Open Access to Books?

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Sun, 20 Jan 2008 01:44:28 +0000

ÃOn Sat, 19 Jan 2008, Klaus Graf wrote:

> > Stevan Harnad wrote:
> > (9) Some have suggested that making a book OA online will not hurt but
> > help the sales of the print edition, but this is far from empirically
> > established as the general rule (although it has happened in a few
> > cases).
> Looking at the evidence at
> it is far from empirically established as the general rule that a book
> OA online will hurt the sales. Please quote any valid articles or
> research confirming your prejudice. If you are stating a general rule
> you have to proof it.

Much as I may wish it were otherwise, Klaus Graf unfortunately has
it exactly backwards:

The burden of proof is most definitely *not* on those who think that making
books free online will hurt sales, to provide evidence that it is so. The
burden is on those who think it is not so, to show that it is not.

The default or null hypothesis -- not just in this instance, but in
the much more general one, of which books are just a special case -- is
that, ceteris paribus, yes, if you make a digital version of a product
free for all online, you will hurt its sales (digital and analogue). There
may be exceptions, but they have to be demonstrated.

And evidence is a tricky matter, especially for a negative hypothesis. It
is not sufficient evidence that a platypus does not lay eggs, to show
photos of some platypuses, not laying eggs.

For journal articles, although the evidence so far seems to be that Green
OA self-archiving has not caused cancellations, it remains a possibility
that it eventually will. However, as has been pointed out repeatedly,
in that very special case, it does not *matter*, either way: because
(1) research usage and impact is far more important than sustaining the
current journal-publishing cost-recovery model; because (2) authors, their
institutions and funders are unanimous in insisting on the priority of
research usage and impact; and because (3) Gold OA journal publishing
is there to take over if and when the subscription model should become

But none of that carries over to books and book publishing -- neither to
books in general, nor to scholarly/scientific books in particular. It is
(a) not true that books are mostly written only for research usage and
impact. (Most are also written in the hope of royalty income.) It is (b)
not true that book authors all or even mostly want to give them away free
online. It is (c) not clear that book authors or readers no longer desire
a paper edition. It is (d) not clear that there is a viable, sustainable
Gold OA publishing model for books yet, even if authors did want to give
their books away and no one wanted the print edition any more. And,
most important, (e) it has not been shown that giving away the online
edition will not hurt print sales (or even make them unsustainable);
it has only been shown not to hurt some books' print sales, so far.

Neither for journal articles nor for books can free online access
be attained through wishful thinking and righteous indignation
alone. Fortunately, for journal articles, it needn't be.

Let us not, then, needlessly handicap the strong special case for OA --
which covers all of peer-reviewed journal articles and authors without
a single exception -- with the unneeded extra baggage of the uncertain,
untested and equivocal case of books. Some books may eventually go the
way of OA too; but right now, when the research community is finally
on the verge of successfully inducing its funders and universities
worldwide to adopt Green OA self-archiving mandates, this is definitely
not the time to try to change the rules, raise the stakes, and insist
on mandating book-deposit too.

Leave book-deposit as an author option, like access-setting itself,
and give OA, already so grotesquely overdue, the chance to come into its
own at long last.

Stevan Harnad

If you have adopted or plan to adopt a policy of providing Open Access
to your own research article output, please describe your policy at:

    BOAI-1 ("Green"): Publish your article in a suitable toll-access journal
    BOAI-2 ("Gold"): Publish your article in an open-access journal if/when
    a suitable one exists.
    in BOTH cases self-archive a supplementary version of your article
    in your own institutional repository.
Received on Sun Jan 20 2008 - 01:51:24 GMT

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