Open Source Academic Publication and Those Frustrating Paywalls!

Rex over at Savage Minds has another editorial about the need for Open Access in academic publishing. This is a movement across academic landscape, in which publishers are asking how they can produce well-edited articles which maintain a legitimacy within academia. As Kerim points out, the standard responses of the conservative old-time academic journals is, well, conservative. Meaning, that they do not want to take the financial risks associated with moving on-line. As is pointed out by Rex, Cultural Anthropology has taken the jump, and gone Open Access. American Anthropologist remains behind paywalls, as described in a recent editorial there which, amazingly, is not behind a paywall.   really only readily accessible primarily to those of us own the cultural capital of university library passwords. The rest of the world is left out.

Obviously, going on-line means that someone needs to pay. Various journals are using endowments, charging author “page charges,” and using advertising revenue. Then there is of course academic writing at places like Savage Minds who get their funding from who-knows-where, though my guess is that the editors are ponying up the annual $300 or so that it costs to host a website themselves, while also donating their labor and time. Funny thing is, I don’t find the quality of editing, etc., at Savage Minds to be that different from what is hidden behind the paywalls. If Savage Minds can do it, why can’t American Anthropologist which has the backing of the hoary old American Anthropological Association? True they do not provide precisely the same service to the world of anthropology that American Anthropologist does, but I do not find their contribution to be the many multiples of importance more than is implied by American Anthropologists’ defense of their paywall.

Rex, Kerim, and the others at Savage Minds occasionally ask rhetorically what the academic publishing world will look like in ten years. My guess is that the journals that are by hook and crook able to make their material Open Access will be far more important. There are hundreds of millions of people around the world, especially in Asia, Africa, and Latin America where university systems are expanding rapidly.  They will be coming into universities as undergraduates and graduates in the next 10 years, and not all of them will go to universities that buy passwords to get past the paywalls. And guess where those hundreds of millions will go? They will go to the Open Source journals. Open Source is the future. Journals that do not figure out how to get there will be left behind, unread, and worst of all, uncited.

PS.  Authors are also not cooperating.  Have a look at the accumulating uploads at sites like academia.edu, and research gate.  Much of that which traditional publishers are attempting to paywall, are slipping out into the wild west of the internet.