Open Access 2.0: Access To Scholarly Publications Moves To A New Phase

Joseph Esposito | The Scholarly Kitchen | February 20, 2013

[Editor's note:  This is a reprint of an essay Joe wrote in 2008 and which was published first, in abridged form, in the Scientist and later in The Journal of Electronic Publishing. It has not been updated, but appears here to satisfy a number of offline queries as to where to find it online. Joe notes that he actually got paid by the Scientist to write this, making him a professional author, though a poor one. He is currently attempting to negotiate a contract with the Scholarly Kitchen with -- heh, heh -- no apparent success.]

What publishing does well — traditional publishing, that is, where you pay for what you read, whether in print or online — is command attention. This is not a trivial matter in a world that seemingly generates more and more information effortlessly, but still has the poor reader stuck with something close to the Biblical lifespan of three score and ten and a clock that stubbornly insists that a day is 24 hours and no more. Attention is the scarce commodity; any service that makes those 24 hours more productive is welcome. A service that winnows through the huge outpouring of information and says (with authority), Pay attention to this; pay less attention to that; and as for that other thing, ignore it entirely—such a service is well worth paying for. The name of that service is publishing.

A dollar spent for publications is a measure of how a reader allocates his or her attention. That dollar could have been spent otherwise — on a different publication, on a Starbucks coffee, on a ticket to a ball game—and it matters little whether that dollar is managed by the reader or by someone, perhaps a librarian, acting on the reader’s behalf. Publishers orient their enterprises to get at that dollar, and they do this by tossing out most of what comes into their purview. Although it may sound paradoxical to assert that charging a fee is an act of mercy, publishing, in its enormous respect for readers’ time and attention, is reader-friendly. It is also author-hostile, at least for those authors who do not make the grade. It is no wonder that Goethe mused that “Publishers are all cohorts of the devil; there must be a special hell for them somewhere.” He was an author...