The last stand of non-open access scholarly journal publishers

alamo_small1One of the consequences of the ongoing migration from a cultural economy based on consumption (traditional broadcast media) to a cultural economy based on production (emerging participatory media) is a concurrent reorientation of the concept of use value.

This is partly grounded in the expectation that the former will be paid for, and the latter will be free at the point of use, but there are other factors in play. The very concept of the cultural commodity’s value is being redefined.

Previously residing in its physical form within the consumer alone as a ratio between utility and cost (how useful it will be to a buyer, and how much they are prepared to pay for it), cultural value is now being defined within a virtual space where it exists as a relational correlative between creator and audience based upon benefit and merit.

To unpack this idea: the creator of user-generated content that is free at the point of use contributes what they perceive as being of value to the community they are a part of, and the community gauges its merit through its response to it.

As a consequence of the continuing redefinition of the way value is measured, the non-open access scholarly journal publisher’s proposition is becoming an increasingly isolated, static and entropic one.

Meanwhile, collaborative, dynamic, proliferating nodes of production across academic and cultural spheres find new ways to connect, work together, publish and share their output. In their turn, meta-communities connect these nodes and enhance the ways in which their output may be searched and redistributed.

Fighting a rearguard action, producers of cultural commodities such as non-open access scholarly journals are now moving inexorably towards an entrenched defensive position where they will make their last stand.

With further concessions to existing licensees, threatening file sharers with legal redress, and disputatious campaigns against the instruments of open access, non-open access scholarly journal publishers’ businesses are doubtless capable of halting on in something resembling their existing form for decades, although on the basis of their current performance it seems unlikely that they will ever deliver the sort of growth and contribution to profit they formerly made.

However, unless they choose to participate in the conversational scholarly economy by finding ways of creating and sustaining business models better suited to the emerging relational environments within which information is increasingly produced and consumed, from a teleological perspective their prospects appear grave.

What can non-open access scholarly journal publishers do to safeguard their future?

3 thoughts on “The last stand of non-open access scholarly journal publishers

  1. Interesting points and it reminds me of what Paul Graham said last month about the options facing publishers which you tweeted about.

    “You have two choices: give it away and make money from it indirectly, or find ways to embody it in things people will pay for.” (

    I don’t fully agree that ‘open access’ is the only way to publish in the future. However, publishers need to find ways of adding value to the ‘content’ they transfer from authors to readers.

  2. Neither of us are laying claim to being able to discern definite futures, I think. However, I feel the weight of historical precedent bearing down upon scholarly publishing.

    We live in a world within which it is only a matter of time until a better, cheaper, free alternative to everything associated with the cultural commodity is available. If you buy into the benefit/merit paradigm, that includes scholarly journal publishing and peer review.

    From a publisher’s perspective, it’s ‘them against the world’.

    Each publisher is only capable of marshaling their limited resources and the skills defined by the human assets they employ against the limitless resources and limitless skills of everyone else.

    The web connects nodes of production in novel, unexpected, but more importantly continual and enthusiastic ways to creative ends.

    You can’t take on the world, and win.

  3. Pingback: The Future & Open Access – via Andrew Spong « John Ben DeVette's Blog

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