We had a wonderful Christmas, thanks, – and I hope that you, Dear Reader, did likewise. Immediately afterwards (dawn on Boxing Day) we departed for Nova Scotia to bring greetings to my Canadian mother-in-law – and drove into a violent snowstorm on the Halifax-Lunenburg road which completely wiped my mental tapes of what I was going to do by way of a year end communication. I only recall that I had promised one reader that I would try not to be so apocalyptic in 2013. Well, here then is a first attempt at a lulling, measured message to that individual: “Have no fears for the future – the disruptions that you might have countered are now fully in play, and the only thing we now await is the full effect!”

As I dashed from the Hut on Boxing Day, I picked up two clippings that curiously underline this theme. The first, and Cureus (pronounced Curious) is its name, refers to the announcement of a new Open Source medical journal launched by a Stanford neurosurgeon (http://scopeblog.stanford.edu/2012/12/19). We could, if we wished, take Cureus as an example of the imminent demise of journal publishing in the sciences. Dr John Adler, its progenitor, appears to have at least two issues with current publishing procedures. On the one hand he complains that research results need to be made available immediately: “allowing researchers to publish their findings at no cost within days, rather than the months or even years that it typically takes for research to be made public”. And on the other hand he is an opponent of traditional peer review who wants to crowd source opinion on an article from both expert and non-expert readers. “Nowadays you wouldn’t go to a restaurant without Yelping it first. You wouldn’t go to see a movie without seeing what Rotten Tomatoes had to say about it. But medical journals are stuck in this 200-year-old paradigm.”

So in fact the delightful thing about Cureus is that it ignores both Open Access as practised by PloS and by commercial publishers, or even by the technical evaluation favoured by PloS One, and demands a further level of democratization of access at the same time. “The average Joe has little or no access to the medical literature today. Its a right. Its a human right”. This would delight the early Open Access campaigners in the US, but the crowd source idea is more valuable than the access by non-academic users. We now have a raft of innovations, some of them going back to the Dotcom Boom, which, if fully applied to current publishing processes, would have a hugely disruptive effect. Are we looking at a time when both conventional Journal publishing and newly “conventional” Open Access publishing are both overtaken by the delayed “boomerang” effect of network publishing procedures now taken for granted elsewhere?

I have the same reaction to a wonderful piece by Bill Rosenblatt, a doyen of internet rights commentators, in a piece on 15 December 2012 (http://paidcontent.org/2012/12/15). Entitled “The Right to Re-Sell: A ticking Time Bomb over Digital Goods”, Bill makes two critical points that will be very important on the 2013 agenda. In the first instance, most music and eBook products are now sold without DRM. DRM files were hated by users and arguably created more customer services issues than they were worth. So while legal embargoes on resale or re-use remain in everyone’s licences, the physical barrier has largely disappeared. File transfer between friends – “I’ll loan you that book when I have finished it” – is allegedly commonplace, though I have seen few attempts at quantification. Bill doesn’t offer any, since he has bigger game in his sights. He has been looking at ReDigi (www.redigi.com), a music resale service. This includes a forward – and – delete function so that the company can protect itself against the whole idea that it is a front for IP theft , but could well become the Chegg of the music industry.

Bill’s other issues concern ORI (the Owners Rights Initiative grouping) whose membership brings libraries and resellers together in unholy alliance to lobby for protection against litigious publishers under the slogan “You bought it, You own it”. (http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/you-bought-it-you-own-it-owners-rights-initiative-launches-to-protect-consumers-rights-175435921.html) And here lies the fundamental point that I distil from Bill’s piece. As we moved into the networked world we never resolved the fundamental issue about intellectual property ownership. After 500 years of print reproduction, we thought that we could still own the the content and control its re-use. And we are still trying to do that in a network of users who adhere to a completely different view of ownership. They think that a digital object is synonymous with a physical one, and having successfully ignored or evaded the law in the real world of real objects, they will be able to do exactly the same in the virtual world.

Meanwhile, the current world of digital offers just about every variant on lending and resale rights that one might possibly imagine. And the belwether world of journal publishing illustrates yet further variation on the theme of open network publishing. For publishers and those who aspire to recreate publishing, the key remains how you add value to processes that were once your sole domain, but which now can be performed anywhere by anyone with network access. The key to 2013 remains as it has for the last 20 years: understand how users want to behave in the network, and get there before demand chrysalises with appropriate value adding proposals that they will want to pay for. Next year, as in all those years “just publishing” will not be enough.


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  1. P U B L I S H I N G » Blog Archive » Scraps and Jottings on December 29, 2012 19:15

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