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. Jinal Shah

    i support your cause – even though i am not in academia right now, i aspire to return to school in a few years for my intellectual growth. in the outside world, the only times we hear about such papers or studies is when they are mentioned in magazines or newspapers. and that really shouldn’t be the only conduit for teh general public to learn about new research.

    i applaud your stance and sincerely hope that it does not hamper your career goals at all.

  2. Alex H.

    I fully support the move to open access journals. Are you sensing a “but”? Here it comes. No one cares if I boycott a journal, nor do they care if you boycott a journal (though they no doubt care more about the latter than the former). There are always young Turks coming up from behind to replace you in the queue. We are not masters of our own habitus, and it would take changes in *all* of the areas you note above for movement to occur.

    Moreover, for most of us lowly, non-punk-but-still-marginalized scholars, boycotting the major journals is a great way of ensuring the failure of open alternatives. Why? Because how we are ranked or evaluated as scholars (and we are) has a hell of a lot to do with which ISI indexed journals we publish in. If we opt out of those rankings, and send our stuff only to open access journals, we ensure the population of those journals only by marginal scholars. This is true even for senior scholars who, if they decide to eschew the current top journals (which tend to be closed), will be seen as over-the-hill and unable to produce fresh research.

    So, there may be some merit in the Hollywood model: trading off movies for the money and for the love. Or the academic equivalent: for the reputation or for the good of the community. That would begin to provide open alternatives with more visibility, while avoiding marginalizing the scholars who help that happen.

    If you want to find the Achilles heal, the catalyst that would get things moving much faster, it’s easy enough: follow the money. Pressure NSF, MacArthur, etc., to require open publication for all funded research. Get state legislatures to do the same for state schools: if you get a summer grant or fellowship, your work needs to be published in public, so that the public who paid for it can access it.

  3. Mathias Klang

    Well done Danah!

    I have been thinking about this a great deal but still have not managed to make the same decision as you have. My academic work is focused on open access issues my extra work includes Creative Commons and the Free Software Foundation Europe – so it should be an easy choice.

    But then academic pragmatism sets in and I need to publish among my peers. I realize that this is herd mentality and that it is driven by the need for recognition and promotion but a principled stance is hard to make.

    Oh hell! I suppose I should really take a stand – thanks for making me think…

  4. alexanderhayes

    Wayne Mac. and Leigh Blackall have much to say on this topic over at

    Perhaps the key is in trying to determine the best way forward to assist in free content publication which acknowledges en-masse peer review….that would mean that a degree would sit where mine does…in the back shelf somewhere.

    I’d have been better inversting the $30,000 in technology which truly connects and intersects. Good luck on the open content policy.

  5. Fiona

    Thank you danah for making a stand on this issue. As a librarian, I am a strong supporter of open access and have also decided to only publish in open access or repository-friendly journals.

    The movement needs more voices like yours. I am sure that others will be encouraged to take a closer look at how their work is restricted as a result of this post.

    You might be interested to know that academic libraries themselves are emerging as publishers in some places – they are providing the infrastructure for new journals to be created and managed.

  6. Jason Wilson

    I’m responding to this as (a) a fellow early-career scholar; (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.

    I find your commitment to open-access publishing laudable. I’d urge you to try it out yourself, and start a journal, perhaps in keeping with the “punk rock” DIY ethic. If you can summon even half the commitment, energy and insight that the general editors of Convergence have exhibited over 15 years in bringing outstanding new media scholarship to publication, you may even have some success. But I’d hazard a guess that you’ll find that it takes a long time to build up the momentum, the contacts and the reputation required to have a product that people read, care about and want to see themselves published in.

    Just a note in case you’re not aware – the editors are two women who had the foresight to intuit – when people of my age were still in high school – that new media technologies were likely to be an emerging area of research interest, and that this deserved a regular forum. They’ve nursed the journal through a convoluted publishing history, and they’ve managed to launch more than one research programme, and more than one career in the process. They were happy to bed it down with a major-league publisher, not because of any high-handed notions about “prestige”, but because their authors’ work would now be internationally catalogued, would receive more citations, and would be more valuable in the research assessment regimes that are increasingly prevalent across the academic world. Rather than bowling up to the publisher in search of “prestige”, it was their existing, hard-won prestige that attracted Sage’s attention. They’d be far too modest to say it, but I think they can claim some credit for establishing the field that I – we – work in.

    I’ve worked in the office alongside them when the journal is produced (in a public university where circumstances are much more modest than say, MIT – bigger workloads, smaller budgets and more challenging students), and I know that they’re passionately committed to the journal and what it does. I consider them to be the most ethical and generous people I’ve worked with. I also know that they’ve spent a long time thinking about, and evolving strategies to deal with the overlapping institutions that govern academic production – universities, governments and, yes, publishers. By avoiding jejune, simplistic or totalising assessments of this industry – by thinking about it in terms of affordances and conctraints – they’ve managed to get something important done. Your picture of editors and authors as the victims of exploitative publishers couldn’t be further from the truth in this case, and I suspect in many others.

    Your description of the economics of academic publishing is, frankly, something of a caricature. The idea that academics provide free labour to the publishing machine in return for the status that comes from being read in upscale journals ignores what publishers actually do – i.e. publish and distribute journals. You talk about copy-editing as if it were no big deal, but having this service provided professionally by Sage has actually freed the editors up to do what they do best – think, plan, take authors work through the peer-review process, and talk to the people producing special issues. Along with design, layout, fact-checking and legal assistance, this is what publishing means. Distribution means that it does get past those other gatekeepers, university librarians (and reaches a great many eyeballs as a result), but there are a range of other subscribers – $112 a year is less than a daily newspaper. If there is status conferred by the publisher, it’s in part because the journal – any journal – is not sent out to subscribers until it’s reached a very high standard. All of this costs the publisher money, and without the publisher, the editors would be doing a whole lot more of the free labour you’re talking about.

    Technologies of open publishing mean that anyone can, in principle, start an open-access journal, but very few of them last long because of this burden of labour that publishers can and do take care of on behalf of editors. How to finance this? You don’t provide many solutions, here. Open-source editing is a nice idea, but we all know the “dirty little secret” of open-source: most of the heavy lifting is done by a very few people close to the project, particularly when it’s of minority interest, as specialist academic publishing must, to some extent, be. Even if it were successful, surely it would just be spreading the (increased) free labour around – and trust me, it’s hard enough to get peer reviewers.

    To anyone reading who is engaged with new media studies and looking for publication, I’d urge you to consider Convergence among the many other excellent new media journals that are published by academic houses. The overwhelming majority of Convergence authors are grateful for the professionalism and dedication of the editorial team in bringing their work to the widest possible audience.

  7. MC

    hi danah,

    i’m also in that issue of convergence, and i’m very proud to be.

    i’d just like to register my bewilderment at your capacity to diagnose the pitfalls of an entire industry and the motivations of all of us who choose to work in it.

    and while i agree with others that you’re brave to make it, this pledge – on a high readership blog after you’ve been published in academic journal – must surely be offensive to the many scholars for whom one publication might make the difference between holding on to a job or even feeling confident enough to apply for one.

    it would have been offensive to me, but i’m lucky enough to have had some stuff published and i still believe that it was worthwhile doing it.

    anyway, more to the point, does this mean you won’t be available for peer review anymore?

  8. marck


    To you, I give an AMEN!

    I’m not exactly a “scholar,” but I am a “young punk.” As you may already know, I am at the very margins of the academe: I am a student, and I’m far and away from the American academe, and I’m not at the mainstream.

    Research, like information, should be for everybody: for those of us who are not in the mainstream of waves of intellectual growth, we are bound by the rules of the mainstream. Rather than foster our own growth to compete and to keep pace with current trends, we are often limited because of the relative dearth of open journals, where our own ideas stand a better chance of being known to the world.

    I applaud your convictions, and you have in a way inspired me to do my bit for the program of open information.

    What can I do to help?

  9. Lucy

    I’m happy as a UK student that my university provides access to a lot of online journals related to my subject, so I am able to read your article and will be doing so in a minute. It particularly interests me as I’m doing a Computer-Mediated Communication module and am thinking about doing my next assignment on social networking sites, though I know it’s a complex field!! Just wanted to agree with you on your points – I find it very frustrating when I try to access online journals and can’t do it without paying, and I think it discourages students from really getting into the current research and reading around their topics, because less mainstream journals often have very restricted access which our universities have no wish to pay for. Sounds like it’s going to be hard to change all that but good luck with it!

  10. Tom Morris

    Another thing that’s missing from the list is open discussion seminars for papers. One seminar group I attend is the Aristotelian Society in London. They make pre-seminar papers available in PDF on their website but then lock the post-seminar papers away on their publishers site. The seminars are open to the public, but the finished papers aren’t. It would seem like such open seminars could help bootstrap open access by simply shifting over to an open access system. Scholars can still cite their appearance at Suchandsuch Reputable Scholarly Society even if the paper then gets published in a (maybe unfairly less well considered) open access database.

    If you run such a seminar, why not open access?

  11. Richard Millington

    The figures seem a little niave. But I couldn’t agree more with the insight, academic journals are in trouble if they fail to open their market up a little. My University offers access to a fair few journals, but we miss out on many, many, more. I want to learn, and have access to this research. My dissertation this year is heavily focused upon new media, and Convergence is sadly a journal I don’t have access to.

  12. Elizabeth Albrycht

    I am so happy to read this. I am studying for my PhD at the European Graduate School (, which is a highly alternative, mostly virtual (except for 3 weeks every summer in Switzerland) university. It runs lean and simply cannot afford the exorbitant costs of getting a subscription for its students to one of the journal databases ($40,000 per quarter and up). When I do research, I face $15 – $30 per article charges for one view. When you think that I might need to look at 10s if not 100s of articles searching for nuggets of gold, you start to see the problem. Thus I am always scrounging and borrowing and having to delay my thought process, forgo writing on certain points, etc. Endlessly irritating.

    I know this will all change in time – the pressures are too intense towards open access. But damn, I wish it was here now.

  13. Coturnix

    Welcome aboard, danah. If you have any questions about Open Access publishing, you can always contact me, or check out the Blogroll on the PLoS Blog.

  14. anotherKate

    another thing many libraries are doing to help improve access to scholarship is hosting institutional repositories–if you want to make (typically pre-print) copies of your articles available through a personal website, your library might well provide the permanent storage and the bandwidth you need.

  15. Tad Suiter

    Another university-affiliated person who does new media without access to Convergence, here.

    I’d like to challenge Jason Wilson’s notion that restricted-access gatekeeping necessarily promote a larger number of citations or greater visibility in the academic world.

    In a recent article, Charles Bazerman, et al. look at the reception of a recent book, Writing Selves/Writing Societies, that they published online as an open access volume.

    According to a search of Google Scholar, which indexes scholarly publications available on the Web (29 September 2006), the book or individual chapters in it has been cited 68 times, according to a search of Google Scholar. Although we do not have comprehensive comparison data for print publications, we suspect that this is a higher rate. A print-only collection with about the same number of chapters (15) published in the same year as Writing Selves/Writing Societies (and winner of a best book award given by a leading journal in the field), had far fewer citations: 10. Our experience suggests that open access scholarly books follow a pattern of citation similar to journals, which indicate that open access journal articles in a wide range of fields are both more likely to be cited and likely to be cited more quickly. Our experience with Writing Selves/Writing Societies supports this.

    The article (published, I believe, in an open-access journal) can be found here:

  16. zephoria

    I want to explain why I published with a locked-down journal in the first place. I didn’t put this in the entry itself because it’s a sad story. Before he died, my advisor was on the board of Sage. Peter was one of the most radical troublemaking people that I knew, but he did it in a magical quiet kind of way. Believing passionately in the Free Speech movement at Berkeley, he created the Free Speech Cafe when he was the head librarian at Berkeley. He worked with the Library of Congress to preserve digital media. He believed that publishers needed to change to deal with the modern era and was always plotting to find new ways to make them do so.

    When I received Henry and Mark’s CFP, Peter and I talked about what it would mean to publish in a locked-down journal. We decided that I should submit and that we would fight to push Sage towards opening up. We thought that Convergence, and especially a special issue of Convergence on current media trends, would be the ideal place to make the case. Unfortunately, by the time my piece was accepted, Peter was too ill for me to even approach him. He died shortly after. One of Peter’s friends encouraged me to try to make the case to Sage myself. I tried and failed. I considered pulling the article and talked with the editors about this, but I decided not to given Henry and Mark’s hard work. It was a last minute decision to let it go through and it haunted me through the process, especially once I was forced into signing all sorts of papers that forbade me from uploading pre-prints for a year.

    Part of what pains me about this whole thing is that I know that had Peter been alive, he would’ve argued tooth and nail with Sage about this issue. He believed that the future of publishing is openness, but his way of making change was slow and systematic while I’m the loud, brash type (as is his wife). I miss him dreadfully and part of why I’m taking a stance on this is because he no longer can.

  17. zephoria

    Jason –

    Don’t get me wrong – I respect the folks at Convergence and I also understand why they did what they did 11 years ago. It made sense then, but it doesn’t mean that it makes sense to be locked into a conservative publisher now. It hurts them just as much as it hurts the scholars who publish there. What pains me about Convergence being locked down is that their journal is explicitly about a topic that has great interest beyond the academy and yet most of those people cannot get access to it. I know that they’re passionate about what they do and I think that it’s impressive and should be rewarded by more visibility.

    I know how hard it is to get journals off the ground, but there are already a lot of such efforts out there that should be supported and nurtured into growing. I also know that there are models to make it work. I was at Annenberg when Manuel Castells and Larry Gross decided to create IJOC as an open-access initiative because they believed in it from the bottom of their gut. I commend them because they are very respected scholars in the field and this is one of the best ways to make an open-access journal work well.

    Anyone can start a journal, but that doesn’t mean that it will gain traction. At the same time, just because it’s open-access doesn’t mean that the quality is shit. I agree that copyediting is the one missing piece, the one thing that is paid-for in the process. Personally, I’d be willing to pay for my own copyediting to get it out in the open. Copyediting for an article typically costs less than $100 (and usually less than $50). I bet lots of folks could get their grants to cover that. That would be an interesting first move. I’m not suggesting open-source peer review – I know that doesn’t work. I’m suggesting open-access journals. Journals that are online-only and print-on-demand. Journals where there are two costs: bandwidth and copyediting. Sure, maybe these journals would benefit from having advertising and marketing budgets, but if done right, I don’t think that’s what’s needed.

    You compare a journal subscription to a newspaper subscription, but this is completely unfair (aside from the fact that most newspapers are free online). Convergence has four issues a year; newspapers have 365. Each issue has ?8? articles; each newspaper has over 100 articles. In other words, Convergence costs $3.50 an article but a newspaper costs less than a penny per article. How can you compare that? Sure, Convergence’s articles take a lot more time to produce, but the newspapers’ articles are a lot more timely.

    I spent most of this year volunteer editing for an open-access journal. I know how hard it is to put together a journal, but I also know how important it is for those articles to be read. That’s why I chose to take my special issue to something that was open-access. There’s no point in publishing an issue on social network sites to a closed academic audience.

    Publishing in open-access journals also makes a huge difference in viewership and reference/citation. I published an article in First Monday in December 2006. From January-August of 2007, that article was downloaded 72,627 times. Think about that. What locked-down journal can profess to having that kind of viewership? There’s no way that that many people will read my article in Convergence. Not even close. That’s depressing as an author.

    In demanding a new path, I’m not condemning the decisions made by academics who started journals in a bygone era. What I’m saying is that things have changed and it’s time that we all take advantage of these changes to benefit academia, scholarship, and the public good of knowledge production. It is in all of our own good and I would *love* to see the editors of Convergence use their passion and talent to pressure Sage and other publishers to get with the program.

  18. George Siemens

    Hi danah,

    I agree with your emphasis on openness and the obligation of academics to make their work available for greater dissemination. After all, if information isn’t open, it can’t be networked and improved.

    I think we need to go a step beyond openness…and rethink the process of journals as a whole. I posted an article in early 2007 on scholarship in an age of participation: . While scholarly work needs to be more accessible, it is equally important for it to be more participative in annotation, discussion, and even development.


  19. McDawg

    Oh my Danah,

    That is indeed a very sad real life story and I for one admire you for sharing this with your readers.

    In light of this, I wonder as a mark of respect for Peter, Convergence might consider making some articles like Danah’s in this special edition open access.

  20. paolo

    Do you know about the Scholar’s Copyright Addendum Engine?

    The Scholar’s Copyright Addendum Engine will help you generate a PDF form that you can attach to a journal publisher’s copyright agreement to ensure that you retain certain rights.

    I tried using it once but the publisher simply told me “you can’t do this”.

    Note that also the MIT has developed something similar
    and monitor “any feedback that you receive from the publisher”.

    Anybody tried these before Scholar’s Copyright Addendum Engine will help you generate a PDF form that you can attach to a journal publisher’s copyright agreement to ensure that you retain certain rights.

    I tried using it once but the publisher simply told me “you can’t do this”.

    Note that also the MIT has developed something similar
    and monitor “any feedback that you receive from the publisher”.

    Did anybody tried to send the ScienceCommons Scholar’s Copyright Addendum?
    Anybody from MIT tried to send the MIT�s amendment?
    What was the feedback?

  21. paolo

    Do you know about the Scholar’s Copyright Addendum Engine?

    The Scholar’s Copyright Addendum Engine will help you generate a PDF form that you can attach to a journal publisher’s copyright agreement to ensure that you retain certain rights.
    I tried using it once but the publisher simply told me “you can’t do this”.

    Note that also the MIT has developed something similar
    and monitor “any feedback that you receive from the publisher”.

    Did anybody tried to send the ScienceCommons Scholar’s Copyright Addendum?
    Anybody from MIT tried to send the MIT’s amendment?
    What was the feedback?

  22. Bertil


    You seem to ignore people who can’t pay for it, not that they are too cheap for that, but simply because the pay-wall Sage decides to set up –like many DRM schemes– just doesn’t work. Is it OS agnostic, safe, internationally available?

    It’s my case: there are three papers I would like to read from that particular issue; however I have no way to read them. I won’t quote them. Sorry danah, you lost a citation — unless Jason makes it accessible through any of the other dozen of providers that one of my three research institutions provides (as you can see, I’m no punk): Erudit,
    I-Revues, JSTOR, MUSE, OvidSP, Persee,, ScienceDirect, SpringerLink, etc.

    Indeed: why not making it available through several other platforms, rather then only Sage? Pay them for the copy-editing, and retain the right to publish it on other platforms. That would be more money, no? Competition might help lower the price and make it more accessible, too. I simply can’t understand how, after hundreds of thousands of yearly library fee, I’m still asked 15$ for half of the 600 articles I should read for my PhD.

    I would love to contribute extensively to this debate, but the comment thread is already very long. Let me simply say that:

    1. The economics and arguments sound very similar to the music industry: how can musicians who aren’t paid and benevolent label managers who hardly manage to eat, all end up with CDs that are absurdly expensive? (Yes, 15$ to view an academic paper for 24 hours is ridicule: how can you properly read something in one day anyway?) I’m not saying there is a Fat Cat hidden somewhere, but maybe being more transparent about all the money transfers would help us understand, and find an agreement. How much does Sage take? Who exactly is paid? What are the incentive plans?

    From what I’ve understood, things are changing in the music industry — but the finance part is still murky. You might not like the rule: “Don’t treat your customers like criminals.” (Some papers in that particular issue can be found on-line. Maybe. Would you prosecute the authors?)

    2. Like George, I would like to insist: the entire field is moving — anyone can write, comment, contribute to papers with far more fluidity. The more competitive, the faster the change. I would love my opinion to contribute to papers ranking on all the papers I read, not just those I cite–when, after a few years later, I cite them. I would love to have a recommendation feature based on my current reading list, not to miss too important papers. The only pain in my day, are the pay-walls from two publishers that none of my labs covers — and believe me: I curse when I see or Sage, IngentaConnect. Thank God and Google for preprints.

    In Hard science, leading journals have shorten their articles up to the point of becoming (still too expensive) abstract collations, with links to the complete papers stored on the much needed server. Google Scholar Citations # is on the brink of replacing Nature & Science to establish reputations. SSRN might do just that.

  23. nick knouf

    Here here danah! I agree with your points entirely. But I’d like to extend them beyond journals and into book chapters as well. Just earlier this semester I was in a class where we spent 20 minutes figuring out how to deal with copying and distribution (or not) of book chapters. Most of this course’s material came from rather esoteric, limited edited collections that were either out of print, or cost around $50+ per book. Because, I think, of some of the stances my school (Cornell) has made towards various publishing organizations, most professors are paranoid of posting scanned PDFs of these articles online, even behind a locked-down site open only to the students in the class. (Somehow the publishers are able to get in and monitor the posting and distribution of files—now that freaks me out to no end!) In the end, other professors have “happened” to “leave behind” a “stack of CDs” that “happen” to have on them “some electronic files”.

    But this is a double lockdown. First, the article is in a book, not online, and thus only available if you have physical access. Second, the publishers take a very narrow view of fair use and want to restrict any distribution of these articles, especially if the article is used in multiple years of the class.

    So really we need here the same idea applied to articles in edited books—agreements that allow the author to post the article online, perhaps in pre-print form, that could then be found by something like Google Scholar. The author agreement for a chapter of mine in an upcoming collection allows just this. I don’t want this to be seen as a tirade for or against physical books, items that I love and that have all sorts of useful purposes. But it is a request that the articles do not remain weeded to the books only, and to provide the space for scholars to distribute their articles and allow them to be used, openly, in pedagogical situations.

    What we do about this for all of the hundreds of thousands of articles that remain locked in books and behind restrictive fair use policies is beyond me. I’m afraid that nothing is going to change until more universities like Cornell take a stand and demand that the type of pedagogical, in-class copying of chapters be considered fair use by the publishers.

    paola: I was a master’s student at MIT and used the MIT copyright form for submission of a paper to a conference (an ACM one, ACM being one of the main (and very corporate) organizations for computing, HCI, etc.). I received no comment from ACM, so I have to assume that that means they accepted it. Luckily they’ve been moving away from some of their more restrictive policies recently, and many times now allow you to retain copyright on the paper, which is a great improvement.

  24. Peter Suber

    Hi Danah,

    I applaud your desire to make your future papers open access (OA). One way to do that is to submit them to OA journals. But another way is to publish them in a conventional journal and then deposit a copy in an OA repository. I’m not trying to dissuade you from the first path, merely to point out the second. Either method provides bona fide OA, and knowing your options can give you more choices about where to publish your work.

    About two-thirds of surveyed non-OA journals allow some form of author self-archiving. To find out whether a given journal or publisher does so, use the SHERPA/RoMEO database.

    Sage, for example, allows self-archiving of the peer-reviwed postprint but only after a 12 month delay. That’s a bad policy. I’d recommend publishing in an OA journal or in a conventional journal allowing immediate postprint archiving.

    For more info, see Six things that researchers need to know about open access or my Open Access Overview.

  25. Vinu

    I totally agree … I faced difficulty when I was trying a micro-nano startup last year in India.

    BTW even larger organizations like IEEE don’t have open access. Do you think we can have list or a wiki where we make a list of open journals?

  26. Peter Suber

    (I tried to post this yesterday, but it didn’t come through. If it comes through twice –my apologies. Please delete this paragraph.)

    Hi Danah,

    I support your decision to make your future papers open access (OA). One way to do that is to submit them to OA journals. But another way is to publish them in a conventional journal and then deposit a copy in an OA repository. I’m not trying to dissuade you from the first path, merely to point out the second. Either method provides bona fide OA, and knowing your options can give you more choices about where to publish your work.

    About two-thirds of surveyed non-OA journals allow some form of author self-archiving. To find out whether a given journal or publisher does so, use the SHERPA/RoMEO database.

    Sage, for example, allows self-archiving of the peer-reviwed postprint but only after a 12 month delay. That’s a bad policy. I’d recommend publishing in an OA journal or in a conventional journal allowing immediate postprint archiving.

    For more info, see Six things that researchers need to know about open access or my Open Access Overview.

  27. David

    I have to say, as an aspiring academic (going for a BS in physics), it never made sense to me why the best knowledge of our times is locked away in a drawer where it will never see the light of day. It is ironic that the very knowledge we work so hard to discover and articulate is also the most guarded from the public eye by, of all things, a private entity with no personal interest in the subject matter.

    I just hope PLoS gets a physical sciences/physics journal at some point so that I will be able to publish in it one day. I believe there’s a few open-access physics journals, but I don’t think they’re quite as famous as the PLoS collection, and it would be nice to be part of a cohesive effort toward open-access journals than to write in a marginalized independent one.

  28. Christy Dena

    Hey Danah,

    I’m in the issue as well and also had misgivings about being exclusive to a paid-access journal for 1 year. I too wanted to leverage the visibility of this issue and make sure that the people who wanted to read what I had to say…could. But I tackled the lock-down problem a different way. I created an online augmentation to my essay, a site that I refer to in the essay and that was approved by Sage before publication. The online augmentation has a few functions, it enabled me to:

    * put in taxonomical information I took out of my essay;
    * provide up-to-date information (my research area changes everyday);
    * offer links & resources for fellow researchers;
    * provide a general-reader elaboration of the essay;
    * encourage curiosity in those considering reading the essay.

    Perhaps it is because my research area is multi-platform content, but I took the constraint as a challenge to try a different approach to publication. I too champion open-access, but also believe that is not the only solution.

  29. Christian Fuchs

    My vision is the availability of all academic knowledge on the Internet for free, no author-charges and no reader-charges. This is the idea of a global Internet “brain” of academic knowledge. Knowledge as such is historic, dynamic, co-operatively produced, applying a Hegelian dialectical logic this means that openness and free availability is the Essence and Truth of academic knowledge.

    Corporate publishing negates and hinders and alienates the freedom of academic knowledge.

    But most academic knowledge today exists as private property owned by publishing houses and sold as commodities. Corporate publishing is a hindrance to the vision of free academic knowledge. Paper authors produce surplus value and hundreds and thousands of hours of unpaid labour time (Tiziana Terranova speaks of “free labour”) that is exploited by publishing houses, and sold as commodities back to the scientific community in order to transform the surplus value into profit. Capital here functions as a medium of an academic communication process that could in principle be organized without corporate mediation.

    Is open access-publishing a good alternative?
    In its current form, not really, because many open access journals charge authors. So e.g. there has been a recent offensive in open access journals by Bentham, they charge authors up to 800US$ per paper! This is the model of corporate open access journals (coaj). Coaj could result in economic pressures being put by publishers on editors, which could result in a lack of quality because journals are driven by economic interests to accept many papers, because in the coaj-model more papers means more profit (this is not necessarily the case in traditional corporate academic publishing).

    Neither the private property- nor the coaj model are truthful. The alternative in order to try to realize a vision of free access are non-profit open access journals (npoaj).

    There are already many such journals around, see

    But in this context, a large problem is that careers and reputation depend in many disciplines on getting your papers published in journals that are included in the Science Citation Indexes. Currently only about 1% of the journals covered by the ISI Web of Knowledge are open access: see . ISI Thomson is a private profit-oriented corporation, hence its business and its inclusion/selection practices tend to reflect the dominant interests of the publishing industry, which has an interest in marginalizing and keeping the visibility of non-profit alternatives low.

    ISI Thomson argues that articles from open access journals are less frequently cited in other journals, and hence are less included: . But if you marginalize certain journals due to corporate interests, then of course they will be less cited because they have unequal chances of being visible.

    I don’t share at all the argument made by Ingbert Floyd that journals are commodities and hence business models for open access have to be created. This is a typical Thatcherite affirmative TINA (there is no alternative) argument. The alternative is to create and support the alternatives!

    So I think, danah, that not all open-access journals are real alternatives, but only a certain portion of it, non-profit open access journals. Hence my suggestions concerning what to do are:

    * Scholars could increasingly submit their articles to non-profit open access journals (npoaj): see and could support such journals by joining their edititorial boards, making reviews, recommending these journals to others, etc…

    * For most, it won’t be possible to stop publishing in corporate journals because these are unfortunately still the journals that control the academic world and will help you advance your career. Hence the suggestion is to submit a certain share of ones papers to npoaj, as much as one considers reasonable. For people with tenure, this is an easy choice.

    * In order to increase reputation, scholars could read and cite more articles from npoaj in their papers.

    * Selected npoaj could be suggested in systematic organized massive waves for inclusion in SCI, SSCI, etc to Thomson (also to Scopus etc):

    Academic publishing is a capitalist political economy, its economic interests alienate general academic interests and knowledge, it colonizes science with the logic of money capital. The alternative is non-corporate publishing and the creation of a non-corporate world.


  30. John Caddell


    Thank you for this post. I ran headlong into what you describe recently. As pointed out by the Economist’s “What’s In the Journals” online column, I had chosen a couple of articles in different journals to read and write about. I don’t have a large readership, but people who read my blog posts frequently access the source material I link to. This is good for the authors of that work, as well as the publishers.

    Each of the articles was locked down and inaccessible other than for a fee. I can’t/won’t pay a large fee to read an article unless I’m certain it’s excellent and important (even then, my budget is limited). In this case, I was a tourist and wanted to sample.

    So I didn’t read the articles, and didn’t write about them. Too bad for the authors and for my readership, and for me.

    The idea of the closed-readership journal is an artifact of the time when all people interested in an academic subject were in the academic community. This small group could access these journals through their institutions’ subscriptions.

    Now we live in a world where anyone (even a blogger) might be interested in reading an academic work. Where, god forbid, he/she might have something important to add to the conversation.

    In this world, closed journals are as useful as telegraph machines.

    Regards, John

  31. Ken Wissoker

    Hi Danah,

    I’m the Editorial Director at Duke University Press, where we publish books and journals, with the aim of breaking even overall. That’s very different than Sage or Wiley-Blackwell or Taylor and Francis, and couldn’t be more different than Elsevier (the last might be more like the financial private equity behemoth Blackstone profiled in the current New Yorker). So, I agree with those above who point out that their are a lot of different structures, motives, and financial realities lumped together here.

    At Duke UP the academic work that makes money subsidized the no less valuable academic work that doesn’t. It’s pretty apparent to anyone who thinks about it that the conditions that make a book or journal successful in the market don’t necessarily correlate with the things that make them make the most difference in their field. We have published lots of books that won prizes for the best book in their field but sold very few copies (for reasons that might vary from their being too difficult to teach to it being a small field, or one that doesn’t teach what scholars in it write). That doesn’t make the work less important, so it’s great to be at a press where those books are supported by other books, and by our journals. That seems like a progressive model to me.

    But, I also think it’s interesting which information needs to be free. I’ve never seen an academic argue that none of us (myself included) should be paid for talks. Or teaching. Shouldn’t we just have our expenses covered for speaking face to face with others? A direct exchange of information? The same kind of volunteerism advocated for starting open access journals could also work in direct speaking! 😉

    Just to say that it’s easy to imagine that the things we consume should be free, but our production should be rewarded.

  32. Latoya Peterson

    Hey Danah,

    Excellent post here – as a hip-hopper interested in academic scholarship, your piece really hits on some of the barriers to the exchange of information and its ability to be accessed by more people.

    When I blog in various places, I only mention journals or magazines that can be referenced by everyone on the page. While I wish I could add more things from academic journals the cost is prohibitive – especially when you consider how many articles you sift through to find something that is relevant.

    While I understand the points put forth by the academics who have visited this page, I do wonder if there isn’t a way to compromise on making information more accessible – production should be rewarded, but don’t we also want people to see what we are working on.

    For what it’s worth, I will check to make sure that the hip-hop journal I want to write for is open source (which I think it is – a lot of hip-hop scholarship is still too new to bother with the costs associated with locking down content) and will make sure to use the list that Fiona provided above.

  33. zephoria

    For those who are interested in this thread, there are interesting critiques of what I’m saying taking place elsewhere in the blogosphere by people who do not comment here. I don’t always agree with what these folks say (and in some cases I respond to their critiques on their blogs). That said, I think that their voices are important and since trackbacks are broken and it’s often hard to follow the thread across multiple blogs, I wanted to point to them directly.

    Michael Faris argues that I misunderstand the intended audience of academic scholarship: a complete misunderstanding of counterpublics

    Alex Halavais sees a boycott as a guaranteed way to marginalize scholarship, but believes that a path to change is possible: Boycotting closed journals?

    One of the special issue’s co-editors, Mark Deuze, points out that other authors are finding sneaky ways to get their content out even if their articles can’t be free: Convergence Culture

    The harshest critique comes from Anne Galloway who is offended by the tone of my post and thinks that I am being disrespectful to scholarship: Boycott? I think not.

    In a related thread… Peter Suber lists Six things that researchers need to know about open access

    Hopefully this is helpful to those who are interested in this topic, regardless of whether or not you agree with my stance.

  34. messels

    thank you for posting on this, danah. it’s so important to break the existing status quo, which is essentially a system of restricting access to knowledge. if knowledge is power, locking the access to that knowledge is restricting the flow of power and keeping it in the hands of a minority.

    i guess the problem is that everything in our society is focused on making money rather than making knowledge more broadly accessible, even though the university system portrays an aura of insulation from those forces. your post really illustrates how that is far from the reality of the situation.

    eventually these power structures will crumble under the pressure of creative destruction. it’s only a matter of time.

  35. Sam Jackson

    Way to go danah. As a student at a very, very rich university (Yale) I have access to all ungodly kinds of source material; I do a search on google scholar and immediately Yale provides me several different copies of a given piece that they have the rights to display to me online through databases. Then I go home and unless I am on a VPN, I realize just how much stuff is locked away behind all kinds of paywalls… it’s very upsetting, and to be honest, I never really understood it all that well. It always seemed terribly antithetical to the would-be academic and scholarly mission. Shows how I’m a product of my times, I guess–the idea of succeeding in publishing by being so restrictive just never seemed like a very sensible model to me.

    And, I am reading the article now. (It’s good. If you haven’t read it yet, and have access, go read it people!) Took me three clicks to get to it, and because I’m coming from the Yale network it’s as if the barriers never existed…

  36. Tung Luong

    I’ve been trying to encourage many to use open access content for some time now. Espeically in the scientific field where things are so closed down, many students don’t get access to nay new developing information. How many people have used wikipedia for information? Tons. Its a place to get ideas out quickly. I have been for about 2 years developing a wikibook on proteomics and now working on a metabolomics book as well that have received great reviews, it just needs more people to contribute! I can’t agree with content more. You can check out the book here:

  37. Jason Wilson

    Sorry this has been awhile coming – I spent yesterday (downunder time) meeting some research deadlines – for a range of closed access and open-access publications and forums.

    Bertil – you seem to have made the assumption that I am in Sage’s employ, or that I represent them, or that I have any control over their decisions with respect to IP or DRM. You also seem to assume that I am an advocate of closed publishing. None of these assumptions is correct.

    Like danah, I’m an early career scholar, albeit one who has seen the workings of academic journal publishing up close. In principle, I agree that scholarly work ought to be freely available online, and that publishers should open their archives up. Indeed my own publications and current research interests show how interested I am in open culture. I’m currently myself co-editing a special issue of an open-access journal, and when I was working as Convergence’s editorial assistant, I tried to negotiate variations to their standard deal on behalf of authors.

    But I’m not a fundamentalist, and I’m not interested in the politics of cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face. I’m enough of a punk rocker to know that, for example, The Clash were signed to CBS, presumably because they, too, made a long and difficult calculation about the competing values of independence, authenticity, commerce and impact.

    Bertil and danah – I’d like to make a more detailed response to all of the arguments you’ve made here, but I’m conscious that this is danah’s space, not mine, so I’ll put them on one of the group blogs I write on, here over the next day or two. You may or may not choose to engage with them there, but suffice to say that I’m not prepared to discard the hard-won victories of my colleagues – the community of scholars that I work with – to endorse an impossible demand, based on a totalising analysis, that it seems to me would likely be counterproductive.

    In short, I think that forms of positive engagement with the institutions of publishing is much more likely to open up content in the long term than a boycott. This is not a case of black-and-white, good vs. evil (which is the way in which the strategy of a boycott would effectively treat it) – the work of institutional reform is never that simple.

  38. Avi

    There are academic publishers that have found a new business model.

    Take a look at the Berkeley Electronic Press (

    The journals are subscription based but there are some significant differences that make them much friendlier to scholars, students, and libraries.

    1) They have guest access that allows anyone to download any article from any journal for free. There is a form to fill out, but its short, and just lets them tell your library about interest from its faculty/students.

    2) The articles are in DRM-free pdf format.

    3) The journals, for what they are, are a lot cheaper than their comparable alternatives in the academic world (half to a third the price)

    4) Their journal prices are fixed, with no increases from year to year.

    5) They don’t force libraries into buying huge packages of journals they don’t need.

    Take a look at that company. They actually publish a few open-access journals as well and have a services division that creates software for universities that allows them to publish their own open-access material.

    Some academic publishing companies have already woken up it seems.

  39. Dion Dennis

    Back in the early 1990s, I made a decision (after writing a piece titled “License and Commodification: The Birth of an Information Oligarchy”) to go the open access route for the majority of my academic publications. Since then, I have sought them out – The Education Policy Analysis Archives, Postmodern Culture, Rhizomes, The Academic Exchange Quarterly, Fast Capitalism, First Monday, and, most frequently, over more than a decade, I’ve written for the Krokers’ CTHEORY.

    The reasons for going this publication route were personal and political. But beyond the vagaries of academic politics and the rituals of dominance and submission that characterize those “‘ole boy and girl networks” that meet at yearly conventions, I had (and have) things to say, about things that I believe matter, to other audiences. And it is that desire, both selfish and noble, to reach beyond the customary disciplinary micro-worlds, that propelled my words into the open access universe. The gates formed by the digital commodification of disciplinary knowledge were instinctively anathema to me. The words, and the thoughts, that continually make and remake me have gone down another road.

    The results can be seen from my website, and my c.v., available from here:

  40. Angela Randall

    Awesome post, Danah. I hope this triggers some sort of change.

    I am a current student who is constantly facing the decision whether to buy access to journals without knowing for sure that the journal is exactly what I’m looking for. I am always on the lookout for open-access journals (and these comments have led me to a few – thanks!). I find that rather than committing myself to a journal that might not be quite right I am better off researching who is worth citing and then finding a publicly accessible essay of theirs to read.

    Take for instance your own work. I’ve never seen a locked-down journal of yours, however I have read and cited many of your public essays.

    This is a serious problem. Many hours of quality academic work is being hidden away by locked-down journals. That’s not what academia is about. Danah, you are so, so right.

  41. Dirk Riehle

    I’ll avoid commenting on open access and publishing as it is a lengthy topic. Let me say, however, that I expect much of the dynamics to go away due to services like citeseer and now Google Scholar. I consider them the big equalizers in terms of measuring impact of publications and as such they will take a hefty bite out of the raison d’etre of academic journals.

  42. Gilles Frydman


    you end up your post with “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”. What you didn’t mention are the “Publication Fees for PLoS Journals” (see

    “To provide open access, PLoS journals use a business model in which our expenses – including those of peer review, of journal production, and of online hosting and archiving – are recovered in part by charging a publication fee to the authors or research sponsors for each article they publish. Authors who are affiliated with one of our Institutional Members are eligible for a discount on this fee.

    We offer a complete or partial fee waiver for authors who do not have funds to cover publication fees. Editors and reviewers have no access to author payment information, and hence inability to pay will not influence the decision to publish a paper.

    * PLoS Biology US$2750
    * PLoS Medicine US$2750
    * PLoS Computational Biology US$2100
    * PLoS Genetics US$2100
    * PLoS Pathogens US$2100
    * PLoS ONE US$1250
    * PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases US$2100

    The fees for PLoS are higher than other open access journals such as JMIR (Journal of Medical Internet Research) that has a fairly complex fee structure. In any case, with the exception of a few open access journals entirely supported by a major sponsor, authors have to pay significant fees to publish. It is a different publishing model, with its own set of ethical issues`

  43. Eliot

    This is a wonderful article that captures many of the sentiments that have been emerging in my circle of friends and colleagues.

    One issue outside the scope of what you’ve outlined here is the growth of multidisciplinary (or what some call postdisciplinary) research. And by crossing disciplines, one could include everything from canvas art and videography to cultural studies and political economy research. Traditional journals have a hard time addressing this breaking down of boundaries because of the medium in which they are situated (among other things). Not to say that web-based technology is the be-all end-all of the future of publishing, but I think it provides a unique medium for the dissemination of information and the recognition of the links between different mediums and different topics. A print or pdf journal cannot be as effective as web-based media – not only in terms of access, as you’ve described above, but also with respect to the transformations in visual, aural, and experiential culture (of course, the distribution of access to Internet technologies is not universal, but this is just as much a problem for print media as it is for the web).

    For example, I’ve peer-reviewed a number of cultural studies papers that are simply ineffective because of the ways in which they are presented. The growth of intensive research into video gaming and social networking technologies indicates that it is no longer adequate to provide a brief outline and commentary on the structure and function of the site. Visual and/or aural representations are a necessary component of disseminating data and argument about recent developments in the study of culture. While I�ve chosen the example of cultural studies here, there are a number of other (multi)disciplinary areas that would benefit from the interactivity and visuality of web-based communication.

    This has turned out to be somewhat of a rant, so I won�t say much more. But I think that the rise of BEPress indicates a growing trend towards web-based academic publishing. Also, I�ve been part of a team working on a site called Cultural Shifts ( that is trying to bridge the divide between closed/opened access, in terms of reading and publishing; and the divide between disciplinary/postdisciplinary research. A number of new questions are raised by emerging forms of web-based communication (e.g. who should be able to speak/be heard, etc), but I digress. Cultural Shifts is still in the early stages, and like many of the commenters here have stated, starting a new publication doesn�t mean it will gain traction. Nonetheless, I think that these new forms of digital publishing can�t be ignored by the larger publishers.

    Will academic research go the same way as the music industry?

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