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18 January 2011
The creation of Revues.org, in 1999, was based on a hunch: that open electronic publishing could become an important way of opening up access to knowledge within the humanities and social sciences. Launched from a student room, the project led to the creation of a laboratory, eight years later: the Centre for Open Electronic Publishing or Cléo (CNRS, Université de Provence, École des hautes études en sciences sociales and Université d’Avignon). Cléo now has three platforms: Revues.org which now hosts 300 journals and book series; Calenda, a calendar listing research programmes, conferences, seminars, and calls for contributions submitted by the scientific community (which has processed more than 14 000 full announcements); and Hypotheses.org, a research notebook platform for the humanities and social sciences – which now hosts 150 notebooks – essentially providing an academic blog or ongoing online seminar, enabling discussion to reach beyond the laboratory walls. All three platforms combined receive an average of 1.5 million visitors per month.
Since the outset, we have defended the idea of “free-access”, which has nothing to with “free-of-charge”. Like all work, publishing has a cost. Transposing the classic subscription model to the Web brings with it inherent problems of invisibility (see Marin Dacos, Pierre Mounier 2010). Any commercial barrier decimates readership and reinforces existing linguistic and disciplinary boundaries. Digital publishing makes savings on transport costs but does not radically change spending by the readership. The Web shifts electronic publishing from a scarcity economy to an attention economy (see Herbert Simon, 1971). In the first instance, supply is scarce in relation to demand. In the second, there is an overabundant wealth of information which leads to relative scarcity of demand. In an economy where all articles and all books are online, scarcity of demand occurs when it comes to readers finding articles, reading them and citing them.
The Web offers an historic opportunity for academic publishing in terms of visibility, and thus for the distribution and cross-fertilisation of knowledge – on the sole condition that academic publishing adopts an open-access policy. The open-access principle is also much fairer. It effectively reduces the economic barriers restricting access to knowledge and offers citizens what they themselves have financed. In 2010, Greek institutions were no longer able to afford their subscriptions to the key online academic catalogues, in particular Elsevier. Questions have to be asked about the effectiveness of a system which enables a Dutch company, Elsevier, to index more than 3 000 journals while working up profits worthy of a Silicon Valley start-up. The beneficiaries of this monopolistic system are the Elsevier shareholders, not the academic world or academic publishing.
How can open-access be financed though? Is the model of top-down public subsidy, with its attendant inertia and uncertainties, the only possible model? There are two other ways. The first is the principle of the author-payer, initiated in particular by the Public Library of Science (PLOS) where authors pay their own publication costs, via their laboratories. Rates are variable depending on the platform but they vary between $1 000 and $3 000. This model poses clear ethical problems and is unsuitable for the low budget humanities and social sciences.
The second model is the freemium model. This model was developed by Web businesses who refused to take a gamble with advertising and who believed in the principle of open-access. The model was successfully applied by FlickR, the famous photo-sharing site, and by Skype, the telephone software. The model is simple: services are free so appeal to millions of users, a small percentage of which become interested in premium, subscription services which in turn finance the whole platform. Hence a new web-word was born – freemium, a combination of free and premium.
Cléo have adopted this approach and will be launching OpenEdition Freemium on 15 February 2011. For partner libraries, the OpenEdition.org portal will bring together all content from the three Cléo platforms enhanced with premium functions. Between open-access and freemium, there are essentially two differences. The first relates to formats – non-paying users can enjoy open-access HTML articles online while campuses who have subscribed to the OpenEdition Freemium package have exclusive access to PDF and Epub formats (for iPad, Kindle, etc). The second difference is in services, and subscriber libraries will have access to: training and technical assistance, email alerts, provision of and access to specialised data (such as visitor statistics per campus, Calenda API, UNIMARC notices, and more besides), special info and documentation, and hands-on involvement in their projects.
This offer guarantees maximum distribution of academic texts via free-access, while financing our publication activity through our premium services. Indeed, 66% of revenue from this package will be reinvested into the activities of our partner journals and publishers.
All that remains to do is for the academic community to elaborate its own model for knowledge distribution – which is tantamount to choosing a society model.
Marin Dacos, Pierre Mounier, L’édition électronique, La Découverte, Paris, 2010, 128 p.
Herbert Simon, “Designing organizations for an information rich world”, in Martin Greenberger (dir.), Computers, Communications, and the Public Interest, Baltimore, Johns Hopkins Press, 1971, p. 37 and 72.
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