Even if you are on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there.
-- Will Rogers

Kathleen Wallace

Digital Publishing and The Long Tail

Digital Publishing & Scholarly Authors

I discuss some of these issues in greater detail in my articles (see below), although see "Resources on Digital Publishing" below for more current discussions and analyses.

Many academic writers routinely sign away copyright and licensing rights for their publications without realizing the full implications of that. Many are then shocked by various restrictions there may be on the distribution of and their ability to use their own work, and on the ability of others to access their work. The ongoing legal battle between Georgia State University and three publishers (Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press and Sage Publishing) over providing electronic access to book excerpts through electronic reserves is one example of how electronic publishing has affected dissemination, in this case through interpretations of copyright law and fair use. For one analysis of this case, see Kevin Smith.

Some publishers allow open access for a fee (or "article processing charge," APC). For example, Springer's fee is currently $3000 (USD). Similar fees at de Gruyter are 1,000-1500 Euro. De Gruyter's stated purpose is to "allow for research funding agencies to shift budgets from supporting subscription and book acquisitions to funding the publication of articles at the author's choice." At BioMed Central, where all articles are open access, article processing charges cover a wide range depending on the journal. Programs such as these couple the cost of publication with research budgets. Even if this might work for grant supported science researchers, non-grant supported authors (most humanities and social science scholars) can't afford most such fees. Some universities, institutions and scholarly societies have set up funds to subsidize these costs. However, this fee structure raises some interesting questions. If research is conducted through government financed funding, is this the best use of taxpayers' money for advancing the public's interest in the dissemination of knowledge? There are publication (including indexing and access) costs involved, but the question is rather whether authors' interests and the public interest in the dissemination of knowledge are best served by such a system. Similar questions should be raised about the use of university and other institutional resources to subsidize for profit publication of research.

The Long Tail Economics of Publishing

Digital, electronic publishing has changed the process and economics of publishing. Digital media dramatically changes the scope of control that publishers can exercise and changes the potential stream of revenue from subsidiary fees and sales. (For example, publishers now have the capability of selling individual book chapters and journal articles on-line.) This is the "Long Tail" (and see links below).

But are authors' interests and the public interest in the dissemination of knowledge best served by the current system? Publishers act as the "middlemen" between producers (authors) and end users (libraries, universities, other scholars, students, the public at large), and have controlled distribution of and access to information, as well as monopolized the revenue stream, in ways that may not be in the interests of all the other parties. If publishers transfer the costs of publishing to those doing research, then will only funded research -- whether by the government or by corporations -- get published? What about non-funded research and scholarly activity; what will support it? If research remains behind paywalls, access to potential users and researchers unable to pay the fees is restricted -- think educational insitutions without hefty endowments or research budgets, or researchers in developing countries, or researchers trying to move quickly in response to a developing crisis, for example, the 2014 Ebola crisis.

In a move to more open access, the journal Nature has announced some loosening of the restrictions on articles to allow subscribers and news outlets the ability to give open access to articles. Universities, if they acted collectively, and in concert with scholars and researchers, could have tremendous leverage in restructuring how information is produced and disseminated. Academic writers need to play leading roles in restructuring academic publishing. Some researchers are exercising coordinated effort in this regard. For instance, SCOAP (Sponsoring Consortium for Open Access Publishing in Particle Physics) has been experimenting with a system of publishing in high-energy-physics that would replace expensive subscriptions to journals with participation in a nonprofit organization that would subsidize publication costs. Even if the SCOAP model is not exactly what would work in every area, in other disciplines and areas of research, researchers, authors and universities alike, all need to start engaging in such coordinated efforts. A recent book Open Access and the Humanities discusses many of the issues (economic, political and more) for non-science research and scholarship.

My Articles on Digital Publishing

The Long Tail and Digital Publishing

  • "The Long Tail," by Chris Anderson
    • The original article, published in Wired (2004).
    • The book: The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More (Hyperion Books, 2006; ISBN-10: 1401302378 and ISBN-13: 978-1401302375) -- available at your local library, as well as at Amazon.com and other booksellers.
  • The Deep Niche, by Michael Jensen (2007) -- about the long tail and publishers' potential profits.
  • The New Metrics of Scholarly Authority, by Michael Jensen, The Chronicle Review of The Chronicle of Higher Education, June 15, 2007, pp. B6-B8 -- how digital academic publishing might affect faculty evaluations. (Requires subscription.)
  • University Publishing in a Digital Age

Resources on Digital Publishing and Authors' Rights

The Long Tail and Free Lance Writers

The Long Tail and TV and Film Writers

Writers for television and film may be paid for scripts, as well as collect what are known as "residuals" (rebroadcast, reproduction, or collectively, "reuse" fees). With the development of digital media, the long tail for residuals and other revenue collected through marketing of DVDs, cable and internet streaming had not been addressed in previous WGA author payment structures. This was the major issue in the Winter 2007-08 Writer's Guild of America (WGA) strike. Up until this strike, the writers, for the most part, made nothing on the digital use of their work.

Some Philosophy On-line & Open Access