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Open Book – Pt. 2

(sorry for the long delay between parts but I was engaged in other projects, and I had to find the top of my head)

As I said in Part 1, Elsevier, a multibillion-dollar scientific publishing company, is trying to present itself as a friend of Open Access.

Is this a joke?

Elsevier was behind a recent lobbying effort to bottle taxpayer-funded scientific research behind their paywalls. The very lifeblood of this company is its ability to keep research papers behind its subscription system. This is like Microsoft touting an Open Source initiative. This is like a lion touting a vegan diet. 

The key behind Elsevier’s business model is in the traditional name for scientific publications: papers. Believe it or not, there was a world before The Internet, when companies would disseminate information on bound collections of flat pressed dead trees. This required large installations of printing presses and binderies, and a network of distribution to deliver these papers to your door. Now there is electronic distribution which significantly lowers costs. However, Elsevier continues to charge excruciating prices for access to the very many journals it controls. Not content with that, it actually tried to buy a law that taxpayer-funded research would also be hidden behind their subscription system, even though taxpayers funded the research and funded creation of the distribution system it now uses!

The scientific process was built on collaboration and free exchange of ideas. Science was originally done by citizens enraptured by the pure pursuit of knowledge (think Benjamin Franklin). It later became a creature held captive by institutions, and its dissemination captive to those with physical distribution channels. However, now with The Internet and the access to learning and communication it provides, citizens are again becoming more involved with science. The return from discovery was never in the information of how you got there, but from the end product itself (don’t get me started about the perversion of patent law and how much that stifles innovation…).

Distribution is now extremely cheap, and business models must adjust to this new reality or get out of the way. In fact, the reality is that distribution can be done by the authors themselves and more each day are turning to free and open publication. This is the new wave that Elsevier is trying to ape. Don’t be fooled. Elsevier is not Open Access – they are Open Wallet.

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