Will Elsevier have a Snowden Event?
January 13, 2014
So, I’ve been thinking a lot about this interesting situation with Elsevier, which David Tempest’s remarks at the Oxford Evolution or Revolution debate highlighted: they can’t afford (literally or figuratively) to tell us how much they charge different institutions for the same stuff.
And I had this thought, which Mike tweeted:
When simply telling the truth can blow up your business model, you need a new business model.
Mash that up with “information wants to be free” and “if all else fails, someone will show up to liberate it”, and you get this:
When a single person of good conscience can blow up your business model simply by telling the truth, you need a new business model.
If we’ve learned anything in the past few years, it is that humans are the weak link in any campaign of secrecy.
We know that all of the big barrier-based publishers have these bundling deals with libraries, and that no-one on either side is allowed to say what the terms of those deals are. But there must be a lot of people with access to that information. And at least some of them must know how much libraries are getting screwed, precisely because they have access to that information. Seems unlikely that information will stay secret forever.
So, should we be expecting a Snowden-type leak from one or another barrier-based publisher? It doesn’t have to be Elsevier, but I think if it happens they’re the most likely target, because they are so single-minded about cultivating the ill-will of the people they allegedly serve (most recently with this and this). Sometimes I wonder if the other barrier-based publishers are getting too much of a free pass precisely because Elsevier is so good at tossing grenades and then jumping on them.
Corollary: barrier-based publishers, what are you doing to prepare for such a leak? “More secrecy” and “harsher penalties” will probably not work out well in the long run. But do feel free to keep scoring own goals if you must.