All right then, so what are the alternatives?
February 17, 2012
FORD: Arthur, try and understand his problem! Here he is, poor lad, his entire life’s work is stamping around, throwing people off spaceships —
GUARD: And shouting.
FORD looks up and pats the GUARD on the arm reassuringly.
FORD: And shouting, sure, and he doesn’t even know why he’s doing it!
ARTHUR nods sympathetically.
GUARD: Well … now that you put it like that, I suppose …
FORD: Good lad!
GUARD: But all right, then, what’s the alternative?
FORD: Well … stop doing it, of course! Tell them you’re not going to do it any more.
FORD looks at ARTHUR for help, who stares back blankly.
GUARD: Eerrrrrrrrrrrrmmmm…erm, well, that doesn’t sound great to me.
— Douglas Adams, The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
As we point out the many ways in which current academic publishing practices are exploitative, we are sometimes told, as in Jeff Miller’s comment: “I believe that it is the critics’ responsibility to step-up and offer alternatives.”
Here’s the thing. The alternative we want from barrier-based publishers is that they stop being Vogon guards. We’re not interested in helping them find better ways to be barrier-based publishers, because that whole model is obsolete, destructive, inimical to the connected world we now live in and completely unacceptable in the 21st Century. Reducing prices a bit would be nice, yes; but nowhere near the revolution that the world actually needs.
So the whole question about Elsevier, for me at least, comes down to this. Can they stop being Vogon guards? Can they find a business model that isn’t based on stamping around, throwing people off spaceships and shouting? We know that there are viable non-Vogon business models out there, because PLoS is doing very nicely.
But because PLoS isn’t taking in enough money to cream off 36% of all revenue as profit, it seems likely that Elsevier’s response is going to be “Eerrrrrrrrrrrrmmmm…erm, well, that doesn’t sound great to me.” Especially as the evidence suggests that Elsevier can’t compete on a level playing-field with the likes of PLoS anyway.
A couple of people have complained that we’re writing too much about Open Access recently and not enough about sauropods. I am sympathetic to that; no-one could wish more than I do that publishing would just sort itself out and we could get back to doing what we love best. But until that happens, anyone who wants to read more about the ongoing scholarly revolution might find it useful to read my Twitter feed (@SauropodMike). You don’t need an account to see it.