.

This decoupling of software and services effectively opens an interesting new market for publishing. This model breaks the exclusive one-to-one (software-to-services) vendor model that is dominant in the publishing sector. In other words, open source is a good way to defend against monopolies and diversify markets, while also protecting yourself against acquisitions — you know the kind of thing when you wake up to find your workflow owned by a different organization than those who owned it when you went to sleep. The beauty of open source is that any hosting and service provider can pick up these tools at no cost and offer them to the publishing sector. This opens a competitive environment where you can change vendors if you are not happy with them but retain your platform, and consequently, your content, data and workflow.

Decoupled software and services offerings are already available for open source platforms like the Public Knowledge Project’s Open Journal System (OJS), and is about to be true for a wide range of very interesting software for Journals, Books, Micropublications, etc. that are coming out of the Coko community. So it is not true that you need a technical team to use open source.

Isn’t Open Source a non-commercial thing?

Open source is a license and, in itself, not commercial or non-commercial. However, there are arguments that try to align open source with the non-profit model and then further muddy the waters by conflating non-profit with amateur offerings. Once you know how to spot these conflations, it becomes apparent what these arguments are trying to achieve (spuriously conflating open source with amateurism is typically an argument of the closed source vendor acting defensively).

However, since this misconception is already out there, it is worthwhile pointing out that while open source is neither inherently commercial nor non-commercial, open source software can and does drive many enormously successful commercial businesses. Take a look at WordPress, an open source blogging/content management system. Around 30% of the web is hosted in WordPress, it is open source, and is the revenue mechanism for an amazing ecosystem of small and large commercial businesses.

Open Source is only for big tech

Unfortunately, some believe open source to only be relevant to big tech, and that these large corporations use it to consolidate markets. In fact,  the opposite is held true by open source experts and critics alike — that open source is a useful mechanism for enabling economically productive collaboration and contributing to market diversity (as illustrated above).

The Benefits of Open Source

So, the above attempts to de-conflate many of the misconceptions out there about open source. But what of the value of open source? How can it help you?

Open source licenses afford you a lot of rights, protections, and opportunities. Some of the most important are as follows:

  • Service providers can offer their own hosted solutions of open source software. Consequently, an ecology of commercial publishing services can develop around the software — so you can shop around for the best deal. One that fits your needs, large or small.
  • Vendors that offer services on top of open source do not have to carry the cost of actually producing the software, and consequently, they don’t need to pass that cost on to you.
  • Should you change your mind about the services vendor, you can find a better offer and take your data and leave.
  • If you desire, you can audit the software before you adopt it.
  • You can validate security fixes.
  • Should you have a tech team, you can modify the software to meet your needs.
  • Should you not have a tech team, you can shop around for a developer that meets your budget and change the software to your requirements.
  • Open infrastructure lowers the market entry threshold for innovation.
  • You won’t wake up ‘owned’ (i.e., your workflow tools can’t be acquired).

Adam Hyde

Adam Hyde is the co-founder of the Collaborative Knowledge Foundation (Coko) where he leads technical projects, building platforms, methodologies, and communities to support open source collaborative knowledge production and publication as part of the academic process.


39 Thoughts on "Guest Post: Open Source and Scholarly Publishing"

You readily acknowledge that “open” in “open source” is conflated with “free.” You could have an open source offering that is not free, as you note — you have to pay to get the code and reuse it via a paid license, for instance. The code would still be open source, there would just be a transaction.

The problem with conflating “open” with “free” in this setting is that it leads to patronage, as funding typically comes from patrons like, in the case of Coko, the Shuttleworth Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation (which also funded PLOS initially), the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the Arnold Foundation. Without these patrons, Coko could not pay the engineers working on open source, because there is no commercial pathway for “free.” The others open source entities you cite also have patrons — either host academic institutions, funder patrons, or a combination. ArXiv has long existed only because of patronage, for instance.

The problem with patronage is multi-faceted. I won’t write it all out here. You can find the essay I published yesterday about the topic here: http://www.caldera-publishing.com/blog/2018/9/5/open-patronage-and-proposition-s. (Warning — it’s long.)

I’d recommend this essay as an ancillary to this post, which makes some valid points, but I fear misses the larger point that a non-viable economic approach (“open”) that tilts software toward patronage funding by rich organizations insulated from the consequences is somewhat of a concern.

Two important points made in this post:

1) The difference between software and services. For most smaller and independent publishers, software alone isn’t enough. Unless you have the capacity and staffing to manage code, modify, maintain and build around it yourself, you need to outsource this to a vendor (usually only the biggest commercial publishers have that capacity internally). So while the development of software like this is important, it’s only part of the solution, and not enough on its own, at least for the smaller and independent presses.

2) The other important point is separating out open source from “not-for-profit”. That’s one of the things that bothered me about the descriptions of JROST in Lettie Conrad’s recent piece (https://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2018/08/30/mapping-open-science-tools/). By declaring “profit” to be an enemy, you create a system where there’s little motivation for the best and brightest minds to engage, and no reward offered for excelling. Why make the effort to improve your service/product if there’s no reward for doing so? It’s important to acknowledge that not-for-profits must run at a surplus if they hope to survive for very long — you need money in the bank for new development and to weather rough times. This is why groups like CrossRef and PLOS can continue to innovate — they’re both not-for-profits that have brought in significant surpluses to fund their efforts.

So I’m glad to see it acknowledged that open source doesn’t automatically mean that no profits can be generated. I want my vendors to be successful and sustainable. If you’re low-balling your vendors or demanding they make no profits, then you shouldn’t be surprised when they sell off their companies to Elsevier or Wiley. Perhaps “profit” and “not-for-profit” are the wrong frames here, and we should think more about engaging with those offering reasonable prices for quality services.

All that said, given a choice, services based on open source materials are preferable because as you note, there’s a lower switching cost. There will still be a switching cost, as one expects a service to build its own proprietary layers on top of the open source base, but it’s still less onerous than having to switch one’s code base entirely.

Thanks for this article, I have a quick question about the security issue though.

You mention you can review open source code for security flaws, however so equally can malicious players – i.e. open source makes it easier for such people to exploit security flaws, and further adapt to any patches that get released. If it’s easier to hack, then it seems reasonable that the likelihood of it being hacked is at least a little higher than if seeing the source code were not possible.

I understood this to be the main argument justifying the ‘open source is less secure’ position, but you don’t seem to mention it in the article – what’s the counter to this?

I am scratching my head and wondering whether there is any reason why the case for using Open Source solutions should be any degree higher in the field of scholarly communications than in other areas of software innovation. My inexpert impression is that most software and communications innovation in any field is now largely indebted to open source software. Especially the innovative stuff. Further more it would surely appear to be obvious to scientific and academic innovators that open source solutions should be sought out and utilised. The budget dictates that choice especially if the unit has software skills. Perhaps the problem is that the established publishers are a bit stuck with an outmoded confidence in proprietary software tools and solutions.

Of course the pros of open software are lauded by one who makes their living utilising it.
However, what are the cons?

Thank you Adam, I’m glad we’re finally having this discussion, because there are fundamental misconceptions here.

“There is no commercial pathway for “free.””

This is simply wrong.

At Hypothesis, and I know at Coko and most of the other organizations in the open scholarly ecosystem, our software is “free” in both of the Stallman senses (https://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-sw.en.html). It is literally free in that it doesn’t cost money to get (and more importantly since it is permissively licensed, via MIT, APACHE, BSD-2, etc, commercial organizations can make unrestricted use of without financial obligation), but it is also free in the larger sense, i.e. others are free to run, copy, distribute, change and improve it without restriction.

However, both Coko and Hypothesis are commercial organizations. We provide services for money. Our goal, like any commercial tech startup, is to get to a point where our earnings eclipse our “patronage” (whether that be from charitable organizations or venture capitalists).

I’ve read the article you linked to– where you equate the open movement with the anti-vaxxer crowd (wow, really?) and zero in on the issue of “patronage” as perhaps the underlying issue. There too you conflate “not based on equity financing” as being shorthand for “not commercial”.

Ironically in maligning the “patronage” of preeminent scientific funding organizations like Sloan, Gates or Moore which have provided essential support for researchers in diverse fields for decades, you neglect to recognize the dependencies and implications of the patronage inherent in taking money from venture or angel investors creates. I won’t pretend to disparage equity financing, I’ve worked under both frameworks and there is a role for both. But I will state the obvious which is that taking money from angels or venture capitalists incurs substantial obligations whereas taking money from foundations does not (more than the requirement for a report back at the end of the grant period). Who is indebted to whom in this model? But regardless there is a role for both, so why are we trashing one? If Hypothesis or Coko or anyone else can build a sustainable business through grant support, and without being beholden to investors, is that somehow worse in anyone’s minds?

I think one of the most striking bits in your piece is in maligning the largess of “elites” like Mark Zuckerberg who have taken their wealth and given it through charity to organizations like bioRxiv, without acknowledging that it was the traditional tech equity financing model that concentrated wealth in their hands via stock options and made them “elites” in the first place. On the one hand you’re lauding the equity based model as not being patronage, but then taking shots at folks like Zuckerberg, Moore, Gates and others when they succeed too well as a result. Pick one.

Eloquently put. I came here to contribute to the discussion, but I feel you’ve addressed the main misconceptions perfectly.

I will only add that anyone who believes open source is anathema to profit clearly hasn’t heard of blockchain or cryptocurrency, and anyone claiming closed source is more secure should read up on [Kerckhoff’s Principle](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kerckhoffs%27s_principle).

It might not have been clear above that the quote was from Kent, not Adam, and thus my response was to him.

Thanks Dan, our comment threading is having some issues that we’re hoping to have resolved shortly.

Ha! I was going to blame it all on WordPress running on open source software…

I dont seem to be able to reply as a comment in the thread….so will ‘@’ everyone here 🙂

@kent – Thank you for your comment. Dan already replied and is correct that there are ‘commercial paths for free’. Kent, you are unfortunately equating the term ‘free’ with ‘no business model’ – which is understandable as the term ‘free software’ has been long understood to be potentially misleading in this manner. Avoiding these kinds of superficial conflations is exactly why Tim OReilly (on our Advisory Board) and others adopted the name Open Source instead of Free Software in 1998. ‘Open’ being seen as being a more ‘business friendly’ term than ‘free’. Having said that perhaps they still have some way to go as it is evident by your comments that some still make this mistake! If you like I can recommend some great texts for background reading on open source and business as there is no shortage of literature on this topic (let me know and I can email some links to you ‘off list’).

@morgan – it is seldom i see the argument that open source is less secure because you can see the code… most discussion about open source and security focuses on the transparency of the code base as being fundamentally better for security. This article from PC World says it well:

“the more people who can see and test a set of code, the more likely any flaws will be caught and fixed quickly. It’s essentially the polar opposite of the “security through obscurity” argument used so often to justify the use of expensive proprietary products…”

@adam (Hodgkin) – very interesting point.

@harvey – most of the arguments against Open Source that I know are about preferred business models. These arguments generally fall into one of two categories – 1) those that simply make an argument for selling IP as the cornerstone of their revenue streams, and 2) those that try to scare you away from open source to protect their own business model. We have seen enough of (2) in the publishing industry which is why I wanted to address those concerns here. Arguments for and against (1) are better for another article about the virtues of various business models, but I did want to point out here that there are business models for open source to counter the many (false) assertions to the contrary (see above comments).

@adam Thanks for your reply, perhaps I didn’t express this clearly though, apologies. You say you seldom see this argument, but even the article you replied with talks about the ‘”security through obscurity” argument used so often to justify the use of expensive proprietary products’, so this article seems to agree that it’s common. If it is common, and has been around for a long time, then there must be non-negligible reasons to support it?

The article doesn’t really provide particularly robust counter-arguments specifically to this either, it just seems to be another expression of your reasoning above, and cherry-picks just two examples. I don’t disagree with the argument in itself, and would like to agree fully with the open source view, yet it does also seem quite reasonable that increasing a piece of software’s exposure to threat actors looking for vulnerabilities would increase the risk of those being exploited maliciously. Is there a reason that this isn’t true and should be discounted? I don’t feel that simply falling back on Linus’ Law (open source dogma, as some may perhaps view it, and Harvey Kane has alluded to in another comment?) is a particularly good rebuttal, unless you have quantitative and statistically-sound evidence that one side of the coin significantly outweighs the other in practise. Maybe such studies have indeed been done though?

Hiding security flaws is not a substitute for well designed security you can validate, but the cyber security debate is a long one and I wanted to avoid that in this article – which is why I pointed out that I don’t believe that neither open source software or closed source software, as a category, is inherently more secure than the other. You must evaluate each software on its own merits. If necessary ask a security expert to help you – the advantage of open source is that that expert can audit and validate security of the codebase. Closed source software means you do not have that choice.

This is an interesting discussion, and so far I haven’t found any research that shows a clear difference between closed source and open source in terms of security (other than the processes differ in their speed and initiators). However, I can see one security-related point that might be fundamentally different between the two: if the main developers give up on the project, it will be a lot easier for others to keep using the software and patch issues and security flaws in the future in the Free Software model (i.e. open source software that can be modified and redistributed) than in the closed source model.

Dan’s comment underscores that there is no commercial pathway for “free.” Hypothesis and others cited don’t need to offer free software to be services firms. Plenty of firms offer services optimizing Cisco networks, supporting Microsoft Office, and so forth. The “free” aspect has no commercial pathway. It’s only services on the side that does, which just highlights my point. The money is elsewhere.

As for my criticism of patronage via funders and wealthy donors, the issues are multi-faceted. CZI, for instance, is basically a tax haven for Zuckerberg, who gets to avoid taxes on much of his wealth while funding “open” initiatives that ultimately feed the company (via free information) that made him wealthy. Other funders are not as apparently self-serving, but concentration of wealth and power in a few hands in a vibrant economy is not as worrying as concentration of wealth and power in an information economy where the commercial options are being gutted by those same players. The way these foundations act as tax shelters has also become a source of criticism, as have abuses of non-profit structures for partisanship and social engineering initiatives. These are new-ish things, and we need to talk about them.

Venture funders are seeking returns, generally pay taxes, and move money in commercial channels in ways that are about financial return. Venture capitalists are commonly critiqued for exploitative practices, so there’s nothing new there. I focused on patronage because we often give it a pass, but it can inflict some of the same problems, act as a wolf in sheep’s clothing, act to stifle alternatives (see Proposition S), and with “open” as a driving force, it can deprive the vital middle zone of economic activity of options while driving more of a “haves and have nots” world. And we don’t need more of that.

To Adam, the “commercial path for free” either treats “free” as a loss-leader for paid services as Dan discusses, or in the case of Google and Facebook is a pathway for a manipulation and surveillance economy based on people bartering personal information for free access. In the first case, that’s a standard sampling model, so nothing new there. In the second case, the model has proven corrosive to society. I prefer business models that tell me what I’m going to get, how much it will cost, and so forth. I don’t like feeling like I’m being hoodwinked into buying services or tricked into giving up my personal data.

“I prefer business models that tell me what I’m going to get, how much it will cost, and so forth. I don’t like feeling like I’m being hoodwinked into buying services or tricked into giving up my personal data.”

That’s a pretty striking statement.

On a whim, I went to redlink.com and inspected your HTML. You’re using WordPress. Perhaps not surprising, since apparently over 25% (!) of all web pages are delivered on that platform. We use it too. However, clearly you’re not using WordPress.com, since you’re self-hosted. Indeed, it’s conceivable you’ve never spent one penny in a way that Automattic, the parent company behind wordpress, has profited.

And yet, this is their business model.

The software is “free” in every meaningful sense of the word. It’s openly licensed and anyone can download it, run it, and use it for commercial purposes– like you are– without *ever* paying them. This, and the fact that it’s a reasonably good CMS, is why it’s become so dominant. You call it a “loss leader”, but really it’s just a great marketing strategy. Nothing is being sold at a loss to generate profits elsewhere. It doesn’t cost them incrementally more when another copy is downloaded. Simply: Automattic makes its money from services wrapped around it’s “free” software. Approximately 4% of all WordPress sites are hosted at wordpress.com. That sustains nearly 800 employees, and is worth many billions in enterprise value. Are you being “hoodwinked”? If so, why are you not using another, closed platform instead, like Squarespace that’s more… “up front” about it’s intentions? I’d venture that it’s probably because wordpress is just plain better, and more flexible for your needs. Plus, it’s “free”, right?

Again, you said: “There is no commercial pathway for “free.” I think you are in error. There is most definitely a commercial pathway for “free” software.

We’re doing this every day here at Hypothesis. We’re not hoodwinking anyone. People can download our software and run it themselves– for free– without ever contacting us. And they do. We make money on services.

Please tell me where I’m misunderstanding your argument.

WordPress loads up their .com offering with things that customers have to pay to get rid of — ads, etc. So, it’s not really free except in the way Facebook is free, in that it uses the customer as the product and a carriage for advertising.

As you say, “open source” in some cases is just a marketing tactic to sell services.

As stated above Kent, it is clear some background reading on software would assist your arguments and clarify some things for you. Let me know if you want some basic background reading on Open Source, I can forward off list.

Kent, I believe your comment regarding CZI is totally unfounded.

I can’t believe I’m weighing in here in support of Zuck– but here I am. Sure, we all read the same article, and I’m sure most had the same questions around the use of an LLC as a vehicle instead of a traditional 501.c3. But, I understand the logic that’s offered as to why it makes sense (flexibility in strategies to further the ultimate mission, etc)

The reason that I’m with Joe here is that I’ve spent a good chunk of time with Cory, Katja, Jeremy, Sam, Greg and many others there in the senior leadership over the last twelve months in numerous meetings, strategic brainstorming sessions and other venues, and as far as I can tell, they’re the real deal. They believe passionately in the mission and they’re working like hell to make it happen.

Jack Blum may have said these things from a distance in the NY Times, based on his perspective as a tax attorney– but what’s happened is that Zuck and Priscilla have gone and staffed this organization with some of the absolute best people in our space, and they appear to be trying to make this work.

I’m not going to defend facebook as an organization, but as far as CZI goes, maybe we give them the benefit of the doubt until we see otherwise? I’d be surprised if they would jeopardize the good will of the talent they’ve hired by betraying its mission.

I’m not out to attack CZI, just to throw up a caution that depending on the largesse of donors and patrons has downsides, many of which we would not want to become more dominant. I’m sure Facebook and Google have a lot of “the best” people, but look what they’ve done collectively to media businesses, democracy, and people’s privacy. “The best” with the wrong business model and a lack of constraints and regulations is meaningless. It would be better for all of us if rich people didn’t get three whacks at social dominance. That’s one of the major points I’m trying to get across.

Kent, I would be interested to hear how you differentiate between patronage and journal subscriptions. Historically, the concept of subscription is closely intertwined with patronage. Perhaps it is another example of how altruistic patronage can have unexpected consequences when it evolves into a commercial model that generates excessive profit margins?

Subscriptions are commercial exchanges where one party creates something of value and attempts to sell it via a recurring revenue model to other parties. Patronage is the support or influence of a wealthy or influential supporter, a related foundation, or a charity, usually through large one-time grants. Patronage usually comes with strings attached. For instance, I’ve heard of instances where “open” solutions with patronage funding have been prevented from doing sensible commercial things because the foundation or donor didn’t like the idea. So, the users (or subscribers, in a commercial model) don’t get what they want because a wealthy patron doesn’t believe that’s how they want the world to work. The subscription model aligns the interests of the purveyor (whether Netflix, Blue Apron, OUP, or Amazon) with the interests of the user. That is a major benefit of the model.

As for the assertion that there are profit margins that can be “excessive,” that’s a fun idea to throw around, but what’s worth noting is that most wealthy patrons got their money from profits some of us might define as excessive, and want to use those again to influence society through tax-sheltered foundations or non-profits. That’s excessive social influence, and people watching these trends think that the disparity between rich and poor means this is only going to get worse.

The subscription model also allows more and smaller commercial entities to thrive. Jaron Lanier notes that the current way “open” is working is to make it less possible for smaller or mid-sized players to thrive, leading to consolidated power centers, less innovation, wage stagnation, fewer commercial options, less diversity of business and personal creativity, and so forth. The patronage model is spotty, tends to reflect the will of the rich, and is ultimately anti-democratic. As Lanier writes in his book from 2009, “We forget what a wonder, what a breath of fresh air it has been to have creative people make their way in the world of commerce instead of patronage. Patrons gave us Bach and Michelangelo, but it’s unlikely patrons would have given us Vladimir Nabokov, the Beatles, or Stanley Kubrick.”

Kent, I think you are employing a narrow definition of patronage and then proceeding to base the rest of your arguments on that flimsy foundation. From a historical perspective, much of the earliest scholarly publishing in the 17th century by scientific societies such as the Royal Society of London and the Accademia della Crusca relied heavily on the patronage of their members through subscriptions to support the publication of scholarly works.

And I take issue with Lanier’s claim that “…it’s unlikely patrons would have given us Vladimir Nabokov, the Beatles, of Stanley Kubrick.” Your narrow definition of patronage conveniently excludes a contemporary manifestation of patronage — Bandcamp and its broad based Artist Patronage — that provides a completely different perspective on the topic:


I agree that many patrons have unsavory pasts and agendas often driven by self-interest. But there is more to the concept, it can be broad-based with very positive motivations, especially in the academic world, and particularly for scholarly publishing. And it also suggests that patronage may indeed give us the next big musical phenomenon.

I think you’re twisting words. I’m familiar with Bandcamp, Patreon, and other donation and subscription sites that fund initiatives via crowdsourcing, which is very similar to membership subscriptions. A “patron of the arts” is not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about wealthy donors and their foundations. Do you want to return to a model of commerce where a few wealthy souls decide who gets to pursue their dreams?

“Do you want to return to a model of commerce where a few wealthy souls decide who gets to pursue their dreams?”

Isn’t that pretty much the definition of the VC funding model?

Threading of comments (and replies) should now be fixed. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Thanks David!

also, in response to your last comments (thanks for the insightful points)… the main issue that I think needs to be addressed with both not-for-profit and for-profit is sustainability. Strangely enough, this important question is asked more of not-for-profits than for-profits although the question is equally relevant to both.

I have a lot of respect for the open source movement and agree with most of what Adam says, including security of the software.

What publishers want most is to avoid being “locked in”. That can be achieved by using open standards that everyone agrees on. For instance a particular XML (or say scholarly HTML) for content, as well as the associated metadata. That is how publishers can “take their data and leave” if they are not happy. Right now, good luck with taking your data from a peer review system and putting it into another. 😉

So what is even more important than “open source” is “open standards”. (But knowing Adam and his team, I have no doubt about their good practices!)

Very much agree with Kaveh.

“Better mousetraps” can have their genesis in the private or not-for-profit sectors. But without open data standards, users are inhibited from selecting the best solutions. (An approach we have supported since 2002: https://www.ariessys.com/views-press/press-releases/proposed-xml-based-standard-to-allow-journals-and-publishers-to-exchange-in-process-manuscripts-between-different-online-submission-and-tracking-systems/)

In this context it’s alarming that some leading open source initiatives have not implemented ORCID or have chosen to launch new standards rather than adopt existing standards such as JATS.

In the case of commercial software vendors, hundreds of paying customers hold them accountable if they fail to comply with open standards. In the case of not-for-profits, it’s up to the relevant funder program officers to encourage implementation of open data standards.

Richard – why do you think not-for-profit folks don’t care what people want? I would point you to the very heart of Coko, for example, where we design the software *with* the people that need it… right from the genesis of products the ‘user’ (we prefer to use the term ‘use case specialist’) is saying, and getting, what they want.

On the other hand, it is alarming to me that many of these use case specialists (publishing staff and researchers) that use proprietary software must follow a slow and expensive path to get what they want from their vendor.

I could focus on so many “points,” but we could start with the fact that Stallman’s use of the word “free” is incoherent, self-contradictory, and has very little to do with any concept of “free” or “freedom” that predated his own self-promotion. When people have tried to focus in and get him (or other advocates) to say exactly what he means, and how it relates to better-defined issues like “free speech,” “free press,” “free market,” and so on, he can’t. because it doesn’t.

contrary to the sage wisdom of Mr Stallman and others who follow his wacky ideas, I do not consider DRM as implemented by Netflix to be a “fundamental evil,” or even on the list of things that deserve a name like “evil.”

You might have posted to the wrong thread! We aren’t debating Richard Stallman or DRM here 🙂

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