Who Will Disrupt the Disruptors?

SCONUL. 27th November 2015.

A book

Dr. Martin Paul Eve, Birkbeck, University of London

"Richard Branson Disrupts the Future of Higher Education"

Richard Branson

"Richard Branson Disrupts the Future of Train Travel"

Complaint tweets about Virgin Trains

"Richard Branson Disrupts the Future of Flying"

Complaint tweets about Virgin Atlantic

"Richard Branson Disrupts the NHS"

A Daily Telegraph article noting that Branson does very well out of NHS contract


  • Early 15c., from Latin disruptionem (nominative disruptio) "a breaking asunder"
  • Noun of action from past participle stem of disrumpere "break apart, split, shatter, break to pieces"
  • From dis- "apart" (see dis-) + rumpere "to break" (see rupture (n.)).

The first rule of disruption

  • Should be: don't talk about disruption
  • Actually: usually moves towards for-profit, private, market-based systems

What's Happening with ScholComms Disruption?

  • Century-long breakdown of artificial scarcities coming to a head in digital world
  • New computational practices with no physical/historical analogy
  • Fresh economic and social pressures
  • Political rationality framed within market discourses: "neoliberalism"

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

New computational practices: is it "theft"?

Elsevier stopped me text mining

Economic and social pressures

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

Market discourses for a non-market space

Library Economy

It doesn't work like a market

So we come to OA. 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

What are we doing to engender "strange disruption"?

Open Library of Humanities Megajournal / Multijournal / Not-for-profit / Collectively Funded

Planning since 2013

Press and Committees

Support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

  • $90,000 planning grant
    • University of Lincoln, UK, 2014-2015
  • $741,000 sustainability grant
    • Birkbeck, University of London, UK, 2015-2018

The Subscription Model as it Exists

The current system: many libraries all paying relatively large amounts

The OLH Library Partnership Subsidy Model

Many libraries all paying smaller amounts

128 Libraries Financially Supporting the OLH in First Ten Months

Some of the libraries supporting OLH: Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Cambridge

7 Journals on the Platform at Launch (150 articles in first year)

Journals on the OLH platform Cost per institution per article: between $3 to $6. Target of 300+ libraries by end of year three.

Ongoing Project to "Flip" Subscription Journals. Four new flips in January 2016.


Building Open-Source Publishing Technology

  • meTypeset: a JATS XML typesetter
  • CaSSius: a CSS regions PDF generator
  • Translation Layer

Disrupt the disrupters

  • Beware the discourse of disruption
  • Work together
  • Work for the common good, not competitively
  • But use competition and markets where it pragmatically helps

The End

Thank you!

Presentation licensed under a CC BY-SA 3.0 license. All institutional images, tweets and screenshots excluded from CC license. Available to view online at http://meve.io/SCONUL2015.