Serendipity brought about three discussions this week that showed me just how tricky it will be to pull off building high-quality open-access outlets for the humanities and social sciences. Interestingly enough, these were not arguments with OA-opponents about fundamental pros and cons but discussions with supporters of the cause.
The first conversation was with an editorial board member for a new OA-gold book series which we are building for junior researchers here at the University of Heidelberg. We have a potential submission of a very fine dissertation as an opening volume. The EdBoard member raised an issue that to him was vital in deciding whether to accept this manuscript: a guarantee that open access books get reviewed in the central journals of the discipline. “It is of paramount importance for young academics that their works are reviewed. Do we have any empirical values that show that this happens for open access books,” he asked.
So I started firing off e-mails to colleagues who are further into this adventure than I am. A most useful reply came from Rupert Gatti (@rupertgatti) who pointed to the separate tab on Open Book Publishers’ online book pages. Both conversations showed me how important it will be to have exact numbers of and access to reviews of the books we produce. Knowing how strangely uncooperative authors can be when it comes to relaying information like this, I also realized that if we want this information, we will probably have to hunt for it ourselves. This means investing time and thus will cost money.
The second conversation was with a young and successful academic in archaeology, who has been a supporter of open access for years. He chose to publish his dissertation in green and substantial articles in gold rather than with trade-publishers and when I approached him with the offer to publish his next edited volume with our new book series, he was immediately enthused. However, he insisted on the clarification of two issues. The first concerned the availability of hard-copies for the contributors. He said – and I know all too well that he is right – that most authors really expect to receive a copy of the book that they submit their essay to. Not to supply them with that is considered bad form on part of the book-editor. And fair enough – if we recall that authors do not get any money for the contents they deliver, then one copy for their shelves is not much to ask. For our production line, however, this means one thing: it will cost more money.
The second issue my potential book-editor wanted clarified is copyright clearance for images. He told me that this is becoming increasingly difficult (not to say absurd) in his field because certain important museums and archives now charge more money for copyright clearance if an image goes into an open access venue than they ask for the same image if it goes into a pay-wall outlet. In the humanities and social sciences that adds up! Archaeologists, media-antrhopologists, or art-historians will quickly look at four-figure numbers in clearance costs, if they want to show the images and media- sources that they analyze and work with. So my enthusiastic book-editor told me point-blank that these costs cannot be shouldered by the authors or indeed by him. Would the book-series pick up the tab. I said I would look into it while a frantic voice shouted in my head: now we are starting to talk serious money!
The third discussion was with Peter Murray-Rust (@petermurrayrust). Since it happened on Twitter, it was brief but nonetheless perhaps the most significant and it went like this:
In 1 week: new issue of our
#openaccess e-journal http://www.transculturalstudies.org with contributions by O. Sela, Y. Zhuang, M. Wakita and A: Dagnino!
@ahacker: In 1 week: new issue of our #openaccess e-journal http://www.transculturalstudies.org PMR does it have an Open licence?
tricky issue. Loads of copyrighted images and media. Cc by nc.
thanks, identify 3rd party inclusions and make the rest cc-by
Now this goes right to the heart of the open access debate in the humanities and social sciences. It also highlights the fundamental differences that have developed – for better or for worse – between the publishing conventions in the STEM fields and those in the HSS.
I want to point to three immediate concerns, some of which (and more) are well documented elsewhere:
1. Third party exclusions are not going to cut it. Not only are the museums and archives petrified of losing control over their materials (see the mad pricing example above), they also doubt that any CC-license is strong enough to protect their interests.We know of instances where images are not displayed because the institution holding copyright will not grant it for open access publication. Now that is like publishing a paper in chemistry and having to withhold the formulas!
2. What about the original media that the researcher themselves put in? An archaeologist, for example, may carefully photograph ancient pottery or with painstaking accuracy draw the scenes of a frieze. For weeks. She may not want that image to be re-mashed, re-mixed, altered, or commercially used with a cc-by attribution. That would translate into losing control over what gets changed. Also, will an unsuccessful change reflect on the quality of their original work? Not to forget: revenue will play a part here too: an image is quickly taken, as is music, or 3-D information (why not print out that reconstructed vase?) and since applications of IP in the HSS is far more limited than in STEM, this is not a concession that authors make lightly.
3. Quoting and paraphrasing are part and parcel of academic writing. The rules for indicating either are relatively strict: you quote the original source or you are a plagiariser. But if we open HSS texts up to commercial use, these rules no longer apply and, unfortunately, indicating the degree of modification that a mashed-up text (in the widest semantic sense) may have undergone is not unequivocally covered by CC-BY.
After these three conversations I am left with this: An amazing network has grown over the last couple of years including authors, libraries, colleagues, funding agencies, and developers of infrastructure. And as we are getting ready to produce our first open access book-series here in Heidelberg, propelled by all this good will and spirit of adventure, I am realizing that the clincher in the whole endeavor may very well be the issue of licenses. Hunting for reviews and offering author-copies costs money, but may be doable. Financing copyright clearance and running CC-BY, however, may be well beyond our means.
I don’t know what to do about the copyright clearance yet, other than support efforts such as AHRC/RCUK as they are trying to engage with image libraries and negotiate a workable deal. As far as CC-BY is concerned: A history or political science book that will not include all possible narratives for fear of being ripped off is no use to me. And an art-history book without images is a toothless lion.
But I want to produce killer-books that show the world that we can do this and do it well! So CC-BY-NC is the best I can do at the moment.