Open Access

Most of Gary's work is freely available to read and download either here, in the OA archive CSeARCH or in Coventry University's online repository CURVE here 

performative project Janneke Adema has put together, based on our ‘The Political Nature of the Book: On Artists’ Books and Radical Open Access’ article for New Formations, Number 78, Summer, 2013. 

Radical Open Access network

Sunday
Oct182015

Does Academia.edu Mean Open Access Is Becoming Irrelevant?

(At the Radical Open Access conference at Coventry University in June, I spoke briefly about Academia.edu as part of a session with Stuart Lawson and David Harvie on Radical Accountability. A number of people asked afterwards if I would be publishing a written-up version of those comments.  Then, at The Sociality of Sharing event at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies, University of Warwick, in September, some of the participants found they had each been approached separately by Academia.edu to join their ‘Editor Program’ (i.e. act as an unpaid editor for Academia.edu, recommending publications appearing on the platform to others in their areas of research expertise), and were keen to know more about its philosophy and business model. So here are my brief thoughts on the subject. I will post them on Academia.edu using the title, 'Should This Be the Last Thing You Read on Academia.edu?' A version translated into French is also available here.)

 

A brief discussion took place this month on the Association of Internet Researchers air-l listserve concerning a new book from the publishers Edward Elgar: Handbook of Digital Politics. Edited by Stephen Coleman and Deen Freelon, this 512 page volume features contributions from Peter Dahlgren, Nick Couldry, Christian Fuchs, Fadi Hirzalla and Liesbet van Zoonen, among numerous others. The discussion was provoked, however, not by something one of its many contributors had written about digital politics, but by the book’s cost: $240 on Amazon in the US. (In the UK the hardback is £150.00 on Amazon. Handbook of Digital Politics is also available online direct from the publishers for £135.00, with the ebook available for £40.) As one of those on the list commented, ‘I’d love to buy it, but not at that price’ – to which another participant in the discussion responded: ‘I encourage everyone to use the preprint option to post their piece on ssrn.com and academia.edu, perhaps others have other open access suggestions (e.g. Institutional Repositories of individual universities)’. Now, to be fair, the idea that is implied by this suggestion that the Academia.edu platform for sharing research represents just another form of open access is a common one. Yet posting on Academia.edu is far from being ethically and politically equivalent to using an institutional open access repository.

Tomorrow is the start of International Open Access Week 2015, an annual event designed to promote the importance of making academic research available online to scholars and the general public free of charge. But when it comes achieving this goal, is the open access movement in danger of being somewhat outflanked by Academia.edu? Has the latter not better understood the importance of both scale and centralisation to a media environment that is rapidly changing from being content-driven to being more and more data-driven?

Launched in 2008, Academia.edu is a San Francisco-based technology company whose platform displays many of the same features as professional social networking sites such as LinkedIn. Users have an individual ‘real-name’ profile page, complete with their picture, CV, details of their professional affiliations, biography and employment history. The main difference in Academia.edu’s case is that these features are accompanied by the user’s academic research interests and a list of publications – generally the associated metadata but also quite regularly now the actual full texts themselves (often in the form of the author’s pre- or post-print manuscript, if not the final published pdf) – that others in the network can bookmark or download from the platform. Academia.edu also enables users to send messages to one another on the site, post drafts of papers they would like feedback on, and receive updates when new texts are uploaded – either by those on the platform they are following or in specific areas of research in which they have expressed an interest. In addition, a set of metrics is provided detailing the number of followers a user has, together with an Analytics Dashboard that allows academics to monitor the total number and profile of the views their work has received: page view counts, download counts, and so on. The platform even breaks these ‘deep-analytics’ down by country.

Yet for all Academia.edu describes itself as a ‘social networking service’ for academics that ‘enables its users, including graduate students … to connect with other users… around the world with the same research interests’, it operates increasingly as ‘a platform for academics to share research’. 26,281,552  academics have signed up to Academia.edu as of October 18, 2015, the site claims, having collectively added 6,972,536 papers and 1,730,462 research interests. In fact, academics are using it to share their research – both journal articles and books – to such an extent that shortly after it purchased the rival social network for researchers Mendeley in 2013, Elsevier sent 2,800 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notices to Academia.edu regarding papers published on the site that the academic publishing giant claimed infringed its copyright.

The popularity with academics of the Academia.edu social network – founder and CEO of Academia.edu Richard Price goes so far as to maintain it is the ‘largest social-publishing network for scientists’, and ‘larger than all its competitors put together’ – clearly raises a number of questions for the open access movement. After all, compared to the general sluggishness (and at times overt resistance) with which the call to make research available on an open access basis has been met, Academia.edu’s success in getting scholars to share suggests that, for many, the priority may not be so much making their work openly available free of charge so it can be disseminated as widely and as quickly as possible, as building their careers and reputations in an individualistic, self-promoting, self-quantifying, self-marketing fashion. Nor is this state of affairs particularly surprising, given the precarious situation in which much of the academic profession finds itself today. But does it mean that any open access venture hoping to meet with similar success would be well advised to adopt many of the same subjectivising features that are used by Academia.edu and other social networks to help users connect and develop their individual profiles as ‘personal brands’: real-name policies, personal pictures, CVs and biographies, ‘credibility metrics’, analytics dashboards, quantifying deep analytics and so on? (Some open access projects have already done so, of course, including PLoS, whose journals provide Article-Level Metrics, Rich Citations, and other indicators relating to usage data.) Perhaps even more dauntingly, would such an open access venture also need to be capable of spending a similar amount of money designing and maintaining an easy-to-use social networking interface as Academia.edu, the latter having raised $17.7 million dollars from investors at the time of this writing?

The key aspect of Academia.edu to be aware of in this respect is its business model. Unlike that of some for-profit publishers, this is not based on academic authors, their institutions, or their funders paying a fee for their research to be made available on a free and open basis:  what’s known as author-pays or an article processing charge (APC). Its financial rationale rests instead on the ability of the angel-investor and venture-capital-funded professional entrepreneurs who run Academia.edu to exploit the data flows generated by the academics who use the platform as an intermediary for sharing and discovering research. In the words of CEO Richard Price:

The goal is to provide trending research data to R&D institutions that can improve the quality of their decisions by 10-20%. The kind of algorithm that R&D companies are looking for is a ‘trending papers’ algorithm, analogous to Twitter’s trending topics algorithm. A trending papers algorithm would tell an R&D company which are the most impactful papers in a given research area in the last 24 hours, 7 days, 30 days, or any time period. Historically it’s been very difficult to get this kind of data. Scientists have printed papers out, and read them in their labs in un-trackable ways. As scientific activity is moving online, it’s becoming easier to track which papers are getting more attention from the top scientists.

There is also an opportunity to make a large economic impact. Around $1 trillion a year is spent on R&D globally: about $200 billion in the academic sector, and about $800 billion in the private sector (pharmaceutical companies, and other R&D companies).

Of course, the majority of academics who are part of Academia.edu’s social network are the product of the state-regulated, public higher education system, as is their research (a system, it should be emphasised, from which public funding is steadily being withdrawn). But just as Airbnb and Uber are parasitic on the public ‘infrastructure and the investment’ that was ‘made by cities a generation ago’ (roads, buildings, street lighting, etc.), so Academia.edu has a parasitical relationship to the public education system, in that these academics are labouring for it for free to help build its privately-owned for-profit platform by providing the aggregated input, data and attention value. We can thus see that posting on Academia.edu is not ethically and politically equivalent to making research available using an institutional open access repository at all.

Indeed, the reason it’s so crucial to understand Academia.edu’s business model is because it highlights just how much the situation regarding the publication and dissemination of academic research has changed since the open access movement first began to take shape in the 1990s and early 2000s. Without doubt the argument of this movement, that publicly-funded research should be made openly available online free of charge, is extremely pertinent to the content-driven world of profit-maximising academic publishers such as Reed Elsevier, Springer, Wiley-Blackwell, and Taylor & Francis/Informa, with their high journal subscription charges and book cover prices, ‘Big Deal’ library contract bundling strategies, and protection of copyright and licensing restrictions. But this argument isn’t anywhere near as relevant to the data-driven world of search engines, social media and social networking. That's because for the likes of Google, Twitter and Academia.edu free content is what for-profit technology empires are built on. In this world who gate-keeps access to (and so can extract maximum value from) content is less important, because that access is already free, than who gate-keeps (and so can extract maximum value from) the data generated around the use of that content, which is used more because access to it is free. Accordingly, the relevant arguments here are more those over the ownership and control of the platforms, together with the ‘black-boxed’ computer programmes, software, algorithms and the associated IP that are making access to the free content possible. How are these data and information management intermediaries structured? What data do they capture? How are they able to manipulate it? Who does what with this data and the resulting metrics and analytics? (Is it sold it to advertisers and other commercial companies? Shared with the NSA and GCHQ for surveillance purposes?) And as environments that encourage users to be self-disciplining, self-managing and self-monitoring, what forms of subjectivisation and subjectivity do they produce?

This is why I raised the question of whether the open access movement is in danger of being outflanked, if not rendered irrelevant, as a result of our media environment changing from being content-driven to being increasingly data-driven. For the data-driven world is one in which the data centre dominates. This in turn brings us to the issue of scale, as there is an obvious reason for this domination of the data centre. Quite simply, the larger your data sample, the more relevant data you can capture, store, process, mine and manipulate, the more accurate your data analytics. (It’s not because Google has better algorithms that it has a 90-95% share of the European market for search, according to Peter Norvig, its Director of Research: it’s because it has more data. This is also why such companies strive to become monopolies: because it’s harder for them to scale to the massive extent that’s needed to produce the best data analyses if they have rivals who are capturing a significant portion of the relevant data.)

Now the kind of decentralised infrastructure that is represented by the open access movement’s wide variety of different journals, megajournals, repositories, book publishers, open source software tools, websites, portals and directories may be entirely appropriate to achieving its goal of making large amounts of different kinds of research content available for free, online, by providing green, gold and even platinum open access alternatives to a closed access publishing industry that is itself relatively decentered. The increasing importance of being able to create massive data sets, however, means that such decentralised infrastructure is in the process of gradually being replaced by what Rachel O'Dwyer, in a recent article on blockchains, describes as a ‘recentralisation of infrastructure’. Lots of content may be freely accessible, but this access is now being mediated by centralised entities. The result is that those rich and powerful international companies who are able to capture, analyse and exploit extremely large amounts of data are coming to act as the gatekeepers of our media and communications networks; and this includes our scholarly communications networks, as the 36 million visitors who are apparently attracted to the Academia.edu research sharing platform each month bear witness.

 

Tuesday
Sep222015

Occupy: A People Yet To Come, and The First Sail: J. Hillis Miller - two new books from OHP

Open Humanities Press is happy to announce two new books:

 Occupy: A People Yet to Come, edited by Andrew Conio, with essays by Claire Colebrook, Giuseppina Mecchia, John Protevi, Rodrigo Nunes, Verena Andermatt Conley, Nicholas Thoburn, Ian Buchanan, David Burrows, Eugene Holland and Andrew Conio.
http://openhumanitiespress.org/occupy-a-people-yet-to-come.html

The First Sail: J. Hillis Miller, A Film-Book, with essays by Henry Sussman, Sarah Dillon, Charlie Gere, Nicholas Royle, Éamonn Dunne and Michael O’Rourke, Dragan Kujundžić, Julian Wolfreys and J. Hillis Miller.
http://openhumanitiespress.org/the-first-sail.html

 View the film below, and at the Internet Archive here:
https://archive.org/details/TheFirstSail

Saturday
Jun132015

Open Humanities Press: Funding and Organisation

At OHP we are often asked about our funding model, how we are staffed, what organizational support we have, and the traditional publishing services we provide to book authors (such as copyediting, layout, indexing). What follows is a version of a reply to one such request for further information.

 Open Humanities Press (OHP) is an international, non-profit, open access (OA) publishing collective specializing in critical theory. It was established in 2006 by Gary Hall, Sigi Jöttkandt, and David Ottina, in collaboration with a wider network of scholars, librarians, technology specialists and publishers. 

Taking the academic ‘gift economy’ as its model, OHP experiments with different, more resilient (we prefer that term to sustainable) ways of working. Most of OHP’s funding comes indirectly: via publicly funded institutions paying our salaries as academics, librarians, technologists and so forth (although not everyone who is part of OHP works for a university – or even a publicly funded institution, for that matter). We are thus simply ‘gifting’ some of the time we are given to conduct research and provide academic services for the profession (peer-reviewing, journal editing etc.) to create open access publishing opportunities for others.  It is worth noting that, as Sigi Jöttkandt points out, ‘this largely volunteer effort is the norm rather than the exception’ when it comes to no-fee journal publishing in many humanities fields, ‘in both OA and non-OA sectors’. Some scholars may be fortunate enough to be offered reduced teaching or administrative loads by their institutions for establishing and running publishing projects such as this one. Others may have PhD students or graduate assistants they can ask to help with some of the work. Still others may even be given an assistant, funded by the academic institution, to help with the editorial labour. Another indirect source of funding occurs via institutions on occasion paying for the hosting of content. (Thanks are due to our OHP colleague Marta Brunner for this last point.)

 Operating on an ‘academic gift economy’ basis can actually be a significant source of strength to many independent humanities publishers. For one thing, it makes it easier to publish highly specialised, experimental, inter- or trans-disciplinary research. In other words, it supports research that, in challenging established disciplines, styles and frameworks, often falls between the different stools represented by the various academic departments, learned societies, scholarly associations, and research councils, and that does not always fit into the neat disciplinary categories and divisions with which traditional and for-profit publishers tend to order their lists – but which may nevertheless help to push a field in exciting new directions and generate important new areas of inquiry.

Yet we are aware the ‘gift economy’ can also be a potential source of weakness. It opens up many such initiatives to being positioned as functioning on an amateur, shoe-string basis.  Compared to a series or list produced by a large, for-profit, corporately owned legacy press, open access presses that use gift economy as their model are far more vulnerable to the accusation that they are unable to sustain high academic standards in terms of their production, editing, copy-editing, proofing and peer reviewing processes. They are also more vulnerable to the suspicion that they are incapable of maintaining consistently high academic standards in terms of the quality of their long term sustainability, the marketing and distribution services they can offer, their ability to be picked up by prestige-endowing indexes, and all the other add-on features a legacy press can often provide, such as journal archiving, contents alerts, discussion forums, etc. As Gary Hall observes, while this also applies to ‘independent’ print journals, it is especially the case with regard to online-only journals, the majority of which are ‘still considered too new and unfamiliar to have gained the level of institutional recognition required for them to be thought of as being "established" and "of known" quality’.

It is precisely this perception of open access in the humanities that OHP is endeavouring to counter by directly addressing these issues. Its explicit aim is to ensure open access publishing, in certain areas of the humanities at least, meets ‘the levels of professionalism our peers expect from publications they associate with academic "quality"'. 

With regard to the ‘traditional’ publishing services we offer to authors (such as copy-editing): in the ‘start-up’ period of the book publishing aspect of our project (which ran from 2009-2014), some of these services were provided by our then collaborator, University of Michigan Library’s Scholarly Publishing Office - which later became MPublishing, and is now known as Michigan Publishing. It is this partnership with MPublishing that, to a certain extent, has enabled OHP to publish open access books without ‘author-pays’ publishing fees or external funding, and to maintain high production standards and achieve a certain level of prestige of the kind one gets from being associated with a legacy print press in the process. We say ‘to a certain extent’, however, because OHP has never been totally reliant on Michigan for these services – and is thus still able to offer them to authors now that we have brought our partnership with MPublishing to a close by mutual agreement.

 Not relying on author- or funder-pays models of publishing is important to us. Indeed, we are keen to explore publishing models that do not risk disenfranchising independent scholars, those in less wealthy institutions, or those with alternative viewpoints which do not necessarily meet institutional approval, be it at funding agency, university vice-chancellor or provost, research head or author processing charge (APC) committee level.  For this reason, we do not normally speak in terms of a funding model for OHP per se. Eileen Joy, who runs an independent open access publisher called Punctum Books, captures the spirit of this approach in the following terms:

 
rather than building one particular type of digital platform and asking authors to shape their work within that platform – whatever it might be – [OHP, but she is also referring to Anvil Academic here] have taken the riskier move of offering infrastructure and other types of support services that would be uniquely designed to meet the desires and needs of whatever creative and complex types of born-digital scholarship might be conceptualized by individual scholars, and I consider that incredibly progressive and exciting. (Eileen Joy, 'A Time for Radical Hope: Freedom, Responsibility, Publishing, and Building New Publics’, In The Middle, November, 2013)

 In sum, we are not in search of a one-size-fits-all solution to open access. Rather, each project that is ‘part of OHP’ – be it a journal, a book series, a blog or one of our Labs projects – is unique, inventing its own singular way of responding to its community’s needs. 

 

Tuesday
Jun022015

Videos from Radical Methodologies for the Humanities: Third Disrupting the Humanities seminar

On March 9th, 2015, the Centre for Disruptive Media hosted the third and final seminar in the Disrupting the Humanities seminar series. This seminar was titled ‘Radical Methodologies for the Posthumanities‘, and featured papers by Monika Bakke, Lesley Gourlay, Niamh Moore and Iris van der Tuin.

 The videos of the presentations and the discussions afterwards are now available. You can find them underneath or on the wiki here, as well as on a separate YouTube channel here. This isn’t a ‘normal’ edit, though: as with the videos of the first and second seminars in the series, we have tried to make the them more ‘interactive’ by annotating them in an extensive way: e.g. by adding references to some of the websites, projects, persons and concepts that were mentioned in the papers, as well as by directly inserting tweets from the seminar’s participants. You can find more information about this editing process here: http://openreflections.wordpress.com/2014/06/20/experiments-in-editing/

Most of the credit for this goes to our Media Production students at Coventry University, in particular Sharifah Mian, who has been heavily involved in conceptualising, planning, recording, and editing the videos. Some of the new elements we have introduced in the videos for the third seminar include working with transparent layers and in a sense ‘overlaying’ the presentations in an attempt to be less intrusive. We have also experimented with incorporating short videos of the annotations instead of screenshots. Although this may mean these inserts are harder to read in real time, the thinking behind this is that we are able to insert more material in a short-time span, where viewers/readers have the opportunity to pause the recording to read the additional material should they wish to do so.

Monday
May112015

Radical Open Access conference

Radical Open Access

15th - 16th of June 2015

Two days of critical discussion and debate in support of an ‘alternative’ vision for open access and scholarly communication. The aim of the conference is to explore some of the intellectually and politically exciting ways of understanding open access that are currently available internationally. A particular emphasis is placed on those that have emerged in recent years in the arts, humanities and social sciences.

This conference is organized by The Centre for Disruptive Media at The School of Art and Design at Coventry University. 

Attendance and participation is free of charge. 

Register and find out more at: http://radicalopenaccess.disruptivemedia.org.uk/

Confirmed Speakers: An Uncertain Commons, Janneke Adema, Dominique Babini, Armin Beverungen, Mercedes Bunz, Marcus Burkhardt, Joe Deville, Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Christian Fuchs, Rupert Gatti, Gary Hall, David Harvie, John Holmwood, Sigi Jöttkandt, Eileen Joy, Chris Kelty, Sarah Kember, Andreas Kirchner, Christopher Land, Stuart Lawson, Tara McPherson, David Ottina, Nate Tkacz, Marisol Sandoval, Joanna Zylinska

Projects and Presses: Culture Machine, CLACSO, Discover Society, Ephemera, Goldsmiths Press, Journal of Peer Production, Journal of Radical Librarianship, Limn, Mattering Press, MayFly Books, MediaCommons Press, MLA Commons, Meson Press, Open Humanities Press, Photomediations Machine, Punctum Books, Scalar, Spheres, tripleC, Vectors

 

Concept

 

'There is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism. And just as such a document is not free of barbarism, barbarism taints also the manner in which it was transmitted from one owner to another. A historical materialist therefore dissociates himself from it as far as possible. He regards it as his task to brush history against the grain.'    

                   (Walter Benjamin, Theses on the Philosophy of History)

While open access has at long last entered the mainstream in the global West and North, it is a particular version of it that is being taken up so widely. Open access is currently being positioned and promoted by policy makers, funders and commercial publishers alike primarily as a means of serving the knowledge economy and helping to stimulate market competition. This version has become so dominant that even those on the left of the political spectrum who are critical of open access are presenting it in much the same terms: as merely assisting with the ongoing process of privatising knowledge, research and the university. 

Rather than ‘working with the grain’ of neoliberalism’s co-option of open access, the Radical Open Access conference will reclaim it by asking: what is the potential for supporting and taking further some of the different, more intellectually and politically exciting, ways of understanding open access that are currently available internationally? A particular emphasis will be placed on those that have emerged in recent years, in the arts, humanities and social sciences especially. Radical Open Access will thus provide the impetus for bringing together many of those currently involved in experimenting with ‘alternative’ forms of open access: both to discuss the long, multifaceted critical tradition of open access, its history and genealogies; and to examine a broad range of radical open access models. 

As part of its refusal to concede open access, the conference will endeavour to strengthen alliances between the open access movement and other struggles concerned with the right to access, copy, distribute, sell and (re)use artistic, literary, cultural and academic research works and other materials (FLOSS, p2p, internet piracy etc.); and to stimulate the creation of a network of publishers, theorists, scholars, librarians, technology specialists, activists and others, from different fields and backgrounds, both inside and outside of the university. In particular, the conference will explore a vision of open access that is characterised by a spirit of on-going creative experimentation, and a willingness to subject some of our most established scholarly communication and publishing practices, together with the institutions that sustain them (the library, publishing house etc.), to rigorous critique. Included in the latter will be the asking of important questions about our notions of authorship, authority, originality, quality, credibility, sustainability, intellectual property, fixity and the book - questions that lie at the heart of what scholarship is and what the university can be in the 21st century. 

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