Open Access & The Humanities: Digital Approaches

Boston, CrossRef Annual Meeting. 18th November 2015.

A book

Dr. Martin Paul Eve, Birkbeck, University of London

Why do we publish?

To be read. To be assessed.

A research paper

Dissemination: Quality Control, Validation and Space-Time Compression

  • Dissemination of work
  • Preservation of record
  • Footnotes and scholarly genealogy (vs. science?)
  • Labour of reading: reading-avoidance techniques
  • Dissemination at a distance
    • Difference to conferences?


Symbolic Economy

The Symbolic Economy Maps onto the Real Economy

Library Economy

Reading and assessment are in conflict

  • Drive to produce ever more work
  • Hyper-inflationary price increases
  • Libraries cannot afford to purchase
  • Micro-monopolies

Dual crises of supply and demand

For assessment to work, we must restrict publication volume to size of academic job market: predicated on teaching

Crises of Socio-Legal Scarcity in the Age of Digital Reproduction #1

“Our fine arts were developed, their types and uses were established, in times very different from the present, by men whose power of action upon things was insignificant in comparison with ours. But the amazing growth of our techniques, the adaptability and precision they have attained, the ideas and habits they are creating, make it a certainty that profound changes are impending in the ancient craft of the Beautiful. In all the arts there is a physical component which can no longer be considered or treated as it used to be, which cannot remain unaffected by our modern knowledge and power. For the last twenty years neither matter nor space nor time has been what it was from time immemorial. We must expect great innovations to transform the entire technique of the arts, thereby affecting artistic invention itself and perhaps even bringing about an amazing change in our very notion of art.”

Paul Valéry, Pièces sur L’Art, 1931

Crises of Socio-Legal Scarcity in the Age of Digital Reproduction #2

“In principle a work of art has always been reproducible. Man-made artifacts could always be imitated by men. [...] Around 1900 technical reproduction had reached a standard that not only permitted it to reproduce all transmitted works of art and thus to cause the most profound change in their impact upon the public; it also had captured a place of its own among the artistic processes. [...] Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be.”

Walter Benjamin, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction", 1936

Crises of Socio-Legal Scarcity in the Age of Digital Reproduction #3

“The problem in each case is not that you stole from a specific person but that you undermined the artificial scarcities that allow the economy to function.”

Jaron Lanier, You Are Not a Gadget, 2010

Three Problems

Three Problems: researcher access, public access and re-use

Problem 1: Researcher access

See under "serials crisis".

Problem 2: Public access

  • Increasingly educated populace
  • Institutional missions to benefit society
    • Or what is a university?
  • The academy becomes irrelevant
    • Especially the humanities

Problem 3: Restrictive Re-Use Rights

  • Photocopying licenses
    • Even for teaching
  • Text mining/derivatives prohibited
  • Inclusion in Wikipedia and other resources
  • Community translation

Open Access (OA)

  • Peer-reviewed research
  • Free to read online
  • Permission to re-use

  • Gold: at publisher/source
  • Green: institutional/subject repository

  • Gratis: free to read
  • Libre: free to re-use
Background image © PLOS. Used under a CC BY-SA 3.0 license.

History of OA

  • 1989: Richard Stallman drafts GPL
  • 2002: First Creative Commons license
  • 2002-2003: BBB Statements on OA
  • 2003: First sub-institutional mandate
  • 2003-2013: Exponential increase in green mandates

  • Scientific drive but hums. present
  • Informal histories of OA experiment

But APCs problematic for the humanities

APC graph


  • Monographs acknowledged as different
    • e.g. HEFCE mandate
  • Higher barriers to entry for new publishers
  • Open source platform development in infancy
  • Production toolchain likewise
  • Different discoverability and value-conferral sites

BPCs for monographs scale badly

  • 5,023 monographs in UK in 2013 by largest 4 publishers (source: Crossick)
  • At a £5,050 BPC (UP price): £25,366,150
  • At a £6,500 BPC (CUP price): £32,649,500
  • At an £11,000 BPC (Palgrave price): £55,253,000
  • UK spend on all books 2010/2011: ~£60,000,000 (source: SCONUL)

BPCs for monographs scale badly

BPC graph

OA in the humanities still has a long way to go

  • But the internet is not going away
  • Benefits are clear
  • But not enough business model experimentation

The End

Thank you!

Presentation licensed under a CC BY-SA 3.0 license. All institutional images excluded from CC license. Available to view online at