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OA books – detailed familiarity leads to multiple on-going sales

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Previous post on five new OA monograph series is phenomenal news for the Free Our Books campaign, and an example of, i believe, future to come soon. We, the authors, will be battling with publishers to give our books away electronically, hoping that we will capture readers attention enough to buy a print copy. Early this year, in May, i went through a short discussion with my, then potential (contract signed since), publisher, in which i suggested, and was without any problems granted, an Open Access book contract for which i drafted an Addendum – more details on that in another post soon.

I buy books weekly, and my biggest problem is where to store them and when to find the time to read them. However, most books that i buy these days are books whose content i already know reasonably well. Either through finding a copy somewhere online, or often by reading parts of full length essays which make up the book, frequently posted by authors on their personal website, sometimes presentations from conferences, or published in journals.

A clear example of this is Graham Harman’s work. I first heard of him through a one day workshop on Speculative Realism, held in April 2007 at Goldsmiths in London. Although i missed the workshop, I saw some of the authors on multiple occasions presenting papers in other conferences too.  Full transcripts from the conference were published in Collapse III, which was the reason why i  bought it (familiarity leading to a sale). I liked Collapse III so much, that i bought 4 out of 5 of issues published so far (familiarity leading to multiple sales). The only one i missed, strangely enough, is the sold out one, Collapse IV, which was provided for free on-line after it sold out, as reported on this blog. I then saw slides and part of the video from  Harman’s talk at LSE in November 2007. Earlier this year, in April, i was at the second Speculative Materialism / Speculative Realism workshop in Bristol at UWE, where i saw Harman for the first time live, presenting. Because i liked the conference, and was intrigued by his presentation, i downloaded and read part of his book Prince of Networks, published by Open Access book publisher I started writing on object-oriented philosophy and if it develops in a full text, i will most likely buy Harman’s books (familiarity leading to sales).

If i end up liking his work a lot and using it extensively in my own work, his book will become automatic-buys for me, in the same ways books by Antonio Negri, Slavoj Žižek, and Alain Badiou are – i have vast majority of their books published in English, because i’m familiar with their work and because i always get the taste of what’s in the coming books from their conference papers, texts they continuously publish, often with free access (like, on blogs, websites and in journals. Again, it’s my familiarity that leads to multiple, on-going, sales.

Authors that only publish in closed access journals, that do not self-archive on their websites — especially if institutions in which i work are not subscribed to the journals in which they publish, and if i don’t follow conferences at which they present — have hardly any chances of me buying their books. Some clever publishers and authors expose their books almost entirely through Google Books preview option, i bought several books like that (familiarity leading to multiple sales).

Publishers and authors which do not allow me to get familiar with their work in detail through some form of Open Access before i buy it, if it is to judge by my book buying patters,  are loosing sales. And we’re not talking small sales here either. While a student, my books budget is modest (£600 this year,  estimate annual average over last 5 years is £500) in comparison with a busy researcher with a budget that comes with the job . If, and when, i finish my PhD and get a job in a department doing well financially, i might end up with a annual research fund between £1300-1700 to spend on books, every year, for many years to come. My colleagues who are already in this position told me that once you work in academia, you end up getting lots  of books for free. But you don’t necessarily get exactly the books you want. Nor do you get them when you want them. And these are two key criteria for a fast developing research. I’m used to immediate access to texts in my research so much, that if and when i think i really need a book, i buy it immediately on-line. Sometimes i make mistakes, and long distance selling regulations helped on several occasion to return the book bought by mistake in a rush – i don’t use book sellers which do not easily, with no postage to pay, allow books to be returned within a week, or often two weeks.  In short, i don’t think that i will buy less books because i will be geting some of them for free. The only reason i might be buying less books is storage space, and i’m working on a solution to that too (it’s the hardest part).

Over 15 years, roughly £23.000 is likely to be the budget that i’ll be  spending on books. I’m far from the only person with this buying pattern. It is more likely that my pattern represents a significantly large category of academic book buyers. How large and how significant, statistically speaking, i can’t tell. A rough judgment would be that it’s large enough to be taken seriously, researched in more detail, and taken in consideration when decisions on Open Access are made by authors and publishers. For us,  book addicts with this pattern, the more an author and publisher embrace Open Access, the more likely is a part of our budget going to be spent on their books.

With Open Access Books, familiarity leads to sales.

Detailed familiarity leads to multiple on-going sales.

Written by KontraMraku

8 August 2009 at 20:07

Posted in Analysis, Opinion

Tagged with

Recent Links on Open Access

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  • Fissures Evident in Panel on Google Settlement.  ‘“Everybody’s represented at the table, publishers, copyright holders, authors,” [one librarian] said, “but there’s no one there representing the public.” There’s no transparency in the University of Michigan’s amended agreement, she said, so “even if everything’s being done right, no way for us to perceive that.”’
  • The Public Index, ‘a site to study and discuss the proposed Google Book Search settlement’.
  • Horns of a Dilemma: Open Access or Academic Freedom: Philip Davis correctly points out that author-pays OA could put a strain on university libraries’ budgets if the libraries are asked to pay the authors’ publishing fees.  He then uses this observation to construct a straw-man argument against all OA, by implying that OA is incompatible with academic freedom, and that subscription-based closed access is the best model.  I pointed out some of the flaws in this argument in the comments, until Philip cut off the discussion.  In my view, both subscription fees and author fees limit academic freedom by restricting participation to institutions and individuals who can afford to pay, and neither model places any real limits on how much money publishers can extort.  In the subscription model, the result is that only the richest institutions can afford to give their members the freedom to read the best journals; in the author-pays model, the result is that only the richest institutions can afford to give their members the freedom to publish in the best journals.  I think the best alternative is to abandon the idea that academic publishing should be financially self-sustaining, and a fortiori that it should make a profit.  In any case, there is evidence that it need not cost much to publish a journal; many OA journals are published by universities themselves, at little or no cost.  (Richard Sever argued that if universities publish OA journals, this introduces a potential conflict of interest when faculty want to publish in their universities’ journals; he didn’t explain why this isn’t a problem for the closed-access journals that, as he pointed out, many universities publish.)
  • Deepak Singh comments on PLoS’s decision to promote article-level metrics and to ignore journal impact factors: ‘If you want article level metrics, you need to be web native. You need to be able to follow the links. So please, publish journals not as pdf versions of print, but as first class web citizens.’
  • In Search of Anthropology-Friendly Subject Repositories: are there any?
  • Finding a fair price for free knowledge: Writing in New Scientist, Peter Eckersley sets out ‘a challenge to the governments of countries that want to lead the way, whether rich or poor: sit down with Google (or one of its competitors), authors and publishers, and work out a deal that offers a complete, licensed digital library free to your citizens. It would cost taxpayers something, but less than they currently spend on buying scarce books and supporting large paper collections.’
  • ACM responds to the blogosphere: Scott Delman, Group Publisher of the Association for Computing Machinery, points out a problem with self-archiving: ‘The fact that ACM charges both for access to the published information in its Digital Library and also extends the courtesy of “Green OA” to its authors is actually less important to me (while both are important aspects of what we do) than the fact that ACM and many other association publishers serve as well-intentioned caretakers of the scholarly record. I have spent too many hours trying to identify the “most up-to-date version” of an author’s article on his or her Web site or digging through the various related institutional repositories to identify a specific version of an article to believe that any other system at the present time offers the advantages of publishing with learned societies.’  The implication seems to be that only those who can afford to pay should have access to ‘the scholarly record’, and that Delman doesn’t mind if everyone else has to dig through institutional repositories only to find out-of-date versions of articles.  The assertion that Green OA is a ‘courtesy’ that publishers extend to academics is also telling; in reality, it’s authors who giving something to publishers, not the reverse.

Written by Benjamin Geer

27 July 2009 at 13:39

Posted in News, Opinion

Tagged with

Why Gold OA is better than Green OA

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Imagine if there was a kind of free software called Green Free Software.  Perhaps would be accessible only to people who paid to subscribe to it.  Authors of patches for the Linux kernel would have to submit them first to Linus Torvalds; if the patch was accepted, the author could then self-archive it in a separate OA source-code repository after an embargo of one year.  There would be many different OA repositories of Linux patches, all containing different patches.  Companies like IBM and Intel, whose employees contribute to Linux, would have OA ‘company repositories’ for their employees’ patches.  Many authors wouldn’t bother doing the extra work to self-archive their patches.  As a result, it would be impossible to get all the latest patches (and hence to get a complete, up-to-date Linux kernel) without paying for a subscription to  In an attempt to solve this problem, some companies would establish ‘mandates’ to require their employees to self-archive in their company’s repsoitory.  Of course these mandates would not affect independent programmers.  Even if the mandates were 100% successful, anyone wishing to assemble a complete kernel would have to download patches from hundreds of different company repositories and combine them together.

Now ask yourself: would that be a better system than the one we have now, where anyone can download the latest complete kernel from for free?

Written by Benjamin Geer

26 July 2009 at 10:56

Posted in Opinion

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