Sunday, September 18, 2011

MediaWeek (V4, N37): Scholarly Publishing, Project Gutenberg, Literary Festivals, Lawsuits, + More

The New York Times takes up the issue of "pricy" scholarly journals and leads with their view point (NYT):
After decades of healthy profits, the scholarly publishing industry now finds itself in the throes of a revolt led by the most unlikely campus revolutionaries: the librarians.

Whoever pays the bills, publishing is not free. Under the traditional business model most of the costs were met by subscribers, though some journals do also charge contributors, making scholarly publishing one of the most consistently profitable, if least noticed, corners of the business. Elsevier, for example, reported profits of £724 million on revenues of £2 billion last year alone. According the Mr. Suber converting to open access “will involve some cost shifting, But also considerable cost savings” for libraries and university budgets.

The traditional model does have its defenders. After George Monbiot, a British academic and journalist, published an article in The Guardian newspaper last month calling academic publishers “ruthless capitalists,” Graham Taylor, director of academic publishing at the London-based Publishers’ Association, told the journal Times Higher Education that all publishers “aspire to universal access” but that it would take time to find a “sustainable, scalable, funded” way to achieve it.

Writers at the Scholarly Kitchen blog, who are mostly involved in the less commercial end of publishing, said that although subscriptions for popular titles might be expensive, the cost for each individual reader remained very low.

They also noted that many titles with high fees for American or European readers were available free or at lower costs to researchers in the developing world through the Hinari program, a partnership of the World Health Organization and several major publishers including Elsevier, John Wiley and Blackwell.

Sir John Daniel, president of the Commonwealth of Learning, an organization that helps developing countries improve access to education, said such efforts did not go nearly far enough. “One of the major obstacles to education in the developing world is the lack of high quality teaching materials,” he said. “The countries we work with can’t afford journals; they’re already paying an arm and a leg for textbooks.”

“I’ve seen it from both sides,” said Sir John, who was once briefly on the board of Blackwell. “I saw the vast industry built up from publicly funded research, and it was never clear to me what value was being added. But if you needed the material, they had you over a barrel.”
On the whole this article meanders and doesn't offer any insight. The author notes the Elsevier profit numbers as de facto proof that academic publishers are blood-suckers.

Appreciation for Michael Hart the founder of Project Gutenberg from the Observer:
Those who knew him testify that Michael Hart was an extraordinary individual – idiosyncratic, original, humane, determined and generous to a fault. He never made much money, repaired his own car, had scant faith in medicine and built most of his own electronic gear from stuff he picked up in garage sales. On Saturday mornings over breakfast in the local diner, he would work out the optimum route to cover the maximum number of garage sales that day; it was his version of the travelling salesman problem in mathematics.In his obituary of Hart, his colleague Gregory Newby described him as an "unreasonable" man, in George Bernard Shaw's celebrated use of the term. "Reasonable people," wrote Shaw, "adapt themselves to the world. Unreasonable people attempt to adapt the world to themselves. All progress, therefore, depends on unreasonable people."
From the Economist: It's good to have gatekeepers (Economist):
The more general question, however, is whether publishers like Amazon (and particularly Amazon) represent a threat to the older magazine model, in which a variety of articles are bundled together and sold for a price that, even on the newsstand, is lower than what a reader would expect to pay if buying everything piecemeal. Part of the reason readers buy magazines is because they are comfortable outsourcing some of the decision-making about content delivery, and welcome the fact that magazines curate the news. The last issue of the New Yorker, for example, included articles about Mr Perry, the gold standard, tarot cards, Wikipedia, Syria, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife Virginia, and Rin Tin Tin.
According to the Economist there are a raft of regional literary festivals going on in Asia. I need an invite. (Economist):
In contrast to bleak conditions in Western book markets, the Indian divisions of international publishers are busy signing up new authors. London’s literary agencies have opened offices in India. Namita Gokhale, a novelist and one of the Jaipur festival’s organisers, says that South Asia is having a “literary moment”. It is “exploring its place in a new world” in English, while also maintaining traditions in the region’s native languages. She believes making sense of South Asia’s many upheavals has something to do with the outbreak of writing and reading.
Fellow traveler Peter Brantley is now writing for Publishers Weekly. Here on defining "library" (PW):
We are now engaged in acts of social reconstruction. Just as digital networks have forced us to deeply question the role of publishers, they also force us to reconsider the role and purpose of libraries, which developed in the modern era around the presumption of the Industrial Age book right along with publishing. A library fills many needs in its community; it is an after-school day care and gaming center, an employment hall and meeting space, offering shelter and privacy. It has also been a place with shelf upon shelf of CDs, newspapers, magazines, and books. Indeed, our understanding of libraries is so bound up in the physical world that their presumptive value has most often been measured through a single proxy: how many books they hold.
Statement from Paul Courant of the University of Michigan in response to the Authors Guild suit against scanning (UM):
“The University of Michigan library has been digitizing books for more than 20 years Sections 108 and 107 of the federal Copyright Act provide the guidance and the authority for this work, which supports our ability to preserve and to lawfully use the collections that we have purchased and maintained. Moreover, our digitization efforts enable us to make works accessible to people who have print disabilities because the overwhelming majority of works have never been available in an accessible format.
And from the twitter this week.

From InfoBoy: New Report from EU: Electronic Clearance of Orphan Works Significantly Accelerates Mass Digitization: Link

IBM starts its own NYC high school:

Pearson buys virtual school co for $400 million | Reuters


And in sports, Lancashire County Cricket Club which hasn't won a championship for 77 years won one this week on a squeaker end to the season. For Mr PND Senior who is Chairman of the Club, I think this is almost a crowning achievement. And, they get to go to the Palace. (MEveningNews)

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