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The Uberfication of the University (Open access Forerunners series version available here; as of April 4 2017 an interactive Manifold series version is available here.)

Públicos Fantasma - La Naturaleza Política Del Libro - La Red (Mexico: Taller de Ediciones Económicas, 2016) - new book, co-authored with Andrew Murphie, Janneke Adema and Alessandro Ludovico. 

'Posthumanities: The Dark Side of "The Dark Side of the Digital"' (with Janneke Adema), in Janneke Adema and Gary Hall, eds, Disrupting the Humanities: Towards Posthumanities, Journal of Electronic PublishingVol. 9, No.2, Winter, 2016.

'Pirate Philosophy And Post-Capitalism: A Conversation With Gary Hall', by Mark Carrigan, The Sociological Imagination, December 8, 2016.

Open Access

Most of Gary's work is freely available to read and download either here in Media Gifts or in Coventry University's online repository CURVE here 

performative project Janneke Adema has put together, based on our ‘The Political Nature of the Book: On Artists’ Books and Radical Open Access’ article for New Formations, Number 78, Summer, 2013. 

'What Does Academia.edu's Success Mean for Open Access: The Data-Driven World of Search Engines and Social Networking', Ctrl-Z: New Media Philosophy, no.5, 2015.

Radical Open Access network

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Monday
May302011

Towards a new political economy: Open Humanities Press and the open access monograph

(The following text was presented at OAPEN 2011: The First OAPEN (Open Access Publishing in European Networks) Conference, Humboldt University Berlin, Germany, February 24 – 25. Results of the conference are available here. A version of this text complete with slides is available here.)


My invitation stressed I should ‘focus on practical… ideas on open access that can be realized, not on theoretical thinking’. That’s not too easy for me, as I’m a theorist by profession, albeit one involved in a number of what some people would call ‘practical’ projects. But I’m going to try my best for you.

I thought I’d begin with one very practical idea that is being realised: that represented by Open Humanities Press (OHP), an international open access publishing collective in critical and cultural theory, established by Sigi Jöttkandt, David Ottina, Paul Ashton and myself.

As we know, open access in the humanities continues to be dogged by the perception that online publication is somehow less credible than print, and lacks rigorous standards of quality control. This often leads to both open access journals and book presses being regarded as less trustworthy and desirable places to publish; and as too professionally risky, for early career scholars especially. It’s precisely this perception of open access that Open Humanities Press has been set up to counter.

OHP was launched in May 2008 by an international group of scholars, librarians and publishers, very much in response to the ‘vicious circle’, as Robert Darnton calls it, whereby:

the escalation in the price of periodicals forces libraries to cut back on their purchase of monographs; the drop in the demand for monographs makes university presses reduce their publication of them; and the difficulty in getting them published creates barriers to careers.

In the first instance OHP consisted of a collective of already-existing open access journals in philosophy, cultural studies, literary criticism and political theory: Cosmos and History, Culture Machine, Fast CapitalismFibreculture, Film-Philosophy, Filozofski Vestnik, Image and Narrative, International Journal of Žižek Studies, Parrhesia, Postcolonial Text and Vectors. While these journals are of high quality, many had a problem generating a high level of prestige: because they’re online journals rather than print; and because - although at least two are over 10 years old now - most are relatively new, and as Peter Suber points out, ‘new journals can be excellent from birth, but even the best cannot be prestigious from birth’. The idea of OHP was to bring these journals together under a single umbrella, and raise their profile and level of prestige in the eyes of academics and administrators by way of a meta-refereeing process. To this end OHP has an Editorial Board that includes Alain Badiou, Steven Greenblatt, Bruno Latour and Gayatri Spivak, and an Editorial Oversight Group consisting of a rotating body of 13 scholars drawn from the Editorial Board, which we use to assess our titles according to a set of policies relating to publication standards, technical standards and intellectual fit with OHP’s mission.  As Sigi Jöttkandt stresses, the press operates as an unpaid collective, ‘where editors support one another and share knowledge and skills, very much like an open source software community. And, in fact, one of the things that makes a peer publishing initiative like OHP possible is precisely open source software, such as the Public Knowledge Project’s suite of open source publishing tools.’

The plan when we started was to spend the first few years establishing a reputation for OHP with its journals, before proceeding to tackle the more difficult problem of publishing book-length material open access. Things have developed much faster than we anticipated, however. As soon as OHP launched, a lot of people got in touch asking us when we were going to publish books open access. So in 2009 we established an OHP monograph project, run in collaboration with the University of Michigan Library’s Scholarly Publishing Office, UC-Irvine, UCLA Library, and the Public Knowledge Project headed by John Willinsky at Stanford University.  The idea is to move forward: both open access publishing in the humanities; and the open access publishing of monographs. And we’ve launched our monograph project with 5 high-profile book series:

•    New Metaphysics – eds Bruno Latour and Graham Harman
•    Unidentified Theoretical Objects – ed. Wlad Godzich
•    Critical Climate Change – eds Tom Cohen and Claire Colebrook
•    Global Conversations – ed. Ngugi wa Thiong'o
•    Liquid Books – eds Gary Hall and Clare Birchall

The way the monograph project works is like this: scholars come together ‘around areas of interest through a book series and perform the editorial oversight, manuscript selection and development for that series.’  The resulting books are then run through the University of Michigan's Scholarly Publishing Office’s suite of services, and made freely available full text open access online, as HTML and nearly all of them PDF too. We’re also offering POD and eventually EPUB books. SPO is subsidizing the production and distribution costs and providing its services in kind, in keeping with its mission to provide an array of sustainable publishing solutions to the scholarly community. We’re looking to use print sales to cover (primarily SPOs) production costs, pay author royalties and to subsidize the costs of other OHP titles. It is this partnership with SPO that enables us to afford to publish open access books, without author-pays/publishing fees or external funding; and to maintain high production standards in the process. ‘SPO has infrastructure, scale, and experience; OHP draws together self-organizing editorial teams of senior scholars in various fields of the humanities to provide the editorial functions and peer-review.’

Is this going to enable us to develop an economic model for the long-term open access publication of research in the humanities? To be honest, we don’t know. OHP is not unusual in that respect, however. As Maria Bonn wrote in 2010:

Even those most active in the OA monograph efforts… must concede that our arguments at present are informed mostly by speculation or ideology. Experimentation in open book publishing has been very limited and is still so new as to have generated few results that can be replicated or refuted.

I raise this point, not as a criticism of any such efforts. If we’re going to address the issue of long term economic sustainability, then as Bonn emphasizes, it’s 'important to learn from the different monograph experiments that are taking place and to embark upon more of them’. Nor do I think the inability of any one such experiment, as yet, to definitively resolve this issue, means doing so is ultimately an impossible task. I don’t think there’ll be a magic-bullet, one-size-fits-all answer anyway. However, I do wonder if we haven’t been looking for some of our answers in the wrong place.

So far most of our attention has been on those willing and able to experiment with different economic models of publishing open access monographs - as if we’re all hoping a press somewhere can come up with a solution to the problems of academic publishing that will protect the rest of the scholarly community from the need to change how it functions. Yet I wonder if, in the long run, it isn’t going to require more of a community effort than that, one that will involve the way researchers, authors, libraries, institutions and funding agencies operate, too?

For example, the new, alternative publishing model OHP is pioneering is one where there’s no profit for anyone, since as a scholar-led publisher, our main source of funding comes indirectly via institutions paying our salaries; and, as I say, we’re using the proceeds from POD sales to cover production costs and subsidize the production of other OHP titles.  (So we’re selling POD books, but not charging for the service of publishing books open access.)

Despite this, what we’re experiencing is that some authors – not all, but some, a small number - still insist on viewing us as more or less a ‘classical’ press, only one run by volunteer scholars working to service poor humanities academics by publishing their work open access. For these authors, the traditional author/publisher relation appears to be still very much in place. They’re attracted to all the advantages of the new publishing model that’s offered by OHP: such as a relatively short turn-around time between submission of their final manuscript and its being made freely available online; and the fact OHP is able to make decisions about what to publish, less on the basis of a text’s potential value as a commodity, and more on the basis of its quality as a piece of scholarship. And thus that we can publish books which, in the current economic climate, classical print-on-paper-only publishers might regard as being too difficult, advanced, specialized, radical or avant-garde to take on - because they wouldn’t be able to make a profit or even cover their costs on them.

But these authors also want to continue to have a quite traditional relationship with us as their publisher, and they keep trying to treat us accordingly: arguing, to take just one example – and this is just one example - that more of the proceeds from POD sales should go to them in the form of royalties, and less to us/the community to subsidize the publication of other titles open access.

In a way we perhaps shouldn’t be too surprised by this. The desire for us to operate as an ‘old school’ publisher partly arises out of a lingering fear of the taint of vanity publishing; partly it results from the fact that a conventional publishing relationship with a conventional publisher is the only such relationship most authors have experience of.

Still, we also need to take some responsibility for this double-think ourselves. For isn’t this how most of us in the open access movement make our case? Don’t we encourage colleagues to get involved by reassuring them that open access offers most, if not all, of what the classical print-on-paper-only publishing model offers - only with all the added benefits ‘giving away’ their work for free online can bring? (It’s cheaper, faster, brings greater readership, increases citations, and so on.)

This is certainly how we often present OHP. Hence, as Bonn identifies, while OHP may be innovative in its distribution of labour, it’s ‘quite traditional in its review process, in part to address academic humanities concerns about OA publishing and quality’.  

Now, one can understand why this strategy has been adopted within the open access movement. And let’s be honest, we’re probably going to have to continue with it for some time yet if open access is to keep on growing. However, with the question of economic sustainability in mind, won’t we have to revise this strategy at some point, and open ourselves to the possibility that, if we do want to ‘find a financial model which is appropriate to scholarly humanities monographs’, as the OAPEN website puts it, we can’t necessarily expect the rest of our publishing model to remain largely the same as in the toll-access, print-on-paper-only world.

In saying this, I want to emphasize that I’m not referring to the quality of our production, editing, peer review, design, marketing and promotion. If we decide to, we can maintain classical professional standards in all these respects since, as my OHP colleague David Ottina has pointed out (in personal email correspondence), ‘many of the tasks associated with presses… are rooted in workflows that arose from the materiality of the press itself. Now that every academic has all of the tools for each of these tasks sitting on their desk, those workflows have become vestigial.’ 

Still, one thing we may have to consider, if the open access publication of humanities monographs is going to expand and be economically sustainable over the longer term, is changing the relationship between presses and the rest of the academic community. I’m not sure the bulk of the responsibility for achieving such sustainability can be handed over primarily to those presses that are willing to experiment with different economic models for publishing monographs. As well as increasing the number of presses that are exploring ways of making it possible for book authors in the humanities to publish open access,  might we not also need to experiment with developing a new kind of academic culture and economy. An economy based less on competition, possession, academic celebrity, and ideas of knowledge as something to be owned, commodified and exchanged as the property of individuals, and more on openness, generosity and hospitality. Where authors, librarians and publishers are all seen as being part of the same community, working together to produce and share knowledge and research:

•    with libraries providing sustainable publishing solutions to the scholarly community, or at least their own university’s staff. (Even just getting together to agree to catalogue open access monographs and purchase the POD versions would be a start);
•    authors waiving more of their royalties to subsidize the not-for-profit publication of other open access titles;
•    academics, rather than providing free labour for toll access journals and publishers who don’t allow authors to self-archive copies of their work online, or who charge high annual subscription charges, using this time instead to become actively involved in the process of selecting, developing, editing and publishing open access monographs;
•    and institutions supporting their researchers to publish open access – not just by subsidizing the cost of doing so, but by not disadvantaging authors who publish open access books when it comes to hiring and promotion and so on.

The problem is, of course, as anyone who has any experience of initiating online projects quickly learns, it’s not enough to operate on an ‘if we build it they will come’ basis. One has to either create such a community, perhaps through promotion and advertising, or make use of an already existing community.

At one end of the spectrum, some of those involved with OHP have suggested our contracts should feature a tick box, where authors can explicitly state they would like their royalties to be used to support the publication of other OHP monographs. At the other end, it has been suggested OHP write a manifesto, making it clear we’re in the process of developing a new model of scholarly publishing, consisting of a cooperative community of publishers, authors, scholars and librarians all working together to share knowledge and research, and asking authors to work with us on this basis.

Yet is there a community for the new kind of academic culture and economy we’re pushing toward here that can be either created or tapped into – especially given that a large part of what currently seems to attract authors to open access is the fact that the rest of the conventional publishing model and relationship does indeed remain in place?  Would a project such as OHP not have to act to try to performatively transform and so create the very 'culture'  and ‘community’ in which such a project could - at some point in the future perhaps - be eventually understood and participated in? And do so without any certainty or assurance that this would happen? That’s the kind of practical problem OHP is currently exploring.

In the end, what we can see is that the long-term sustainability of a project such as OHP perhaps depends on a community that does not exist – at least not yet. Rather than being spoken to, represented or addressed, it is a community that has to be created or invented. What we might think of, not so much in terms of Giorgio Agamben’s ‘coming community’ or what, following Jacques Derrida we might call the community to come, but what I would term as the missing community. 

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