Most of you know me, or at least
have heard me talk during the last
twenty-plus years of AAUP meetings. I've tried to be, throughout that
time, a pragmatic futurist. I've been lucky enough to be in positions
that allowed me to find interesting publishing problems to try to
solve, by identifying developing trends, and crafting solutions. Part
of my schtick is to try to look ahead. I try to be an early warning
system for scholarly publishing.
I was talking about the Internet pre-gopher, about digital
throughout the 90s, and about open access when it was barely a meme.
And over the last decade, I've been helping build the most
successful open access book publishing experiment to date, at the National Academies Press.
We get 1.5 million visitors a month to our fully open material, and we
still haven't gone broke.
Today I'm going to take advantage of this plenary to address two of
my key interests:
a) the survival of scholarly
b) the survival of civilization.
You may think that that's a bit grandiose, perhaps even
But I really believe that we can save scholarly publishing.
On the survival of civilization?
(Note: Beginning of recorded material
Well, two years ago, I and my best
buddy, who lives 500 miles away from
me, began a Web project documenting five likely global collapse
scenarios, and one recovery scenario.
These days, we each spend about an
hour a day, filtering through the
news, and identifying three to six stories that document the reality of
a society reaching multiple tipping points.
And then we try to deliver a punchline
for each story.
[CLICK] -- single item
We're "humoring the horror of environmental collapse," trying to find a
way to make the stark realities somehow more palatable, through humor
The reason? that I am unembarassed to do such unabashed self-promotion
among my scholarly publishing tribe?
Because of what I have concluded, through collecting the 2800+ items,
over the last two years -- these news items that we have noted,
recorded, considered, and be-quipped.
I'm quite certain that what I've learned applies to scholarly
publishing, and digital open access publishing.
Let me be clear: these are my personal conclusions, and by no means
those of my employer.
The realities I see ahead of us, in the next ten to fifteen years,
militate for some radical strategic choices, in the next three years.
I believe that we must shift our business models -- publicly,
transparently, intentionally, thoughtfully, but radically -- to a
digital one, with open access as the backbone of scholarly publishing.
We must do this to survive a tremendously turbulent next decade, and to
ensure that our mission, and its survival, continues to be fulfilled.
If you think open access is scary, listen to this:
[CLICK] -- peak oil
There is every likelihood that we are experiencing, or will in the next
two years experience, what is called "peak oil." That's the moment when
society has used up *more than half* of the easily pumped oil. At that
point, extreme price volatility begins. The energy cost of extraction
continues to grow. The supply decreases in relation to the demand.
So the price at every pump, for every machine, for every turning wheel
and lightbulb, goes up. That means that publishers will suffer the
serious burden of wildly volatile production and transportation costs
of physical books. All physical systems become more expensive, leaving
less money for everything.
We have today, and will have, a sucky stock market. One
little-discussed phenomenon, associated with our debt-laden society:
The parents of the baby boomers will be dying over the next decade. The
boomers themselves will inherit whatever stocks their parents owned,
and will want to pay off their own debt by selling off their parents'
stocks. In a supply-laden stock market, prices will drop.
The coming *commercial-property* collapse will be exacerbated by that
Job losses will increase, as will the belt-tightening of the American
Public funding and private funding will dry up. Universities will be
looking for places to axe. Library budgets will retreat. Fewer people,
even scholars, will have extra income to pay for our publications. In
ten years, we will be unlikely to be able to sell our print books, at
the prices we'll have to charge.
That's not even the scariest part.
Humans are causing or contributing to a truly, deeply, fundamentally
terrifying array of environmental collapses.
[CLICK] more Cloud
(Note: the following links each open in a new window/tab
The great migrations themselves are becoming extinct, from salmon to
elk to butterflies to tuna.
Bats in the Northeast are suffering catastrophically from white-nose syndrome
, at die-off rates of 90%.
Pollinators are suffering dramatically
. Top-of-the-food-chain predators
everywhere are collapsing
. All marine mammals have high levels
of PCBs, and flame retardants
, and a broad array of other
human-made toxins coursing through their bodies.
The waste-processed effluent from our cities contains the prozac and
viagra and hormone replacement runoff, that we flush down the toilet,
which makes fish hermaphroditic. That water mixes with the pesticide,
herbicide, and fertilizer runoff
from our factory farms -- creating a dead zone
the size of New Jersey at the base of
the Mississippi, joining other dead zones around the world.
In between California and Hawaii there is a gumbo of plastic
gyring in the Pacific that's at least the size of Texas. Plastic does
not biodegrade, but breaks down into particles that fish consume.
And we have already overfished
between 85 and 90% of the raw biomass out of the ocean in the last
century, and every day, we continue to hoover up four times more ocean
biomass than is reborn. "Peak ocean" happened a long time ago, but our
ever-more-efficient factory fishing has let us ignore it.
Coal power belches heavy metals and incredibly massive amounts of extra
carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Let me just say: global warming is
not a theory, it is a given.
But CO2 does something much worse. While we bicker with global-warming
deniers, the ocean is getting more acidic
Excess CO2 plus ocean produces carbonic acid. Ocean acidification is a
clear and present danger. A slight rise in acidity dramatically affects
calcium-carbonate-based lifeforms, like most plankton, shellfish, and
coral, the cornerstones of the ocean biosphere.
If humans do not drastically reduce our CO2 output in the next ten
years, our rich, biodiverse ocean will become an acidic, jellyfish- and
algae-filled cesspool, in our lifetimes.
If, over the next decade, humans continue doing what we have done for
the last fifty years, then we will construct our own hell, and our
grandchildren will curse our names.
.... I'm lots
of fun at parties, these days.
Ok, now the good news.
By our actions we can help prevent it.
We don't have to do what we've done for the last fifty years.
But what we do -- publishing the intellectual output of the best minds
of our generation -- matters to society.
[CLICK] - it matters
It matters, what we do: to ensure that even under this certain strife,
society continues to enable an intellectual culture that supports the
further development of intellectual culture.
[CLICK] -- HSS matters.
Scholarly publishing, like society, will be undergoing tremendous
upheaval in the next decade, and beyond, and we -- we have a
responsibility to society, to ensure that we are part of the discussion
of how the new world is made.
How do we do that? Open access is the backbone of the solution.
We have been hearing throughout this conference about collaboration,
cooperation, and new models of realigning ourselves.
I'm afraid, however, they're not radical enough, given the realities
[CLICK] -- more cloud
If I were king of American university
press publishing? I'd say this:
Even if I'm only half-right about the
economic, ecological, and
environmental catastrophes I'm foreseeing -- and unfortunately, the
term "faster than expected" keeps popping up in all these stories --
then we have a responsibility to change.
[CLICK] -- change
Change our relationship to CO2 and energy-intensive production. Change
our sense of ourselves and what we do.
Change to what?
For as long as I've been in this
business, the trend, among
business-minded Press directors, has been to try to *distance* his or
her press from its parent institution. To be its own business. Be
distinct. Be separate. To control our own destiny and logo.
In this new world, that direction is a mistake. Today, and planning for
the next decade? It's *crazy* to think that we can continue doing what
we've been doing for the last fifty years.
We should strive to *cleave to* our parent institutions, not stay
separate. We should find every way to publicly brand scholarly
publishing, and *your* university's Press, and its value to
scholarship, on campus.
University press publishing needs a new message. Perhaps that message
Scholarly publishing is a vital part
of a larger scholarly
communications system, and must be preserved. University Presses also
recognize that we have a societal responsibility. We recognize that the
lifecycle energy and CO2 costs of printing, shipping, storing, and
distributing physical books must be radically curtailed.
To retain the qualities of scholarly communication, we'll radically
shift, if you'll step up to the plate.
Does that mean giving up some control? Yes.
Does that mean collaborating more? Yes.
Does that mean innovating our way out of a failed system? Yes.
Does that mean embracing various forms of open access in exchange for
institutional support? Yes.
Does that mean rethinking the economics, and the cost recovery systems,
and the sustainability models of scholarly publishing, based on a
collapsing physical world?
Within the context of a world in
crisis, we *must* demonstrate that
we're radically rethinking our relationship to the future. We must
demonstrate that we are part of the solution, not part of the problem.
We must seize initiative now, and start making changes as fast as we
Open access + digital publishing will
help get us to a sustainable world, and keep us in the mix.
Imagine, in five years, a different
income stream where 50% of your
income comes from some kind of value-added digital sales, and 25% from
print-on-demand, and 25% through institutional support of fixed costs.
Dissemination and societal impact will increase 50x, because the
material is openly available and promoted online.
With that kind of documented
dissemination of scholarly value and
University brand, to the broadest public, no dean would be motivated to
cut the support that enables scholarship to thrive online. And, our CO2
production will be radically decreased.
We must develop a different model,
because the print model is frankly unsustainable.
If we don't make these kinds of
changes, we will be knowing
participants in the death spiral. If we passively stumble along doing
what we've been doing, tepidly experimenting with digital publishing
and open access, our products will become
increasingly marginalized, our
societal value increasingly questioned,
our markets decreasing, and the price of production and distribution
will not only be expensive, but will be abusive of an increasingly
Of course we must live in the market
of today. Of course we must make the smartest business decisions we
can, every day.
But we also need to be strategizing
for our future. This next fifteen
years will be not just complicated, but I think traumatic. If we want
to survive, to carry on the ideals of what we hold true -- the missions
of our respective Presses -- we must shift to a digital-primary
publishing model *ahead* of the curve, instead of behind it.
In a world of an ever-growing surfeit
of content and distraction, when
the clamor of voices for simplistic solutions to systemic problems, we
Promote our value to society, to
justify our continued existence.
Further, we must:
Brand ourselves as becoming part of
the CO2 solution, to our
adminstrators and institutions, as part of *their* external messaging
Brand ourselves with the public as a
key part of a civilized world trying to save itself
Brand ourselves as rethinking our
relationship to scholarly communication
Brand ourselves as quality in a sea of
content, by being openly accessible digitally
Brand ourselves as promoters of
intellectual rigor and quality, online
Scholarly publishing's role in the
world must be de-linked from print
publication. The print book must become the exception, not the rule, as
soon as possible.
Cheap everything, bought on credit,
paid for by the future, is
finished. Civilization will be paying for it for the next fifty years.
For the last fifty years, printing was
merely the best way for us to perform our job.
What job was that?
Finding a way to have really smart
people get paid enough to help
produce a lush ecosystem of intellectual ferment of very, very high
Please don't write me off as a doomer
-- but I hope I've scared the hell out of you.
I don't say any of this lightly. I'm
not an open access zealot. It's
not a religious thing with me. As I've said over and over, in the end,
open access is just a business model for fulfilling our mission.
But today, knowing what I know about
the looming crises, it's a
business model that is likely our only means of long-term survival.
University presses must rethink and
recast our profiles within our
institutions, we must insist on frank discussions with our provosts,
deans, funders, departments, and representatives about how to
restructure ourselves to dramatically reduce our carbon output, by
radically restructuring our business models.
Not put us on the dole, but help
underwrite the cost of making our
material open access, so we can continue to enrich the intellectual
environment we call scholarship, and also, perhaps, help save our world.
National Academies Press
Apocadocs: Humoring the Horror of
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