The best publishers aim to own the entire academic research publishing stack; Here’s how to prevent that from happening

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from protocols-not-platforms department

Techdirt’s coverage of open access – the idea that the fruits of publicly funded scholarship should be freely available to everyone – shows that results so far have been mixed. On the one hand, many journals have moved to an open access model. On the other hand, the overall subscription costs for academic institutions have not fallen, nor have the excessive profit margins for academic publishers. Despite this success in fending off this attempt to reinvent the way academic work is delivered, publishers want more. In particular, they want more money and more power. In a major new article, a group of researchers warn that companies are now aiming to own the entire academic publishing stack:

Over the past decade, the four major publishing houses have all acquired or developed a range of services aimed at developing vertical integration across the entire scientific process, from bibliographic research to data acquisition, l analysis, writing, editing and dissemination. User profiles inform companies in real time about who is currently working on what issues and where. This information enables them to offer tailor-made packaged workflow solutions to institutions. For any institution purchasing such a workflow package, the risk of vendor foreclosure is very real: without any standard, it becomes technically and financially almost impossible to substitute one chosen service provider for another. In the best case, this non-substitutability will lead to a practically irreversible fragmentation of research objects and processes as long as a plurality of providers is maintained. In the worst case, this will lead to complete dependence on a single dominant commercial supplier.

Commenting on this article, a post on the MeaseyLab blog calls this “academic capture”:

For those of us who lived through the capture of the state, we felt helpless and could not help but witness the plunder of institutions. At present, we are happy to participate in the conquest of our own academic freedom.

Academic capture: when the policies of the institutions are strongly influenced by the publishing houses for their benefit.

Fortunately, there is a way to counter this growing threat, as the authors of the article explain: adopt open standards.

To prevent commercial monopolization, to ensure cybersecurity, user / patient privacy and future development, these standards must be open, under the governance of the academic community. Open standards allow switching from one provider to another, which allows public institutions to develop tendering or tendering processes, in which service providers can compete with their services for scientific workflow.

Techdirt readers will recognize that this is exactly the idea that lies at the heart of Mike’s influential essay “Protocols, Not Platforms: A Technological Approach to Free Speech.” Activist and writer Cory Doctorow has also been pushing for the same thing – what he calls “adversarial interoperability.” It seems like an idea whose time has come, not just for college publishing, but for all aspects of today’s digital world.

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Filed Under: academic capture, copyright, open access, protocols, publication, research



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