And, my friends, in this story you have a history of this entire movement. First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you.
Although the substance of the above quote is usually attributed to Gandhi, there’s no record that he actually said it. The quote above is by Nicholas Klein, a labor activist, from 1918.
I don’t include it as an example of attribution decay. I use it as a frame for where we are in the open access world right now.
We’ve had a good run. We got the NIH public access mandate. We got the petition to 25,000 signatures. We got the presidential directive extending the NIH policy across the entire federal government. We got multiple examples of open access publishers into sustainable revenue models.
But changing the default from closed to open was always going to involve a phase where those whose revenue models depend on closed really brought the guns out against us. And we’re there now.
There’s Wiley, wallowing in the mud and smearing Public Library of Science’s peer review credentials under the charade of a survey of authors.
There’s Elsevier, proposing a novel license for STM publishers and somehow magically being part of a Netaction “bad legislation” coalition that attacks all open access bills, while denying any knowledge of it (no story coverage, but some conversations on Alicia Wise’s twitter feed). (UPDATE May 24 2013: Times Higher Education UK has a story in which Elsevier sort of distances themselves from Netaction)
There’s crocodile tears covering the emergence of scammy open access journals, none of which mentions the long-time existence of scammy closed access journals. This is not surprising, as so many of the large, “authoritative and important” publishers make money by publishing scammy journals - anyone remember the Merck-Elsevier scammy bone journal? Still waiting to see someone mention that in the same breath.
Then there’s the systemic disadvantage we have as advocates once policies move into implementation phase. The meetings last week at the National Academies are a great example of why it’s so hard to change the system. I had to travel 3 of the 4 days for work, and the fourth day I was in meetings all day that made it impossible for me to attend, or to speak.
We have day jobs, us advocates. But the publishing industry we’re fighting against has no other job. They can hire people who have only the responsibility of making sure the open policies are implemented in the least open way. They can saturate every meeting in DC with hired guns, and claim it as evidence that the public supports them.
But it’s not about being depressed, or complaining. It’s a sign that we’re finally getting close to the bone. We’re enough of a threat not to be ignored, or ridiculed. We’re gonna get hit, and we’re gonna get hit hard.
We have to keep reminding the world that this isn’t about protecting a dinosaur business model, this fight. It’s not about scammy journals, which exist no matter how they get paid for. It’s not about who has the most lobbying money in DC. It’s not about new licenses, or sleazy survey language.
It’s about letting entrepreneurs build businesses on top of open content. It’s about kids building cancer tests on open content. It’s about you and me being able to read what our tax dollars paid for. Don’t let the FUD and mudslinging get in the way of that message, ever.
We have to keep getting up. We have to keep fighting back. Because in the end, we’re on the right side of history. And once we get through this phase we get to the good part, where they build a monument to Heather Joseph and Peter Suber and Mike Eisen and all the heroes of open access.
I got a lot of good responses to my post yesterday about Mendeley’s acquisition by Elsevier.
But a theme emerged that I didn’t intend to emerge, which was the idea that because I pegged Mendeley’s investment in open access as a customer acquisition strategy that it made it insincere.
That was most definitely not the point.
Remember that half the time I’m a senior fellow in entrepreneurship at the Kauffman Foundation. We study startups and support entrepreneurs. I can tell you that using openness as a customer acquisition strategy is something I think is a smart move, especially the way that Mendeley did it.
As a quick reminder for those who’ve never started a company, they need to acquire customers or they go out of business (as mine did, because mine didn’t). If you don’t have a strategy to do that, you’ll fail.
By selecting open, and fully committing to it, as a strategy, Mendeley helped the Open Access world enormously over the past four years. What they’ve done creates a solid track record in OA, a serious and provable one. They didn’t do this for evil reasons, or in anything close to an insincere way. And by doing it they advanced the movement. We can, and should, thank them. That’s why the anger stunned me, as I mentioned yesterday.
They hired a community manager (William Gunn) personally and professionally dedicated to OA, and let him run. I know, respect, and believe deeply in William and his commitment. That’s not an insincere company move.
Their data’s under CC-BY. That’s not insincere. I made a crack about allowing the database to be downloaded and reposted, and immediately heard back from William that I could go for it. That’s not insincere.
They ran the binary battle with PLoS (I was a judge!). That’s not insincere.
They backed the Access2Research petition, immediately. That’s not insincere.
My point wasn’t to gleefully give Mendeley the finger and say, you were closed all along, or to say, you were just using us to get customers. Every startup needs customers, and if you don’t realize that you’re kind of being a dick to the people in the startup. Mendeley’s making a meaningful commitment to open as a customer acquisition strategy was innovative, and important, and advanced the cause of open access to the scholarly literature.
My point was deeper. It was that because the openness was not tied to revenue, it could be removed now that the product didn’t need an innovative customer acquisition strategy. It’s tied to a massive customer base now. Open can be discarded. When it’s part of the revenue model, it can’t be discarded nearly as easily.
And in my experience, if open *can* be discarded, it usually *is* discarded when monetization becomes the priority. I hope that I’m wrong.
I have a Mendeley account, but never used it other than to test the system against Zotero, which is what I use to track my own work. So I am not affected by this but I’ve been a bit stunned by the depth of the anger against Mendeley. I’ve waited to write this to try and understand it.
Part of it, I assume, is just Elsevier rage. Danah Boyd has summarized why Elsevier is rage-worthy nicely in her post on the acquisition.
But the greater part feels like the anger over what many seem to think is a broken promise made by Mendeley to be an “open” company.
I don’t feel that way. I never thought Mendeley was an open company. I thought they were deploying a strategic approach to openness by exposing their data under CC-BY, but I always thought that openness wasn’t the point of the company. It’s why I didn’t use the product and why I wasn’t surprised, shocked, or saddened by the acquisition.
It’s got me thinking though about companies and “open” - and what matters in deciding whether or not to use a product from a company claiming that mantle. For me it boils down to where the openness lives in a company.
There’s a lot of ways to slice this, but a simple one would be: is the “open” part of the revenue model or is it part of the market acquisition strategy? If the former, like BioMed Central, I have a lot more faith that an acquisition will not destroy the openness, because “open” is part of the way that the company makes money.
But the open access part of Mendeley to me always appeared to be a customer acquisition strategy. It appealed to the OA folks, it appealed to developers, and it never affected any monetization or revenues. There were always visible choices by management to hedge their open bets, as Jason Hoyt has laid out. And that makes it a risky bet to think they’ll stick with it now that they have access to a massively larger customer base while inside a company with traditional antipathy towards openness.
Again, I’m not mad. I either avoid, from a professional basis, companies built on closure, or I mitigate my expectations of them and do a lot of backing up. Because at some point unless the revenues come from open, the customer acquisition strategy of openness will be deprecated. If it isn’t, then the management of the company will be replaced with managers who are willing to shut things down to make money.
Always, always, always examine claims made by companies about openness. I’m not the world’s biggest Evgeny Morozov supporter, but he’s right to examine the way that the words “open” and “sharing” and “free” get co-opted. Facebook lets you share! It’s free, and always will be!
Look the gift horse in the mouth. And if the revenue model of a startup isn’t built on open, then feel free to use the tool. But don’t get emotionally invested, or dependent, no matter how seductive the rhetoric may be. Because at some point your use and attention and content will be monetized, probably in a way that bothers you.
So, I have a commentary published in Nature this month about the importance of using a CC-BY license to achieve full open access. I requested the article be made freely available as part of my agreement with Nature, but they paywalled it anyway. It’s freely available now but not until after some embarrassing email and twitter hassling.
I am not particularly mad at any of the parties involved. It just points out the power of the default switch being closed, and how hard it is, even when you’ve negotiated an agreement, to flip it to open. It points out the weakness of the author in negotiation with the journal. Maybe I’m the fool in the fool’s errand.
Also, in the search for brevity that print journals enforce, I didn’t get to be as granular as I wanted. My quarrel is with the publishing industry’s attempt to write a new license and I have no wish to lump those with whom I have a philosophical disagreement with those OA advocates who sincerely dislike CC BY, like Heather Morrison or many in humanities, into the same pool.
Anyway. Below are references for key points I make in the commentary.
1. Re: definitions of OA, see “Budapest Open Access Initiative” at http://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/openaccess, accessed 03/13/13
2. Re: restrictions in licensing, see Elsevier’s published contract with California Digital Libraries: ““Schedule 1.2(a) General Terms and Conditions “RESTRICTIONS ON USAGE OF THE LICENSED PRODUCTS/ INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY RIGHTS” GTC1] “Subscriber shall not use spider or web-crawling or other software programs, routines, robots or other mechanized devices to continuously and automatically search and index any content accessed online under this Agreement. “” online at http://www.google.com/url?q=http://orpheus-1.ucsd.edu/acq/license/cdlelsevier2004.pdf&usd=2&usg=ALhdy2_FmzOtI3JkKs-fJwirgig4WLA5fA, accessed 03/13/13
3. Re: “CC Plus,” see various comments in lectures at “FACT Seminar No. 1: Licensing in an Open Access Environment: legal niceties, funder mandates and publishing challenges“ at http://www.stm-assoc.org/events/fact-seminar-no-1/?presentations, accessed 3/13/13
4. Re: CC BY, See “Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported” (the “commons deed” with links to complete underlying license) at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/, accessed 3/13/13
5. Re: 70+ requirements, see “Public Policy Requirements, Objectives and Appropriation Mandates” at http://grants.nih.gov/grants/policy/nihgps_2010/nihgps_ch4.htm, accessed 3/13/13
6. Re: community defintions of open things, see “Open Knowledge Definition” at http://opendefinition.org, accessed 03/13/13, and “Open Source Definition (Annotated) at http://opensource.org/osd-annotated, accessed 3/13/13
7. Re: license incompatibility, see “GPL-Incompatible Free Software Licenses” at http://www.gnu.org/licenses/license-list.html#GPLIncompatibleLicenses
8. Re: decomposition of licensed elements and the CC licenseed Time Photo of the Year, see “Trapped Underground,” a CC-BY photograph of the London Bombing aftermath, available at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Trapped_underground.jpg accessed 3/13/13
9. Re: technical solutions to provenance, see “Source Attribution in RDF,” http://www.w3.org/2001/12/attributions/ accessed 3/13/13
One of my favorite users of CC-BY is Pratham Books in India.
Pratham Books is a non-profit trust that publishes high quality books for children at affordable prices and in multiple Indian languages. They’ve shipped more than 7,000,000 books.
They’ve got a beautiful post about their move from the Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (BY-NC-SA) CC license to the Attribution (BY) only license and the internal back story of the decision. What’s really fascinating isn’t just that they relicensed 400 books under BY, but that they only managed to post 173 of those books online at Scribd. The other 227 books were not posted. So we have a nice, natural study to analyze of the differences between openly licensed content that is in a stable, well used platform and content that isn’t.
Some brief takeaways. Read their whole post to see the graphs.
- The sales of individual books available on Scribd don’t differ greatly than those that aren’t - but they’re definitely not significantly lower.
- Cumulatively, the sales of Pratham books on Scribd appear to outsell those that don’t, though not totally outside the error margins. But again, they’re not lower.
- For cumulative sales data for CC books that were available on Scribd vs. CC books that were not available on Scribd, the former outsold the latter in almost a 3:1 ratio.
Let’s unpack point #3, because it’s fascinating. These are books that are available online, under the most liberal license offered by Creative Commons. You can one-click download and print them, or even send them off to be reprinted and sell them yourself. Yet the ones that are there radically outsell those (also liberally licensed books) that are in a more controlled technical environment.
There’s a lot of money spent looking for ways to sell books and content on the web, to protect authors, to protect old revenue sources. Sometimes though, the best advertising for the content (and implicitly the author) is the content itself. And there is mounting evidence that at least some people will pay for the authentic version, whether it’s to get the physical artifact, to help the author, or simply because they want to.
This is a tiny data point. What’d be great is if as these experiments happen, more publishers started to release the data as to the outcomes. We live in a world where we can’t even get a publisher to tell us the breakdowns in their revenues, how much they make off subscriptions and new content versus access to the back catalog. Data about where the money and the sales actually happen will drive far better policy than we have. If only the publishers would get that and start opening up some channels.