Thursday, November 27, 2014

Freemium vs Open Access Tracts vs Open Commensal Publishing


Self Published e-books currently has strong connotations that the self-publishing author intends to make money off their work at some point in time.

Partly this connotation is driven by the fact that the best avenues to put self published e-books before the worldwide public (such as Amazon) are all themselves profit-seeking and distributing permanently free e-books will only lose them money rather than make them money.

So they simply won't distribute* self-published work that remains permanently free-to-read.

Because what really keeps afloat this connotation that self-publishing authors seek profit is that it is overwhelmingly true.

The majority of the self-published only appear to embrace a free-to-read ethos because they tend to release the initial books or chapters in a larger work for free - permanently or just for a limited time -  hoping enough readers prove willing to pay good money for the rest of the work.

This is really an ancient version ("loss-leader") of a seemingly 21st century model from the world of apps , freemium : give away the basic app and hope to sell premium features to a sizeable minority of the resulting users.

There is still a form of implicit censorship within all such profit-seeking self publishing, of course.

It is the self-censorship of those who, in seeking profit , tends to write what their potential audience wants to read.

Open Access to closed Group-Think : academia's closed commensality

Still at least part of most self-published world is free-to-read , while the author and publisher retain copyright control ---- so how then is this really different from the academic world's copyright-retaining Open Access free-to-read approach ?

Well for a start, and tellingly, self-publishing is detested by the academic priesthood .

This is because it is truly open to all : all would-be-authors and most frighteningly , all would-be-ideas.

Open Access : to the closed world of academic group-think

Amazon's self publishing division only rarely refuses to carry a book because of its content and no group of fellow authors (self-published or otherwise) ever sits in judgement deciding whether a self-published work should be allowed to be published.

Ultimately there is peer review --  but of an ancient , cumulative and permanent sort.

This peer review can ensure an author never sells a book , other than to their mother , or it turns a book into an enduring classic that is taught in schools, worldwide, for centuries to come.

Because , unlike in the cosseted and closeted world of the scholar the reviews of their fellow authors (peers) , along with those of ordinary readers, do indeed come - in spades, but in public , no holds barred - and only after that initial independent publication.

Musical producers - to this very day - do not bring their new work before their fellow peers on Broadway or the West End and beg them to allow them to bring their new musical out in competition with the musicals currently running.

And until the 1950s, nor did scholars.

They could independently publish via a commercial for-profit publishers - in mainstream magazines or in books - and yet have that work evaluated formally by their peers before they got tenure or a grant.

They are still free to write books , or blog or  even post articles on non-peer reviewed open access depositories --- but this time-consuming work will not count towards receiving peer-reviewed promotions or getting peer-reviewed grants --- no matter how popular or useful this work may be.

Advising a President counts - inside this academic Beltway - far less than publishing me-too articles in a specialized journal that even the few specialists in that sub-field rarely read extensively.

Today , Socrates and Plato would need to have a PhD, an academic position (in practise tenure, and at a well known research university) and have their work pre-approved by peers in their sub-field before it could be published in an scholarly journal or university press.

Only then would it be taken seriously by academics.

The days of untutored longshoremen offering up their thoughts on moral philosophy and being taken seriously are long gone.

In earlier times, before peer-review hardened into dogma (for largely atheist academics !), longshoreman Eric Hoffer's THE TRUE BELIEVER sold more copies than 99.99% of all professors in history have ever sold of their work.

Academics - precisely because of this case-hardened procedure of peer-review - can proclaim their peer pre-approved 'bold' thoughts with the reassurance no public mob or mob of university deans will try to lynch them.

Their peer-reviewed published thoughts might seem bold , but only bold within a paradigm that is consensually held by most of their fellow practitioners around the world.

A US Senator outraged by any such article can't get any traction - any academic expert he consults , from far right to far left , is puzzled : the article seems bold but well within the mainstream of that discipline -- what's the Senator's problem ?

Academic work then , with rare bold paradigm-breaking exceptions , is really less pamphleteering and more Tract writing.

It can appear bold and even bitingly brutal but it works within a consensus and for all its criticisms of that consensus, seeks merely to strengthen it not destroy it.

So let it be understood ,when I call them Tracts with a capital "T" , I refer explicitly to the TRACTS FOR THE TIMES , produced by what is now known as the Oxford Movement -- highly critical but always within the orthodoxy of their own sub grouping of the Anglican church.

Open Commensal Publishing or Pamphleteering

If the commercial author is restrained to write only what their profit-seeking publisher thinks will sell well , their competitor the self-publishing profit-seeking author is also restrained by what they think the audience wants to buy.

Similarly, the Open Access academic author is restrained to reserve their 'best orthodox' thoughts for peer review publication and direct their wildest but perhaps most honest thoughts to something dashed off in their personal academic blog.

(Where it might be wider read than any of their articles in top peer-reviewed journals that each were the product of three years of very hard slogging !)

But Open Commensal Publishing is today's digital pamphleteer, at least as George Orwell understood that term.

At its very best, it can be unrestrained by 'what the commercial publisher, general public or academic peers wants to hear' and instead it can deliver some new - badly needed - insights that would never have made it past those three filtering gatekeepers.

I hope to be a small part of that process...


(This could change if Amazon convinced enough such authors (who wish their work to be permanently free-to-read and yet to remain within these commercial distribution channels) to allow Amazon to sell subject-related ads intended to be displayed at the beginning, back and middle of their e-book, each ad subject to the author's prior approval. But I digress.)

No comments:

Post a Comment