Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large
ISSN 1534-0937
Libraries · Policy · Technology · Media

Selection from Cites & Insights 6, Number 6: Spring 2006

Good Stuff Perspective

Journal of Electronic Publishing Returns!

Three and a half years. That’s a long time in periodical publishing. It’s even longer in “internet time.” I suspect many of us who used to read JEP gave up—we assumed it was a goner. Which was a shame. In its eight volumes, JEP included some interesting, provocative articles. I almost added “even if I didn’t agree with some of them” as a qualifier—but one of JEP’s strengths was its diversity of views, so it makes sense that I wouldn’t agree with all the writers.

It’s back—at the University of Michigan, although under different auspices. The new home page is Web searches may take you to the old University of Michigan Press site, but that links to the new site, part of the University of Michigan University Library’s Scholarly Publishing Office.

Judith Axler Turner notes the things “we were worried about” when the last issue of JEP appeared in August, 2002:

Peer review and the Internet: is peer review as good for e-journals, and will tenure and promotion committees recognize it?

Publishing scholarly works on the Internet: what can or should we do differently in the multimedia environment?

Archiving scholarship on the Internet: can it be done and who will do it?

The economics of electronic publishing: can publishers make money and can libraries keep costs down?

Self publishing and preprints: will they undermine the foundations of scholarship?

As she notes, those questions haven’t been answered—but the dominant theme in the new issue is Google, not that big a deal in 2002. Turner calls search engines “our own personal idiot savants, giving us data without intelligence, facts and not knowledge.”

If you haven’t encountered Journal of Electronic Publishing, this is as good a time as any. I downloaded and annotated six of the seven articles and Turner’s editor’s note; most of them are interesting and worth reading. (I’m sure Frank Menchaca’s “Varieties of poetry publishing and aesthetics on the internet” is worthy—but I’m not the right reader.)

Subheadings are article names; comments are brief and not meant to be conclusive.

In Google we trust?

Geoffrey Bilder claims “the trust model of the Internet is almost antithetical to the trust model of academia.” He notes all the crap you encounter online and says the move of academic publishing to online precipitates a “crisis of trust” and “deprecation of traditional mechanisms of ensuring the authority and reliability of published works.” Really? Peer review can work as effectively for electronic-only journals as for print journals, and I see no mass fleeing from journals as trusted sources. I’m not sure I buy this paragraph in its entirety:

Publishers and librarians have spent a turbulent decade engaged in the transformation of their respective practices. Previously, they were primarily concerned with physical media—the commissioning, production, distribution, curation, and archiving of works of print. Now, they find themselves preoccupied with the development of analogous processes for digital content. With their attention focused on the operational aspects of a move to the digital world, they have not been as aware of the transition from the trust model of the print-based scholarly world to the trust model of the Internet.

Without qualifiers such as “academic” and “journal,” that’s just not true. But that doesn’t keep the article from being interesting and worth reading. Bilder talks about the “internet trust antipattern” and ways to avoid it. I think Slashdot is a poor example; when I’ve visited, the feedback mechanisms haven’t allowed me to “focus on authoritative and relevant postings,” at least when discussions enter areas I know. eBay’s system may be a better example. Google’s “trust” system is tricky, as it equates popularity with authority.

I’ve just touched some of the discussion here. It’s interesting—but I wouldn’t quite take it at face value. Recommended with caveats.

Why we publish JEP

This short piece from Maria Bonn, head of Michigan’s Scholarly Publishing Office, tells us why the move from Michigan to Columbia University Press didn’t work out and how the new home works. Bonn summarizes economic elements of the scholarly publishing crisis:

Library budgets are flat or declining while the cost of academic publishing is increasing and being passed on to the consumers.

The market for University Press books does not generate enough revenue to support the print publication of scholarly works and the Presses have not developed a business model for electronic publication that creates significant returns. In order to continue to publish, the Presses then require significant institutional subsidies. Most academic institutions do not provide such subsidies, forcing the Presses to close, to publish non-academic books to bring in enough money to continue to operate, or to increases prices further, thus narrowing their market even more.

Small publication units within the academy of scholarly societies are finding it increasingly difficult to cover the costs of editorial development and print production. These units increasingly either fold entirely or sign on with large commercial publishers (in either case relieving competitive pressure on commercial academic publishing). Since these smaller publishing ventures have traditionally been the venue for scholarship that is perceived as having less economic value (notably the humanities and the "soft" social sciences), their disappearance or loss of independence threatens important platforms for part of our intellectual dialogue and cultural heritage.

Rights problems make things worse. The academic community is implementing strategies for change, including institutional repositories, open access journals, and library-based publishing. “SPO is one such experiment in library-based publishing”—but it’s not automatically an open access publisher. Bonn says, “[O]pen access is not a desirable or viable model for all content,” accepting the cross-subsidization of organizational activities as a legitimate use of revenue, for example. Thus, SPO is willing to publish both OA and “toll access” journals. In the case of JEP, SPO is publishing it “because it can”—because the SPO infrastructure keeps the costs down, and because SPO believes JEP “is important to the academic and publishing communities.”

Recommended if you care about electronic publishing and scholarly publishing.

New media economy: Intellectual property and cultural insurrection

Daniel M. Downes contributes the longest article (22 pages, of which 18 are text) and one of the most striking, speaking of “the emerging culture war”:

On the one hand there are those who accept the traditional bargain between creators and society (sharing information, publicity, and reputation) and on the other hand are those who seek proprietary rights (ownership of material and all accompanying rights).

Downes asserts that the “new media economy…created consumers, not citizens”—which seems to ignore more than ten million active participants (bloggers) at the very least. He says the global commercial media system is “dominated by a small number of powerful, mostly American, transnational media corporations.” News Corp? Sony? EMI? American? In some segments of commercial media—academic journals and sound recordings—the majority of the major players are European. But never mind. “Mostly” may be a fair characterization.

There’s a lot I could argue with here. Downes’ characterization of a mediasphere wholly controlled by a few big players ignores a whole group of balancing forces that do characterize new media, as opposed to online versions of old media: Musical groups without major labels who can become known and can sell their wares (downloadable music, CD-Rs, short-run CDs) directly; tens of thousands of small publishers using Amazon and other routes to make books available; somewhere between 11 and 13 million active blogs…and more. More than 50 million creations carry Creative Commons licenses; many, perhaps most of these suggest that this claim is overstated:

Thus, ownership of the means of large-scale reproduction and distribution gives institutional publishers, record companies, and other content distributors the ability to govern which works will enter the marketplace.

That claim refers to a 2001 document; the online world has changed since 2001.

Downes’ discussion of copyright is, shall we say, an interesting counterpart to absolutists like Jack Valenti and the RIAA. Downes asserts, without any real evidence, that copyright does not promote new creative work—and that, somehow, trademark protection means that ideas can’t be reused. He states (correctly) that copyright holders are as likely to be big businesses as individual artists or authors—and uses that to conclude, “Copyright protection does not provide incentive to produce.” He calls Napster the “digital equivalent of two friends meeting somewhere to trade cassette tapes of their favorite music,” which is charming but misleading. And, as I expected, he says that “financial incentives are not the only motivation for artists to create”—which hardly constitutes justification for abandoning financial incentives.

I’m hard pressed to recommend this article, but it’s useful to see a thoughtful exposition of what I’d almost consider a pure anti-copyright stance. As one who continues to seek balance, who does write for money, and who does receive royalties for books, I’m not the most receptive audience for this piece.

Recommended for what it is—but approach with caution.

What if Wal-Mart ran a library?

I’d rather read and recommend Downes than try to comment coherently on this piece by Joseph J. Esposito. I’ve encountered Esposito before; in the September 2004 Cites & Insights I attempted to comment on his First Monday article attempting to prove that open access would vastly increase the cost of scholarly publishing. Even then, I noted that “he’s one of those who appears to see libraries as nothing more than article-pushers” and who “seems to think that libraries only license publications”—and noted that I’d given up on writing a Cheap Shot commentary on an earlier First Monday article by Esposito.

This one’s no better. He seems to think that academic librarians spend all their time paying bills and renewing subscriptions, notes how much better Wal-Mart could do it (fewer libraries, but much bigger ones!), and asserts that “we need to bring carefully thought-out industrial processes to the management of libraries and publishing companies.” He says “we can only do this if we get beyond the increasingly shrill and adversarial pronouncements now being made by librarians and publishers alike.” This article praises Wal-Mart, appears to dismiss libraries as outmoded institutions, wants “consolidation in the library sector” and loads of outsourcing, and assures us that “resistance is futile.” (Inevitability: The first resort of someone whose arguments are unsound.) Somehow “Open Content” will “threaten” universities. He refers to libraries as “marvelous cost center[s].” He asserts that the absence of a high-quality reading device is “the principal obstacle to the complete dominance of electronics over print,” and the tipping point is coming soon. You want shrill and adversarial pronouncements? You need look no further than Joseph J. Esposito.

Not recommended.

Google Scholar: Potentially good for users of academic information

Frederick J. Friend contributes a medium-length article (nine text pages) that’s well worth reading. (If this is a briefer note, it’s because it’s a briefer article—and one where I think you’re better off reading Friend than reading my comments.) He discusses ways that Google Scholar can be used now, ways it could improve, and ways it should improve with consultation and involvement from libraries and librarians.

I would note one small problem, unfortunately typical when using claimed numbers from search engines. He says “a Google search under the words “open access” revealed 598,000,000 entries.” But while those words now show a result that is “about” 599,000,000 (although you can only see the first thousand or less), the phrase “open access” yields “about” 21,900,000—and nearly all of the first 100 results are either about open access or examples of open access journals. Similarly his example in Google Scholar: “1,250,000” (now about 1,730,000)—but the phrase yields about 91,300. Those problems don’t really detract from the article, but this is a common enough error to be worth noting—at least if you believe, as I do, that most scholars can figure out how to enter phrases.

Strongly recommended.

KWIC and dirty? Human cognition and the claims of full-text searching

Another relatively long article (14 text pages), this one by Jeffrey Garrett. I don’t think I’m swayed by the fact that Garrett is a librarian; it’s a good, interesting article on its own merits. He encounters assertions that vast full-text resources means memorization is obsolete—and finds them lacking. He also finds full-text searching in and of itself inadequate: “Words simply do not signify.”

Garrett is not opposed to full-text searching; not at all. He says it “can be used to enormous positive effect, can in fact be essential for serious work—or it can be abused to dumb down the educational enterprise in ways no earlier generation could have ever dreamed possible.” He sees that both full-text searching and cataloging are needed, as are librarians. He concludes:

In this age, it is we in the library profession who have the mission to humanize the machine and make it serve us and our communities on our own terms.

Strongly recommended.

Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large, Volume 6, Number 6, Whole Issue 76, ISSN 1534-0937, a journal of libraries, policy, technology and media, is written and produced by Walt Crawford, a senior analyst at RLG.

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