open-access is the future: boycott locked-down academic journals

On one hand, I’m excited to announce that my article “Facebook’s Privacy Trainwreck: Exposure, Invasion, and Social Convergence” has been published in Convergence 14(1) (special issue edited by Henry Jenkins and Mark Deuze). On the other hand, I’m deeply depressed because I know that most of you will never read it. It is not because you aren’t interested (although many of you might not be), but because Sage is one of those archaic academic publishers who had decided to lock down its authors and their content behind heavy iron walls. Even if you read an early draft of my article in essay form, you’ll probably never get to read the cleaned up version. Nor will you get to see the cool articles on alternate reality gaming, crowd-sourcing, convergent mobile media, and video game modding that are also in this issue. That’s super depressing. I agreed to publish my piece at Sage for complicated reasons, but…

I vow that this is the last article that I will publish to which the public cannot get access. I am boycotting locked-down journals and I’d like to ask other academics to do the same.

For those outside of the academy, here’s a simplistic account of academic publishing. Academics publish articles in journals. Journals are valued by academic disciplines based on their perceived quality. To be successful (and achieve tenure), academics must publish in the journals that are valued in their discipline. Journals are published by academic publishers. Academics volunteer their time to peer review articles in these journals. Editors consider the reviews and decide which are to be published, which should be sent back to be revised and resubmitted, and which are to be rejected. For the most part, editors are unpaid volunteers (although some do get a stipend). Depending on the journal, the article is then sent to a professional copyeditor who is paid (but not all journals have copyeditors). Academic publishers then print the journal, sending it to all of its subscribers. Most subscribers are university libraries, but some individuals also subscribe. (To give you a sense of the economics, Convergence costs individuals $112 and institutions $515 for 4 issues a year.) Academic libraries also subscribe to the online version of the journals, but I don’t know how much that costs. Those who don’t have access to an academic library can pay to access these articles (a single article in Convergence can be purchased DRM-ified for one day at $15).

The economy around academic journals is crumbling. Libraries are running out of space to put the physical copies and money to subscribe to journals that are read by few so they make hard choices. Most academics cannot afford to buy the journal articles, either in print or as single copies so they rely on library access. The underground economy of articles is making another dent into the picture as scholars swap articles on the black market. “I’ll give you Jenkins if you give me Ito.” No one else is buying the journals because they are god-awful expensive and no one outside of a niche market knows what’s in them. To cope, most academic publishers are going psycho conservative. Digital copies of the articles have intense DRM protection, often with expiration dates and restrictions on saving/copying/printing. Authors must sign contracts vowing not to put the articles or even drafts online. (Sage embargoes all articles, allowing authors to post pre-prints on their site one year following publication, but not before.) Academic publishers try to restrict you from making copies for colleagues, let alone for classroom use.

I should probably be sympathetic to academic publishers. They are getting their lunch eaten and the lack of consistent revenue from journals makes it much harder for them to risk publishing academic books and they are panicked. Yet, frankly, I’m not humored. Producing a journal article is a lot of labor for scholars too. Editing a journal is a lot of labor for scholars too. In most cases, they do this for free. Academic publishers expect authors to do both for free because that’s how they achieve status. At the same time, they are for-profit entities that profit off of all of the free labor by academics. Some might argue that academics are paid by universities and this external labor is part of their university job. Perhaps, but then why should others be profiting off of it? Why not instead publish with open-access online-only journals produced as labors of love by communities of volunteer scholars (i.e. many open-access journals)? Oh, right. Because those aren’t the “respectable” journals because they don’t have a reputation or a history (of capitalizing off of the labor of academics). The result? Academics are publishing to increasingly narrow audiences who will never read their material purely so that they can get the right credentials to keep their job. This is downright asinine. If scholars are publishing for audiences of zero, no wonder no one respects them.

I think that this needs to change. The traditional model of journal publishing makes sense in an era where the only mechanism of distribution was paper. Paper publishing and distribution is expensive, and I’m not trying to dismiss this. Yet, in a digital era, the structures of publishing and distribution have changed; the costs have changed too. Open-access, online-only journals have four key costs: bandwidth, copyediting, marketing, and staffing costs. The latter is often irrelevant in fields where editors volunteer. It’s not clear that marketing is necessary or cannot be done for free. There are all sorts of possible funding models for bandwidth. This leaves copyediting.

I’d be sad to see some of the academic publishers go, but if they can’t evolve to figure out new market options, I have no interest in supporting their silencing practices. I think that scholars have a responsibility to make their work available as a public good. I believe that scholars should be valued for publishing influential material that can be consumed by anyone who might find it relevant to their interests. I believe that the product of our labor should be a public good. I do not believe that scholars should be encouraged to follow stupid rules for the sake of maintaining norms. Given that we do the bulk of the labor behind journals, I think that we can do it without academic publishers (provided that we can find hosting and copyediting).

Here’s what I’d like to propose:

  • Tenured Faculty and Industry Scholars: Publish only in open-access journals. Unlike younger scholars, you don’t need the status markers because you’re tenured or in industry. Use that privilege to help build new journals that are not strapped to broken business models. Help build the reputations of new endeavors so that they can be viable publishing venues for future scholars. Publish in open-access journals, build a personal webpage and add your article there. You will get much more visibility, especially from younger scholars who turn to Google before they go to the library. I understand that a lot of you prefer to flout the rules of these journals and publish your articles on your website anyhow, even when you’re not allowed. The problem is that you’re not helping change the system for future generations.
  • Disciplinary associations: Help open-access journals gain traction. Encourage your members to publish in them. Run competitions for best open-access publications and have senior scholars write committee letters for younger scholars whose articles are stupendous but published in non-traditional venues.
  • Tenure committees: Recognize alternate venues and help the universities follow. Younger scholars can’t afford to publish in alternate venues until you begin recognizing the value of these publications. Help that process along and encourage your schools to do the same.
  • Young punk scholars: Publish only in open-access journals in protest, especially if you’re in a new field. This may cost you advancement or tenure, but you know it’s the right thing to do. If you’re an interdisciplinary scholar or in a new field, there aren’t “respected” journals in your space and so you’re going to have to defend yourself anyhow. You might as well use this opportunity to make the valued journals the open-access ones.
  • More conservative young scholars: publish what you need to get tenure and then stop publishing in closed venues immediately upon acquiring tenure. I understand why you feel the need to follow the rules. This is fine, but make a point by stopping this practice the moment you don’t need it.
  • All scholars: Go out of your way to cite articles from open-access journals. One of the best ways for a journal to build its reputation is for its articles to be cited broadly. Read open-access journals and cite them. Oh, and while you’re at it, if you have a choice between citing a living author and a dead one, support the living one. The young scholar at Santa Cruz who’s extending Durkheim’s argument needs the cite more than Durkheim. Don’t forget that citations have politics and you can vote for the future with your choice of citations.
  • All scholars: Start reviewing for open-access journals. Help make them respected. Guest edit to increase the quality. Build their reputations through your involvement. Make these your priority so that the closed journals are the ones struggling to get quality reviewers.
  • Libraries: Begin subscribing to open-access journals and adding them to your catalogue. Many of you do this, but not all. Open-access journals are free. Adding them to databases does costs money but it helps scholarship and will help you ween off of expensive journals in the long run.
  • Universities: Support your faculty in creating open-access journals on your domains. You are respected institutions. The bandwidth cost of hosting a journal would be much less than allowing your undergrads access YouTube. Support your faculty in creating university-branded journals and work with them to run conferences and do other activities to help build the reputation of such nascent publications. If it goes well, your brand will gain status too.
  • Academic publishers: Wake up or get out. Silencing the voices of academics is unacceptable. You’re not helping scholarship or scholars. Find a new business model or leave the journal publishing world. You may be making money now, but your profits will not continue to grow using this current approach. Furthermore, I’d bank on academics shunning you within two generations. If you think more than a quarter ahead, you know that it’s the right thing to do for business as well as for the future of knowledge.
  • Funding agencies: Require your grantees to publish in open-access journals or make a pre-print version available at a centralized source specific to their field. Many academic journals have exceptions for when funding agencies demand transparency. You can help your grantees and the academic world at large by backing their need to publish in an accessible manner. Furthermore, you could fund the publishing of special issues in return for them being open-access or help offset a publisher’s costs for a journal so that they can try to go open-access. (Tx Alex)

Making systemic change like this is hard and it will require every invested party to stand up for what they know is right and chip away at the old system. I don’t have tenure (and at this rate, no one will ever let me). I am a young punk scholar and I strongly believe that we have a responsibility to stand up for what’s right. Open-access is right. Heavy metal gates and expensive gatekeepers isn’t. It’s time for change to happen! To all of the academics out there, I beg you to help me make this change reality. Let’s stop being silenced by academic publishers.

[Why I published with a locked-down journal]

Update on Feb 8: I’m not the only advocate for open-access, nor do I think that all scholars can boycott this form of publishing, but I do think that everyone can take steps to change the future of scholarship for the benefit of everyone. I strongly believe that those who will benefit the most from open-access publishing will be the academics who pour their heart and soul into their research and writing. My apologies to those who think that I am being condescending towards academics; this is not my intention. I just think that we’ve become too complacent and are perpetuating a system that hurts ourselves while allowing others to profit off of keeping us quiet and invisible.

When it comes to the trafficking of scholarship, much has changed since the journal system was created. There used to be a day when scholars would read everything new that was published in their field, or at least everything published in the top journals. The path to success was to publish in the top journals because it was assumed that everyone in the field would read it. For most fields, this is no longer the case. Young scholars are not indoctrinated into a field by reading every issue of the top journals. They are more likely to search for articles related to their topics of interest than to browse a few top journals. Being present in library catalogues and key databases is critical to visibility. Publishing in the top journals still increases one’s likelihood of visibility and citation, but it’s more about status now.

Technology changes the status quo. Thanks to increased search, scholars have an easier time finding material relevant to their needs, provided that it is catalogued. Through the cataloguing of citations, it’s easier to follow the web of article networks. While we’re not entirely there, the options for visibility have changed. This is especially true for interdisciplinary scholars who don’t have a home set of journals. The flow of their scholarship looks very different than the flow of traditional fields with a hierarchy of publishing venues. While innovations in search change the information landscape, access is the missing component. And frankly, I think we’re moving backwards on this one.

I love academic scholarship; my frustration with academic publishing has to do with equality, access, and the meaning of a public good. One of my critics is correct – this is about transparency and making certain that those who want to engage with scholarship can. I don’t think that academics should necessarily be writing for public audiences, but I do think that their work should be publicly accessible.

One of the reasons that I push for open-access journals instead of just letting people put pre-prints online (the publicly accessibly alternative) is because open-access journals are catalogued and search-friendly. It’s a lot easier to find articles in open-access than it is to find them scattered across the web. I know there databases that allow people to add their pre-prints, but this is not done automatically and that’s why I think that it’s less ideal.

There’s a lot to be said about top journals. They are published regularly. They are more likely to attract top reviewers and top editors who are careful about what goes into the journal. They have a higher rate of submission, allowing them to be picky. They are more likely to be catalogued by libraries. They infer status at every level and they make it a lot easier to assess the claims made by the scholars. I think that all of this is important and I understand why lots of scholars want to stand by this system. But, I strongly believe that we can have top journals without restraining ourselves to locked-down publication models. I don’t think that the two have to go hand-in-hand, but I do acknowledge that moving towards a new system without the support of the traditional academic publishers who profit off of the locked-down model will be extremely bumpy. When I submitted the article that prompted this post, I thought that I could convince Sage that this was the right thing to do. I couldn’t. It would be soooo much easier with the help of publishers and part of me still hopes that they’ll see the light, but I came to the frustrating conclusion that this is unlikely and that the only path is to route around them. I’m reminded of John Gilmore’s quote: “The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.” I see locked-down journals as a form of censorship.

Maybe I’m wrong, maybe academic publishers will lead the media industry into a new era. Maybe they’ll realize that their business model is outdated and develop new ones. Maybe they’ll change their publishing and distribution strategy so as to make open-access viable (especially given that the libraries would love to move away from physical journals and pay-per-print is viable for those who want a bound version). This would make me ecstatic and I would happily volunteer to review for any traditional publisher who decides to go open-access. But I can’t stand by and watch another generation of scholarship get locked down. It simply isn’t right.

In light of the increased attention this entry has received and some of the confusion people had with what I said, I modified some of the content of this post. I did not edit out the things that people took offense to so that this would stay on public record.

For those interested in pursuing this topic, please read Peter Suber’s Six things that researchers need to know about open access. This includes a fantastic collection of links on open-access alternatives. For those of you in the natural sciences, be proud: the The Public Library of Science is a great open-access resource filled with great scholarship.

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81 thoughts on “open-access is the future: boycott locked-down academic journals

  1. Cathy Davidson

    Hi, danah,

    I’ve been writing about the future of scholarly publishing seemingly forever and I like some of what you say but other parts strike me as odd: how can we expect journal publishers to do their work for “free” when so much of everything else we do costs–and someone has to pay the cost of scholarly publishing. It’s like the writer’s strike: why are the writers getting ripped off when they tend to be the least well paid part of their profession. Editors at scholarly presses–not the commercial presses like Elsevier which are price-gauging our libraries and skewing the bottom line away from journals and books in the humanities–tend to be the least well paid, most hardworking, and most invisible people in our complex profession. The unsung labor of copy editors, designers, proofreaders, all those others who contribute to professionalism has to be acknowledged, in a way it rarely is or we contribute to what Nicholas Carr calls the “sharecropper” part of Web 2.0 (invisible labor contributing to the glory of someone else). A few points: at HASTAC we decided the proceedings of our first conference should be entirely open source, collaborative, and so forth. Well, it hasn’t been free! Funds from my personal research budget are paying for proofreading. Time, time, time by underpaid and very busy graduate students who are making up the editorial collective isn’t “free.” Those who are doing the work on the online version are doing this as add-ons to busy other jobs. Hundreds and hundreds of hours to make a “free” Lulu Creative Commons licensed product that we will be proud of but still won’t be as professional as a university-press publication. I hate overpriced lock-down journals, but I also hate exploitation. To get to an issue of Social Text, I was recently allowed to purchase a pass for three days for $15 dollars. That seemed quite fair to me (and not close to paying for the actual labor that went into that volume). I blog every day for “free” on the HASTAC site. I believe in alternative forms. But I also believe we need to acknowledge the complexities of labor and production as well as the complexities of consumption and think about unseen costs and their implications for all of us. Thanks again for such a stimulating posting that has generated all these great and thoughtful comments. Clearly we are in a transitional moment and are all, together, trying to think this through. Best, Cathy

  2. Richard Pinneau

    In my mind I hear a conversation between Mr. AcademicPublisher and Dr. Everyprof (after James Bond dialogue):

    Mr. A: Do you expect me to give away my products?
    Dr. E: No, Mr. A… I expect you to die.

    Suggestion, Mr. A.: instead of fashioning yourself after Detroit’s auto Neanderthals and continuing a business model that short-sightedly hurts everyone, why not get creative. If *you* don’t… someone open-source-minded will.
    Change. Or die. If you choose the latter, you will not be missed.

    -A recovering academic

  3. Kerim Friedman

    This post presents the situation in overly simplistic either-or terms. In fact there are a number of possibilities that lie between open access and “closed” journals. A consultation with the SHERPA/RoMEO database would reveal that you can easily ask for permission to post a pre-print of your article in an institutional archive or on your own website.

    For more information about self-archiving please visit:

  4. Oliver Seely

    The initial text describing the recommended boycott of non-open access journals and the comments following are quite long so I confess to not having carefully read everything. The author of the article published in a “locked-down” journal, Danah Boyd, has an additional option available to her and it is amusingly sweet: Change the title, paraphrase throughout and publish the article on the web, not only as an open-access article but as an article in the public domain. Or, alternatively, update the essay form of the article and publish that on the Web. I would recommend also that she tweak the owners of her intellectual property AND play a few games with U.S. Copyright Law by changing as little as necessary but enough so as not to violate the copyright on the locked-down article. Those limits are not set in concrete, so some prudence is in order. U.S. Copyright oozes along according to case law and depending on the nuances in one case vs. another decisions on infringement of copyright can vary. If the essay form of the article has a de facto public domain status, then that is probably the way to go — even sweeter, actually, if a lot of the phrases were lifted and plopped into the copyrighted version. If those phrases were originally not copyrighted even less work would have to be done to make the public domain version immune from charges of copyright infringement. Finally, don’t forget to add the line Copyright (c) 2008 by Danah Boyd and assigned to the public domain.

  5. Ralf Klamma

    A good place to publish scientific workshop and conference proceedings online is CEUR Workshop Proceedings is a publication service of Sun SITE Central Europe operated under the umbrella of RWTH Aachen University with the support of Tilburg University. is a recognized ISSN publication series, ISSN 1613-0073 hosted at http://SunSITE.Informatik.RWTH-Aachen.DE/Publications/CEUR-WS/. Current volume number is 323!

    As an author and/or editor you have following benefits:

    * Thanks to Sun SITE Central Europe and RWTH Aachen, the service is free of charge for organizers of scientific workshops and for the readers of their proceedings.

    * The copyright and any similar right for the proceedings and all included material remain with the papers’ authors (for the individual papers) and with the proceedings editors (for the proceedings as a whole).

    * maintains a high standard of accessability. Proceedings are made available online approximately two days after submission, sometimes within hours.

    * Workshop proceedings are assigned a uniform bibliographic identifier, being its uniform resource locator (URL).

  6. zak

    Thought this news item would be of interest

    Harvard Research Studies May Go Open Access

    By Amanda Natividad – Tue 12 Feb 2008 02:03 PM PST

    The Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences is voting today on a proposal for the university to distribute their research studies online instead of signing exclusive agreements with journals that often have small readerships but high subscription costs. Should the measure be approved, research from the arts and sciences faculty will be made available online via the Office for Scholarly Communications at no cost to readers and may open the door for Harvard Medical School to go open access as well.

  7. zephoria

    Cathy – One of the things that’s become clear in all of this is that the economics around journals varies tremendously. I have friends who edit well-respected journals for free and others who get paid for their labor. I know fields where copyediting is paid by the journal and others where authors are expected to provide proofed and copyedited versions as their final draft. There are journals where there is a template and no designers and others where layout is done professionally. Some journals have marketing infrastructure; others do not. There are fields where conference fees offset journal publications, fields where journal fees offset book publications, and fields where researcher grant money is expected to offset publishing costs. There are journals that see their primary role as one of aggregation and allow authors to publish on their own website; there are others who wish to operate as gatekeepers and only allow access through their gates. There are fields where people are hired to do grunt work, fields where grad students do the publishing grunt work with no choice, and fields where grad students do the publishing grunt work as a rite of passage (e.g., law).

    The variable does not appear to be something so simple as “quality” by rather discipline and norms, publisher type and association infrastructure. I’m most familiar with the world of ACM/IEEE and Sage/Taylor&Francis and pure-profit publishers meant to rip off academics. Part of what makes it hard to have a conversation about this topic is that there’s huge variability across scholarship. I’m very thankful for this conversation for making a lot of that apparent to me.

    To a certain degree, it’s a question of guiding principles. What do we want the end goal to be and how do we work to achieve it? For me, the end goal is clear: open-access. What I’m learning is that not everyone agrees that this is a desired outcome; this makes me sad. I totally agree that it would be a shame to not acknowledge unsung labor, but it’s pretty clear to me that the unsung labor varies tremendously by model, and I think that there has to be creative solutions to get to open-access without further marginalizing labor. I personally am not willing to give up open-access just to help keep antiquated business models rolling. I strongly believe that new business models are possible in this space and that there are solutions that require less expenses than the current models, making it easier to move to open-access without marginalizing more people.

    I’m super stoked to see so many people willing to talk about these issues. Hopefully this will help us all reach an outcome that we can enjoy. In the meantime, for me at least, I just want to make certain that everyone can get access to the work that I produce.

  8. Xianhang Zhang

    “Harvard University professors may publish more research online, free to readers, after the school’s arts and sciences faculty adopted a new policy that may be a blow to scholarly journal publishers.

    The policy was approved in a voice vote yesterday, according to Robert Mitchell, director of communications for the 730-member arts and sciences faculty. The meeting was held at the university’s Cambridge, Massachusetts, campus.

    Harvard’s decision lends support to the growing open-access movement in academia, an approach opposed by journal-industry representatives who say bypassing journals and their peer-review process may harm the quality of published research.”

  9. Jerome McGann

    I sympathize with and support what you’re proposing. To be practically
    effective, a model is needed that (a) integrates the online work in a
    decentered environment (ie, anyone’s work can be located on any server anywhere,
    AND the work — though distributed — can “talk together”; and (b) the work
    should have passed through a standard scholarly peer-reviewing process.
    That is a model we have been developing at NINES ( with the
    plan and expectation that the NINES subset will link up with similar projects in
    other disciplinary areas. At this very moment a project called 18connect is
    beginning to be developed that will integratewith NINES, so that scholars working in
    both the 18th and 19th centuries will have access to an integrated environment of
    their materials. At the moment the materials are all American and British, but the
    plan is to have the thing grow as others in other related areas of work move to
    integrate as well. Let me say that this is doable if scholars take the initiative
    to bring it about. (Our passivity in the face of these dramatically changing, and
    culturally dangerous, situations and circumstances is our worst enemy and our shame.)
    In the meantime — since such a system will take time to emerge — Peter Suber’s
    remarks are pertinent. That’s the way to go — AND, if it were a way taken with a
    certain amount of institutional/developmental care, it could be a way leading to
    the kind of online aggregation we require.
    Jerome McGann

  10. Marcus Barber

    Gidday Danah.

    I understand your plight though have a different grudge.

    The reason why I’d no longer specifically target a closed Journal for publication is due to the experience of dealing with the Journal of Cleaner Production where as a co-author, they didn’t even have the courtesy to send us copies of the Journal in which our paper appeared. I’ve got all of the emails in which they claim that they’d only send out a total of three or so copies to one person.

    Even though there were four of us who put this piece together.
    Even though we live in Poland, the Ukraine, the Netherlands and Australia.
    Even when I asked for more copies that I would distribute to the authors at our own expense.
    The Journal said they had ‘just sent our copies’. About four months after the article had been published and only after we asked once again, if we could have a copy. They still haven’t arrived and its now about 18 months. We’ve sent other emails inquiring about whether it would be possible, if they wouldn’t mind ever so much, having the courtesy to send us each a copy. Nothing!

    For me the issue is a lack of professional courtesy – these closed articles are happy to have people put in an awful lot of (often taxpayer funded) work so that they can make money but do not have the courtesy to even send us one copy each!

    The hassle of dealing with this Elsevier publication means I now have to think twice and thrice about submitting anything to an Elsevier Journal.

    I haven’t had the same challenge with other closed Journals published elsewhere (non Elsevier) so perhaps it is a quirk of arrogance of the Journal of Cleaner Production.

    But if you can’t even read your own work in a closed Journal without being forced to pay for it, something is seriously wrong with the model. It is an issue I never have with open Journals

    PS If anyone from JCP is reading I’m still waiting and would be delighted to receive a copy as YOU PROMISED!

  11. Artech

    While the post has some relevance, I find it extraordinary that you should suggest that ‘young punk academics’ should only publish in open-access journals in protest. Coming from someone who charges 15000euro and first class return flights for speaking engagements, can you really be suggesting that while publishing in this way ‘may cost you advancement or tenure’, ‘you know it’s the right thing to do’.

  12. Bertil

    Maybe it’s me, but danah asked something to Young Punks, and Harvard followed: that’s worth a lot more then 15k to m… — What?! Cambridge Old Boys weren’t obeying the Queen of Steam-Punk?! My bad, then.

    Sorry to have assumed that your being “(b) the reviews editor of Convergence, and former editorial assistant; (c) the guest editor of the special preceding the one in which you were published, on videogames meant you had a relation to Sage; I was actually referring to your experience of “having this service [copy-editing: I’m not clear about the prestige aspect] provided professionally by Sage: it seems very expensive, and I was asking for billing details.

    I’m just an economist (and a student at that) wondering who took the money, the surprising gap between how little you got, and how expensive (and inconvenient) it turned out. (Actually, we avoid such crude words and call it “the [monopoly] rent. Enough with technicalities)

    Sorry to appear heart-less; I hate it, but it surprisingly is considered a quality by the editors whom I face (none of whom seam to consider switching to Open Archive, apparently) — just having a hard time to adjust.

    I only compared it to music industry, because recent cases let the impression that many groups paid their recordings with their souls (and authors’ rights) and out-Fausted with fracas: a good studio-technician is priceless; none the less, the industry is under spectacular changes — and given iTunes success is very much about how inconvenient artificial scarcity proves to be.

    A friend of mine explained to me that details would demand investigating into: how much drug & prostitution go through the producers, and; understanding copyright licensing in the music industry, either impossible feats. Was I wrong in assuming that academic publishing was different?

    Elsevier is a Dutch company.

    Sorry for being snarky, but like Lawrence Lessig (and danah, but since she hasn’t influenced Harvard decision…) I would love to see more transparency.

    Good point of this discussion: I found whole ecosystem of blogs around danah’s.

  13. Sage Ross


    When I’ve told other colleagues (grad students) that I only want to publish in open-access journals, the concern that came up was the unknown reliability of long-term digital archives, since open-access journals are also frequently not print journals. (Naturally, it was an early modernist who brought this up.) I feel like that’s not a big hurdle with in principle, with the low and falling cost of digital storage and good system for redundancy. But archive reliability is not something addressed explicitly by the open-access journals with which I’m familiar.

  14. jaquer0

    I’d like to suggest a different course of action.

    The best way to say something is to DO IT.

    If you want journals to be free, then MAKE THEM free.

    Find the most important journal in your field.

    Strip the DRM, rip the content, put it online.

    If you don’t know how, ask your students, or your kids.

    Conspire with like-minded people in the production staff and among the junior editors. Get it online BEFORE the official release.

    Look at the scene in movies. The glory is in getting a DVD-rip out before it gets to Wall-Mart.

    Piracy is to publishing as love is to prostitution.


  15. Carrol Cox

    There are forms of exclusion that sneak up on you. I can’t read the comments because when I increase the print size the comments run off the screen. Currently I’m having trouble with dry eyes and can’t read easily the font that stays on the screen.

  16. Maximilian Forte

    I fully support what danah has been saying here, with one caveat: it does not go far enough. The boycott she recommends concerns journals. What about book publishing? Some of us prefer to publish book-length pieces more than brief reports, and some of us are also fortunate to work in institutions where journal articles are not emphasized over other forms of publishing (at least not officially, and not uniformly). There are a great many open access journals these days in my discipline–anthropology–but far fewer resources available for open access book publishing. I would expand danah’s boycott to include all regular print publishers, and not just academic ones. And, I would add, that we must endorse Creative Commons licenses if we want to see our work distributed widely and used in coursepacks in universities. The copyright culture is strangling us.

    PS: I too found the micro-font on this site to be a challenge, I can barely make out the words.

  17. jentery sayers

    Thank you, danah, for your post. Here, I want to respond to some comments made about not just journal articles, but also book chapters and monographs.

    Perhaps you and a number of your readers have already read the 2007 edition of the MLA’s Profession. Then again, perhaps I’m the English punk-nerd here, and the MLA is not your bag. Whatever the case, I find, in that issue of Profession, Caroline Levine’s “Rethinking Peer Review and the Fate of the Monograph” quite suggestive, particularly when she proposes “a centralized process of peer review” (102), thereby separating peer review from publication. Levine later argues that this move “would allow us to act as our own professionally certified agents” (103). In the context of your blog, how we, in the time of emerging fields and disciplines, understand “us” is a question in and of itself. Still, it’s a question that I want to bracket off in order to unpack “audience” and “academic production.”

    Of course, Levine’s proposed process would require the financing of a peer review panel in various fields; however, it also implies (as you already mention) that academics need to re-think the very notion of audience. For me, this shift also demands re-thinking how academics write and the situations through which they write.

    All of this said (and granting my cursory review of Levine’s article), if I understand myself as a “young punk scholar” (which I do), then how do I articulate my writing/research relationship with(in) the academy in a future where publication might/could be detached from peer review? In short, how does the appeal to open access alter how we say, what we say? For example, on this issue, have you heard from many academics who are not in the arts and humanities? If so, how do they respond?

    Thank you, again, for your post, danah. It’s certainly a much-needed, optimistic trajectory. Take care.

  18. Terry Townsend

    Without trying to be self-serving, Links — International Journal of Socialist Renewal, would be interested in looking at any papers/articles that authors may wish to submit in order to make them available to wider radical audiences. Please see our mission statement below:

    Links seeks to promote the international exchange of information,
    experience of struggle, theoretical analysis and views of political
    strategy and tactics within the international left. It is a forum for
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  19. Mark H.

    We need to found and publish open access journals and material and bypass the lockdown. Then we establish facts on the ground and the established journals will have to follow suit. If open access stuff is also peer reviewed, scholarly, etc., then it will win.

    Here’s my problem: I am involved in editing a volume of articles on a history subject. It was originally planned as a collected, edited volume for a traditional academic publisher. The editor has dropped the project, however. I would like to move the project forward in a way that avoids all the problems involved in print publishing and editing or locked down electronic journals. I want it to be out there cheap and widely read.

    If I just put it on my own webpage, it lacks scholarly (“peer review”) clout. Is there an institution I can go to that is scholarly and already does open access for projects like this one?

    Why don’t departments just link scholarly content to their home pages?

    – No publisher.
    – University affiliation as a filter.
    – Quality gets cited and survives, garbage dies.

    Would that work? If ten good universities started doing that, would it catch on?

  20. Stevan Harnad


    Those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it.

    The boycott gambit was already tried nearly a decade ago and failed, resoundingly, and predictably, since even then it was not true that Open Access meant only or primarily Open Access Publishing (“Gold OA“). Even then, the fastest and surest way to 100% OA was OA Self-Archiving, by authors, of all the articles published in non-OA journals. This is called “Green OA“, and the single most common error about OA (and also the single thing that stands most in the way of progress toward 100% OA itself) is to imagine that OA means only or primarily Gold OA.

    The way to reach OA is for authors to self-archive, and the way to ensure that they self-archive is for their universities and research funders to mandate self-archiving — as they are now beginning to do, at long last.

    Stevan Harnad
    American Scientist Open Access Forum

  21. John Appleseed

    Self-archiving is an incredibly poor and limited answer coming from a name like Harnads!

    Who will maintain the self-archived versions? How do we maintain consistant links over time? Is it really intelligent to have the responsibilty of maintaining access fall on the author himself?

    I support this boycott fully. All academic journals which publish funded publically MUST go open access. On this, there is no question in my mind.

    Self-archiving is nonsense. Open access journals, with well organized databases and systems of organization are essential. It is also essential that we remove all the DRM issues. Right now, it is impossible to organize scholarship into an easy to access and navigate database because it is illegal to compile such information in a new way/experimental way.

    Publishers should not have any control over how academic information is distributed and used. End of story.

    For those who say otherwise: Good luck finding your self-archived file. Good luck having it incorporated in other works.

    Steve Harnad: This is not about going the surest and fastest way. It is about carefully restructuring the accessibility of information so that the public can benefit, and so that it can be used in new unpredictable ways.

    Publishers, with their draconian rights schemes make the organization of academic information a nightmare!

  22. Booger

    Hey all,

    One love. I’d also like to say that past boycotts of non-OA journals were entirely successful. Just look at how many open access journals we have today?

    I think a more constructive question would be: Why should we publish in traditional, locked down journals?

  23. Pingback: Open Access Publishing Podcast « Unruled Notebook

  24. Rose Halpert

    I very much enjoyed this piece, Danah. I was interested to see that a group of Cambridge academics have started their own non-profit publishing company, Open Book Publishers, that aims not only to make monographs freely accessible online but bypass all the red tape associated with the old university presses. They already have a number of very high-profile academics contributing titles:

  25. Anna Piela

    I’m surprised to see praise of publishing in open-source journals from someone funded by Microsoft, definitely not an open-source code endorsing corporation. Is this not a discrepancy? Just wondering.

  26. zephoria Post author

    Microsoft Research strongly encourages all of its researchers to publish in open-access journals and to post their research publicly. I’m not sure why you think that Microsoft would be against open-access.

  27. Paul Manning

    I must say as the outgoing editor of a AAA journal publsihed by Wiley Blackwell that, for the most part, the real editors are the academics who assemble the journal and send it on, usually copy-edited to 80-90% of the target. The press would then add various errors to what we had assembled and then type-set it and put it on the web and gridgingly print it. We did our work for free, we reduced our expenses to zero by refusing to print anything or accept anything in paper form. The only expenses we had, in fact, related to reviewing books, an odd service we provide to academic publishers which costs most, is tiresome and is of very little value. If we had gotten rid of that, hired a copy-editor with some type-setting skills of our own, the entire journal could have been put up for basically free as long as we skipped the paper issue. We could have subsidized these nominal costs using our member fees and made the journal free.

    The problem is that the argument for the involvement of the mediation of a publisher is nusually cast in technical or financial terms, that, on the one hand, there is some need for their special skill set or infrastructure, or, on the other hand, there is need to link publication to markets. However, the sad truth is that the former arguments no longer hold, as we demonstrated more or less by being editors, so the real problem is that academics are afraid to try new venues, the older venues have so much accumulated prestige that their monopoly is retained long after any possible technical or fiscal argument or alibi for this monopoly. That’s why any arguments trying to justify the monopoly by referring to the labor of editors, which is always unpaid, except for the copy-editors who basically do less than 5% of the editing anyway, is ridiculous. In some journals, the copy-editors are quite interventionist, which is fine but once again they also add many many errors in their zeal, but at the end of the day, there are journals which run for profit that basiclaly don’t do any copy-editing either, that’s all done by the unpaid academic editors or a grad student intern. Any way you cut it, attempting to justify these monopolies by reference to the technical or market orders is simply an alibi to avoid recognition that it is simply the dead hand of prestige, and prestige is not in itself anything but a rstatement of ‘that’s the way it is, and that’s the way it will be, unless it changes’.

  28. Nordin Zuber

    I would like to share another problem with the locked-in subscription journal system: A major challenge for improving the quality of teaching in elementary and secondary schools is the disconnect between practicing teachers and the education research community. As much as a newly graduated teacher wishes to continue to access and engage with research, the paid subscription walls put up a formidable barrier. When I was at university, with a student library membership, I had the world of education research at my fingertips. Now as a practising teacher, I’m locked out. My university does have a cost-effective alumni library membership but it *blocks online access to journals from home* – the only way I can access them is to be physically present at the university library computers – something very unlikely to happen during a busy teaching schedule at a school 40 minutes drive away from the university.

    This is only one example of how locking what is usually publicly funded research behind subscription firewalls hurts all of us.

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