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Martin Paul Eve

Professor of Literature, Technology and Publishing at Birkbeck, University of London

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The other day, I was sent a text message by a senior academic friend who has a healthily sceptical view of the open access work that I do. The question was: "re. Monographs, authors should be paid for their work, the publishing business model now allows for that as would online pay walls (not much but depends on book and who you are). How do you deal with that in mandatory OA, would we all be working for publishers for free?"

My responses and thoughts are as follows:

  • If an author is bound by mandates, one would assume that they are working for an institution (and therefore paid to do so). In this case, why should authors be paid again for their work? I assume that most other fields do not allow their employees to conduct work, on the time of their employer, and then go on to sell the rights for personal gain. If it reduces the costs of scholarly publishing, I do not think that authors should be re-compensated for their monographs. If authors are not bound by mandates or remunerated by institutions/funders, then they are free to go trade with their books, if there is a market.
  • Regarding working for publishers for free... given the acknowledged pittance of most royalties from books anyway, this takes place in the current situation. Also, it is estimated by RIN that, in 2009, academics gave £1.9bn worth of their time for peer review. To invert the question, though, if the aim of writing a book is scholarly communication (with an evaluation function built-in via publisher brand as a proxy measure), then publishers should be working for us (not for free). This is what gold business models of OA try to do: to invert the system so that remuneration is provided for a service rendered to academics by pulishers, rather than publishers selling a commodity object back to universities. Of course, the proxy measure ("brand") complicates this as the pricing then becomes dependent on (artificial?) scarcity from the publisher, thereby making them a desirable destination. At the moment, the system is very odd. Authors look like suppliers of material, but they are also given a service by the publisher. Furthermore, via the library, they are also customers (but have no price sensitivity because this is masked by the library).

So, basically, yes, I have thought about this. I do not believe, unlike Robin Osborne, that academics should be re-paid on top of decent salaries for work. If you don't work at a university, you will not be mandated to go OA anyway, so that's fine. I also don't think we will be (or should be) working for publishers for free, but think we are at the moment. Inverted OA models can fix this and make publishing into a service that facilitates scholarly communication.