As publishing tides continue to shift from paper to digital, the relevant economics become trickier and trickier to sort out. This is especially true in the world of academic publishing, where calls for open access demand an additional systemic re-engineering step. In the NYRB piece below, Robert Darnton gives a nice review of the current state of open access efforts with a specific focus on the Digital Public Library of America.
If there was ever an expert on the web of relationships between books, academia, publishing, libraries, and the digital, it was Darnton. Curiously, though, there's something missing from the current review: a justification for open access in the first place. As evinced therein, many scholars tend to take the pro-OA position for granted. Unfortunately, the debate is very open.
Why, they may ask, should we pay to get published? But they may not understand the dysfunctions of the present system, in which they furnish the research, writing, and refereeing free of charge to the subscription journals and then buy back the product of their work—not personally, of course, but through their libraries—at an exorbitant price. The public pays twice—first as taxpayers who subsidize the research, then as taxpayers or tuition payers who support public or private university libraries.