Monday, September 24, 2012

MediaWeek (V4 N39) Coursera, Changing Academic Publishing, Project Muse, Libraries + More

MOOC Coursera continues to add providers to its platform with a big expansion noted in the Chronicle of Higher Ed.
The new partners come in a mix of shapes and sizes, comprising state flagships like the University of Maryland at College Park, liberal-arts colleges like Wesleyan University, specialized institutions including the Berklee College of Music, and foreign institutions like the University of Melbourne, in Australia. The speed at which colleges are joining is remarkable: The company began operations only in January.

Most partners will offer only a handful of free courses each to start out; Coursera officials recommend that each partner offer five at first. The colleges consider the efforts an experiment, with plans to review them in the near future and decide whether they want to continue to offer the free courses. The agreement between each institution and Coursera is nonexclusive, so the colleges are free to work with other MOOC providers as well.

One benefit for participating colleges is marketing: Coursera courses typically attract tens of thousands of students each. So far, the company says, more than 1.3 million students have signed up for at least one course. Many of the students sign up but then never watch the lecture videos or complete the homework assignments, but even so, the colleges are offering a sample of their best professors’ teaching to a wide audience.
Commentary by Hugh Gusterson in the Chronicle under the title "Want to Change Academic Publishing?
When I became an academic, those inconsistencies made a sort of sense: Academic journals, especially in the social sciences, were published by struggling, nonprofit university presses that could ill afford to pay for content, refereeing, or editing. It was expected that, in the vast consortium that our university system constitutes, our own university would pay our salary, and we would donate our writing and critical-reading skills to the system in return.

The system involved a huge exchange of gifted labor that produced little in the way of profit for publishers and a lot in the way of professional solidarity and interdependence for the participants. The fact that academic journals did not compensate the way commercial magazines and newspapers did only made academic publishing seem less vulgar and more valuable.

But in recent years the academic journals have largely been taken over by for-profit publishing behemoths such as Elsevier, Taylor & Francis, and Wiley-Blackwell. And quite a profit they make, too: In 2010 Elsevier reported profits of 36 percent on revenues of $3.2-billion. Last year its chief executive, Erik Engstrom, earned $4.6-million.

One reason those companies make good profits for their shareholders and pay such high salaries to their leaders is that they are in a position to charge high prices. The open-access debate has focused mainly on the exorbitant fees for-profit publishers charge libraries for bundles of journal subscriptions, but I am struck by what they charge ordinary citizens to read my individual articles.

For example, anyone without access to a university library who wants to read a nine-page article I wrote (free) for the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists last year will have to pay Sage $32 to get electronic access to it for one day—more than it would cost to buy and keep a printed copy of either of my most recent books. Needless to say, Sage passes none of the $32 on to me.
Also interesting is this exchange in the comments about Project MUSE:

ieubanks: This is a great article, and it's about time someone mentioned this elephant in the room. I do, however, agree with the comments here that question the wisdom of charging referee fees. The problem, as I see it, is not always the fault of the journal or the publishing house.

I edit a peer-reviewed journal, and we have precious little income. What we garner from subscriptions goes to the publishing house, which is a university press that subsidizes much of what it publishes.

The problem here is that the databases, such as ProjectMuse, JSTOR, and worse still, Elsevier, Taylor & Francis, and others mentioned in the article, often pay a relatively small fee to the publishing houses and then turn around to charge libraries tremendous access fees. Therefore, the best solution would be for the authors of the articles to grant one-time printing rights and NON-TRANSFERABLE electronic rights to the journals and publishing houses. This would protect both open-access and subscription-only journals while preventing the databases from making a profit off free labor without violating intellectual property rights.

Furthermore, there should be a class-action suit against the databases. I feel certain that they are selling work they don't have permission to sell. I have found some of my own work in those databases, when I am sure that I never signed away electronic rights for those works. Meanwhile, large portions of library budgets go to the databases as tuition continually rises and faculty are downgraded to armies of over-qualified adjuncts.
Sand6432: This statement is misinformed about how what are incorrectly called "databases" like Project Muse operate. In fact, as I can testify as former director of Penn State University Press, which put all of its dozen journals into Project Muse as soon as it became open to journals from other publishers besides Johns Hopkins, that aggregation soon came to provide two thirds of the overall revenue for operating our journals program, which could not have transitioned into e-publishing without it. Project Muse limits its content to journals published by non-profit entities, by the way. I have never heard any librarian complain that its subscription fees were excessive. After all, it was established as a joint project of the press and library at Johns Hopkins, so has always been library-friendly.---Sandy Thatcher
ieubanks: Thank you for clarifying. My point is that people are selling the intellectual property of others without compensating them for it. I work with Project Muse, and they are guilty of it, although I agree that they are perhaps one of the least unscrupulous aggregators. The way it works is pretty simple, as far as I can tell. Here is how it works with the journal I edit: Libraries pay for access to material provided by Project Muse, who in turn pays a small sum to our publishing house for each journal. Neither the journal nor the authors ever see a penny of that. On the contrary, the authors must fund the journal themselves by joining the academic society responsible for producing the journal (i.e., the authors must subscribe in order to publish), and that money must be handed over to the publishing house to pay for publishing costs.
abbistani: While I was almost willing to accept the title of "least unscrupulous aggregator," I'm afraid that a little more information about how Project MUSE works might be in order. We currently return more than 75% of our gross revenue to our participating publishers. How much they pass on to their journals depends on the agreement between the publisher and the the journal. The amount of money that each journal earns for it's publisher is the result of a formula that includes things like usage, and as you might expect, there is a wide variance. I will submit that we return significantly more money to our journals than any other aggregator, and many earn more money from us than they do from selling subscriptions. ieubanks, email me if you want to talk about your particular situation.

Brian Harrington
Project MUSE

Barbara Fister wrting in Inside Higher Education on What Libraries Should Be:

In the case of libraries, I worry that we are abandoning or at the very least absent-mindedly mislaying our values and our capacity to improve the lives of those who use our libraries by taking too utilitarian an approach (“our job is to deliver the information people want”). We design our systems to deliver the goods and bolster “productivity,” but not necessarily to encourage making connections or thinking deeply and critically. Consuming and producing take the place of creation and contemplation (such old-fashioned terms). As Don M. Randel put it in a recent issue of Liberal Education, “The Market Made Me Do It.” We compete against one another as businesses and sports teams do and, in the process, we contribute not to the habits of mind and heart that Delbanco lays out, but instead to widening inequality. When we put delivery of information to our communities first, we neglect our broader interest in equalizing access to information.
In the Atlantic Maria Konnikova contemplates how easy it is becoming to erase books that cause problems (Atlantic):
Readers are increasingly reliant on digital sources for information—and they are increasingly reliant on these sources to be accurate. Of course, it's impossible to wipe out altogether the digital record of a book's existence. There will always be articles, analyses, used copies (you can still, for instance, get Imagine at Indiebound and Powell's). But the principle itself is a frightening one. Not only can you remove physical content—Orwell hasn't been the only one to disappear off of a Kindle device—but you can change, in a sense, the digital record. And what happens when there actually aren't any physical books behind those electronic versions—and then a publisher or retailer not only removes all links to the book in question, but then proceeds to remove the already purchased book from your reading device? Imagine: When all of your books are in digital form, what is the backup system if they are of a sudden removed?
From Twitter:
Apple Exec Jony Ive to Design One-of-a-Kind Leica Camera

Google Teams Up With Harris Interactive To Launch New Self-Service Consumer Research Tool

Book sculpture flows out of Museum Meermanno

Chart: Top 100 iPad Rollouts by Enterprises & Schools (Updated Sept. 15, 2012)

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