➻ Peter Brantley had an interesting piece in Publishers Weekly on the Storm Clouds in Academic Publishing. After discussing the closing of the University of Missouri Press, he discusses the growing inevitability of smaller, largely open access libraries replacing the University Presses as distribution model for scholarly publications that have never made much money, and indeed, shouldn’t have to make any money to justify their existence. From the article:
[T]he other thunderbolt today was exceptional only because of its source, as such announcements are taking on an air of inevitability: UCSF [University of California, San Francisco], the largest public university recipient of NIH [National Institute of Health] funding in the country, has passed an open access policy for its faculty. UCSF faculty will be required to make each of their peer-reviewed articles freely available, immediately upon publication, through an open-access repository, thereby making them available to the entire world. A White House petition to require publicly funded research be made freely available is already well on its way to obtaining its signature goal; every supporter should add their own endorsement.
What’s remarkable is that new web-based software technology is enabling a revolutionary disruption in the costs of scholarly publishing. Easy to use authoring tools like WordPress have given rise to academically tailored products like Annotum, which in turn are being used to power next generation journals by the Public Library of Science, in PLoS Currents. And recently, the former editor of PLoS One, the “Gold” open access journal of PLoS, has left to help found a new publishing enterprise, PeerJ. PeerJ offers open access publishing in return for a $99 lifetime membership for contributors.
As web publishing becomes more mainstream, we will see newer open access models become increasingly distributed and localized. Universities could become their own publishing platforms; each academic department can mint its own journal, and every lab its own publication series, should it choose. Given commercial publishers’ barriers to discovery through high-cost portal products and abstract and indexing databases, the accessibility of these new general models, offering a “flat” discovery horizon, will be noticeably superior. Further, open web publishing systems are intrinsically capable of supporting a wide range of peer review options, from open to closed, and all the hybrid models in between.
Storm clouds are gathering; monsoon rains are coming. But the wild flowers will be amazing.
If the business schools of America end up moving in a similar direction, just imagine the wealth of information that would be available in the form of case studies, entrepreneurial ideas, and business model explorations.
➻ The former editor at the Los Angeles Times Book Review, Steve Wasserman wrote a very lengthy and great history of Amazon for The Nation, and an analysis of The Amazon Effect on the book world. Looking at the recent history of publishing and bookselling, he writes:
For many of us, the notion that bricks-and-mortar bookstores might one day disappear was unthinkable. Jason Epstein put it best in Book Business, his incisive 2001 book on publishing’s past, present and future, when he offered what now looks to be, given his characteristic unsentimental sobriety, an atypical dollop of unwarranted optimism: “A civilization without retail bookstores is unimaginable. Like shrines and other sacred meeting places, bookstores are essential artifacts of human nature. The feel of a book taken from the shelf and held in the hand is a magical experience, linking writer to reader.”
That sentiment is likely to strike today’s younger readers as nostalgia bordering on fetish. Reality is elsewhere. Consider the millions who are buying those modern Aladdin’s lamps called e-readers. These magical devices, ever more beautiful and nimble in design, have only to be lightly rubbed for the genie of literature to be summoned. Appetite for these idols, especially among the young, is insatiable. For these readers, what counts is whether and how books will be made available to the greatest number of people at the cheapest possible price. Whether readers find books in bookstores or a digital device matters not at all; what matters is cost and ease of access. Walk into any Apple store (temples of the latest fad) and you’ll be engulfed by the near frenzy of folks from all walks of life who seemingly can’t wait to surrender their hard-earned dollars for the latest iPad, Apple’s tablet reader, no matter the constraints of a faltering economy. Then try to find a bookstore. Good luck. If you do, you’ll notice that fewer books are on offer, the aisles wider, customers scarce. Bookstores have lost their mojo.
The bookstore wars are over. Independents are battered, Borders is dead, Barnes & Noble weakened but still standing and Amazon triumphant. Yet still there is no peace; a new war rages for the future of publishing. The recent Justice Department lawsuit accusing five of the country’s biggest publishers of illegally colluding with Apple to fix the price of e-books is, arguably, publishing’s Alamo.
His view of the coming war is nor all dystopic, as this passage suggests:
How the Digital Age might alter attention spans and perhaps even how we tell one another stories is a subject of considerable angst. The history of writing, however, gives us every reason to be confident that new forms of literary excellence will emerge, every bit as rigorous, pleasurable and enduring as the vaunted forms of yesteryear. Perhaps the discipline of tapping 140 characters on Twitter will one day give rise to a form as admirable and elegant as haiku was in its day. Perhaps the interactive features of graphic display and video interpolation, hyperlinks and the simultaneous display of multiple panels made possible by the World Wide Web will prompt new and compelling ways of telling one another the stories our species seems biologically programmed to tell. Perhaps all this will add to the rich storehouse of an evolving literature whose contours we have only begun to glimpse, much less to imagine.
But his worries are real. Quoting two bookselling veterans, he writes:
Another bookselling veteran made uneasy by Amazon’s colossal success is Andy Ross, who—having succeeded the venerable Fred Cody as the owner of Cody’s Books in Berkeley until online competition forced its flagship location to close in 2006, after fifty years in business—now works in Oakland as a literary agent. “Monopolies are always problematic in a free society, and they are more so when we are dealing with the dissemination of ideas, which is what book publishing is about,” he told me. “In the realm of electronic publishing, Amazon until recently controlled about 90 percent of the market, a monopoly by almost anyone’s definition. Most people bought their e-books in the proprietary Kindle file format that could only be purchased from Amazon and only read on the Kindle reader that was manufactured by Amazon. Other makers of e-book readers designed them to accept the open-source e-pub format that allowed customers to have a wider choice of retailers to supply them with e-books. Since then, Amazon’s market share has been declining, but 60 percent of all e-books in America continue to be sold by Amazon in the Kindle file format. Amazon simply has too much power in the marketplace. And when their business interest conflicts with the public interest, the public interest suffers.”
It’s a fair point—one that also plagues Peter Mayer of Overlook Press: “All sides of this argument need to think deeply—not just about their businesses, but also about their world. I grew up in a world in which many parts together formed a community adversarial in a microcosmic way but communal in a larger sense: authors, editors, agents, publishers, wholesalers, retailers and readers. I hope, worried as I am about the current trajectory [of publishing], that we do not look back one day, sitting on a stump as the boy does in Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree, and only see what has become a largely denuded wasteland.”
Wasserman’s full piece is simply colossal reading for the Internet, and very worth reading.
➻ Going back to PW, here’s Andrew Albanese’s report on how After a New Ruling, Google and the Authors Guild Appear Headed for Trial:
On May 31, Judge Denny Chin rejected Google’s motion to dismiss the Authors Guild as an associational Plaintiff, and granted the Authors Guild’s motion for class certification, meaning that Google’s library scanning program, barring another settlement, is headed to trial as a class action. On its face, the ruling is a setback for Google and a victory for the Authors Guild. But the highest hurdle—a ruling on the legality of Google’s program—is still to come.
“Point to the plaintiffs,” observed New York Law School’s James Grimmelmann, on his blog, the Laboratorium. “This doesn’t resolve the merits of the lawsuit itself, but it does doom Google’s hopes of keeping the lawsuit from ever getting to the merits.” After more than six years, and an ill-fated settlement proposal, the Authors Guild case against Google could now go to trial as early as September. And, things are set to heat up quickly. Motions for summary judgment are due to be filed by June 14, barring any unforeseen schedule changes.
Chin also granted standing to the American Society of Media Photographers in its parallel class action.
For more on the case, read Albenese’s full report.
➻ One of my very favorite articles in recent week was Nicholas Carr’s exploration of The Hierarchy of Innovation. He writes:
Justin Fox is the latest pundit to ring the “innovation ain’t what it used to be” bell. “Compared with the staggering changes in everyday life in the first half of the 20th century,” he writes, summing up the argument, “the digital age has brought relatively minor alterations to how we live.” Fox has a lot of company. He points to sci-fi author Neal Stephenson, who worries that the Internet, far from spurring a great burst of creativity, may have actually put innovation “on hold for a generation.” Fox also cites economist Tyler Cowen, who has argued that, recent techno-enthusiasm aside, we’re living in a time of innovation stagnation. He could also have mentioned tech powerbroker Peter Thiel, who believes that large-scale innovation has gone dormant and that we’ve entered a technological “desert.” Thiel blames the hippies:
Men reached the moon in July 1969, and Woodstock began three weeks later. With the benefit of hindsight, we can see that this was when the hippies took over the country, and when the true cultural war over Progress was lost.
[...] Let me float an alternative explanation: There has been no decline in innovation; there has just been a shift in its focus. We’re as creative as ever, but we’ve funneled our creativity into areas that produce smaller-scale, less far-reaching, less visible breakthroughs. And we’ve done that for entirely rational reasons. We’re getting precisely the kind of innovation that we desire—and that we deserve.
My idea—and it’s a rough one—is that there’s a hierarchy of innovation that runs in parallel with Abraham Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs. Maslow argued that human needs progress through five stages, with each new stage requiring the fulfillment of lower-level, or more basic, needs. So first we need to meet our most primitive Physiological needs, and that frees us to focus on our needs for Safety, and once our needs for Safety are met, we can attend to our needs for Belongingness, and then on to our needs for personal Esteem, and finally to our needs for Self-Actualization. If you look at Maslow’s hierarchy as an inflexible structure, with clear boundaries between its levels, it falls apart. Our needs are messy, and the boundaries between them are porous. A caveman probably pursued self-esteem and self-actualization, to some degree, just as we today spend effort seeking to fulfill our physical needs. But if you look at the hierarchy as a map of human focus, or of emphasis, then it makes sense—and indeed seems to be born out by history. In short: The more comfortable you are, the more time you spend thinking about yourself.
If progress is shaped by human needs, then general shifts in needs would also bring shifts in the nature of technological innovation. The tools we invent would move through the hierarchy of needs, from tools that help safeguard our bodies on up to tools that allow us to modify our internal states, from tools of survival to tools of the self.
Makes sense to me. Head over to Carr’s Rough Type to read the full argument.
➻ Sea Above, Sky Below.