Scott Jaschik has a new piece in INSIDE HIGHER ED on "The Split Over Open Access." Here's the url: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2009/06/04/open
Some University Press publishers signed a petition in favor of open access. Others argued that they believe in the principle but their universities hold them accountable to a bottom line as if they are businesses---and you cannot be expected to make a profit AND be expected to give away your only marketable product for free. This is the dilemma, and it is one that is also the subjet of Chris Anderson's new book Free: The Future of a Radical Price. Anderson is also the editor of Wired Magazine and the author of The Long Tail. He is concerned (as I have been in many essays, columns, and blogs over the last decade) with the inherent contradictions in the idea that "information wants to be free" when it costs something to produce that information. Who pays the price of consumer's "free" choices? And, in the scholarly world, if we are evaluated on our publications, if our universities insist that our scholarly publishers break even, and yet if we want them to give away their products for free, who profits in the long run and who suffers? These are very important questions.
In addressing the Open Access dilemma at this year's AAUP meeting, Peter Givler,executive director of the AAUP [this is from the INSIDE HIGHER ED piece] "said that whilemembers of the association had the right to express their views, "wetook this position believing that it reflected the views of a strongmajority of our membership."
Givler said he was frustrated that"there's a lot of misunderstanding about the real issues here." He saidthat presses are very much in the business of "dissemination ofknowledge -- the issue is how to pay for it." While there is "a lot ofexperimentation going on," he said it was not clear that models broadlyexist to help university presses in an open access system.
"Thefundamental principle in copyright law is that a publisher is grantedby means of a contract certain exclusive rights in order to generatethe revenue to keep the whole enterprise going," Givler said. "We don'tmake profits."
To those who think university presses should beable to endorse open access now, he said, "look at what's going onright now. Look at the enormous financial pressure universities anduniversity presses are under." Even if the government is paying for theresearch covered by the current requirements, "the publishing processis not paid for by the taxpayers."
Incidentally, in a recent interview in Publisher's Weekly, Chris Anderson makes the very, very startingly claim that "Despite impressive growth rates, e-books currently make up about 1% of book sales. The benefit of watching others blunder their way into the unfolding digital world, however, might just turn out to be a blessing for book publishers, girding them with more experience about a more mature medium."--Publishers Weekly, May 18, 2009, p. 22.