Thursday, June 01, 2006

Chapter 1-3 comments: The division of labor in academic publishing

In ch. 1, "Opening," Willinsky points out that “scholarly publishing runs on a different economic basis than the rest of the publishing world”: “Researchers and scholars are not paid a penny by journal publishers for original manuscripts presenting the results of perhaps thousands of dollars’ worth of research.” [6] It seems to me that in the sciences, where this issue is most keen and where most of his examples originate, the research could be tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in cost, with not individual authors, but vast teams of authors. In addition, Willinsky neglects to note here -- and in many other places -- that peer reviewers and editorial board members of journals do not get paid for their efforts either.

A little later, Willinsky laments the “redundancies” of the “terribly inefficent triple-sided economy in the transition of journals from print to digital editions”: (1) “the traditional industrial apparatus of print” both on the publishing side and on the distribution/storage side with libraries; (2) publishers’ own “sophisticated Web-based systems for publishing, distributing, and indexing electronic editions within their own portals”; and (3) the infrastructures developed by libraries “for providing their patrons with access to these and other digital resources”. [10]
All these “redundancies” and “inefficiencies” imply wasted human labor and, thus, needless costs. Is the question here not one of ownership and access, but of division of labor in copyediting, digitizing, distributing, indexing, and marketing this information?

This labor question seems to lurk beneath ch. 2, "Access," as well. Willinsky points out that recent corporate mergers have left “Reed Elsevier with 1,800 journals, Taylor and Francis with over 1,000 titles, and Springer with more than 500 titles,” meaning “these three companies now control 60 percent of the materials indexed in the world’s leading citation index, the ISI Web of Science.” [18] But one of the main motivations for corporate mergers is cutting the kind of labor "redundancies" that Willinsky lamented in the previous chapter. Who performs the fact-checking, copy-editing, citation abstracting, and keyword indexing labor for all these journals, and how is this funded?

Finally, ch 3. on "Copyright" must deal with this issue as well. Willinsky argues “The copyright interests of researchers are to have their work reproduced, read, and accurately cited among as wide a readership as possible. The economic interests of faculty are not hurt, for example, as are those of publishers, by the distribution of free copies of their published work. Just the opposite.” [52] But Willinsky still hasn’t systematically addressed the user problem of finding research to “reproduce, read, and cite” in the first place — the abstracting, indexing, and searching problem which too requires labor, and therefore costs. Who is bearing the greatest burden of these labor costs, and who is reaping the greatest benefits?

So in a nutshell, let's try to gauge as we read on: Will Willinsky's multifarious open-access schemes address questions over "acquisition" labor and "retrieval" labor, as well as the original "authoring" labor of the research team itself?

1 comment:

Dorothea said...

You might be interested in some of the work being done by the Center for History and New Media at GMU. Dan Cohen argues, for example, that "Resources that are free to use in any way, even if they are imperfect, are more valuable than those that are gated or use-restricted, even if those resources are qualitatively better" because it's possible to point computers at them for data mining, easing the acquisitions labor you rightly mention.