‘Publishers Are Taking the Internet to Court’

Maria Bustillos, in an excellent Nation piece on the publisher lawsuit against the Internet Archive:

Penguin Random House, together with fellow megapublishers Hachette, HarperCollins, and Wiley, filed a lawsuit against the Internet Archive alleging “mass copyright infringement.” The Internet Archive closed the National Emergency Library on June 16, citing the lawsuit and calling for the publishers to stand down. But the plaintiffs are continuing to press their claims, and are now seeking to close the whole Open Library permanently.


Publishers approve of libraries paying for e-book licenses because they’re temporary, just like your right to watch a movie on Netflix is temporary and can evaporate at any moment. In the same way, publishers would like to see libraries obliged to license, not to own, books—that is, continue to pay for the same book again and again. That’s what this lawsuit is really about. It’s impossible to avoid the conclusion that publishers took advantage of the pandemic to achieve what they had not been able to achieve previously: to turn the library system into a “reading as a service” operation from which they can squeeze profits forever.

Mark Bilby, back in June when the lawsuit was filed, called for libraries to boycott the publishers. They should, but here’s another boycott: Wiley. Among the big houses that’s suing Internet Archive, Wiley is the one with the giant scholarly-publishing footprint. In recognition of the Internet Archive’s crucial role for scholarship, we should all stop submitting and reviewing for Wiley journals until they drop the lawsuit.

Demography goes Platinum OA

Duke University Press, in its announcement that Demography is going platinum OA:

Since its founding in 1964, Demography has mirrored the vitality, diversity, high intellectual standard, and wide impact of population studies. Published bimonthly, the journal presents high-quality original research by scholars in a wide range of disciplines, encompassing a variety of methodological approaches to population research. It maintains a global geographic focus and a broad temporal scope. Demography is the most cited journal in its field and reaches the membership of one of the largest professional demographic associations in the world.

Library subsidies: This is the path forward.

Counterweight to Elsevier?

Lisa Hinchliffe and Roger Schonfeld, in a Scholarly Kitchen post:

Today, ResearchGate and Springer Nature are jointly announcing the findings of their syndication pilot. […] Today’s white paper from the partners reports positive responses from authors and plan to transition this pilot into an ongoing service. From the publisher perspective, article usage is up and leakage is contained. And, ResearchGate, which added a partnership with Wiley during the Springer Nature pilot, emerges as a stronger identity and access platform and a potential counterweight to Elsevier.

The piece (“Syndication Success”) is weirdly puffy, and—in its claims about Elsevier—arguably misleading. The idea of ResearchGate as an identity-platform counterweight is not (as the article lead suggests) in the white paper, but instead speculation from Hinchliffe and Schonfeld.

Even if they’re right about ResearchGate, however, the cheerleading is a head-scratcher: How is a venture-backed, for-profit startup coming to own lots of crucial scholarly infrastructure anything but terrifying?

ASU Receives Koch Money to ‘Accelerate Innovation’ in Higher Ed

From the press release announcing $12 million, from the Charles Koch Foundation among others, to Arizona State University (ASU):

ASU’s University Design Institute (UDI) will coordinate the initiative and support other universities to implement their own culture change initiatives. The goal is to broaden access to world-class education methods and cutting-edge technological innovations that are tailored to empower students and be responsive to their specific needs and goals.

The statement reads like a parody Silicon Valley pitch deck.

‘What are Academic Book Publishers for? Part 2’

Richard Fisher’s follow-up Scholarly Kitchen post is as generously minded as the first. But the hippo in the room—monograph funding—is mostly (if not completely) ignored. Fisher imagines a future with more reader-level sales, at lower prices, but suggests (in his only reference to the question, banished to a footnote) that the alternative is the book processing charge (BPC)—a prospect that could, to the export-oriented British sector, be financially ruinous. That may be, but the BPC—like its APC cousin—is ruinous in a more fundamental way: because it blocks access to authorship. Here the Open Book Publishers’ Lucy Barnes and Rupert Gatti, in their recent cost overview, look the hippo right in the eye:

Many of the conversations about the financial viability of Open Access book publishing are predicated on a single business model—that of the BPC—and they assume there will be no revenue when a book is published OA […] If a BPC model cannot support Open Access for books in a fair and sustainable way, it isn’t Open Access that should be thrown out—it’s the BPC model.

‘University of Arizona Makes Ashford Contract Public’

Speaking of shady public university deals with for-profits:

The University of Arizona has published the asset purchase and sale agreement it struck with Ashford University to create a new online nonprofit institution called the University of Arizona Global Campus. […]

Dozens of pages of the contract were blacked out, including details that might indicate the financial health of Ashford University, such as current contracts, net assets, intellectual property, the status of several legal proceedings against the institution and details of multiple redundant functions that Zovio intends to “eliminate” from Ashford before the deal is planned to close later this year

‘How Purdue Global Got Its IRS Stamp of Approval’

The Century Foundation’s Robert Shireman:

In May 2019, Purdue University’s CFO filed a nonprofit tax return (Form 990) with the IRS, followed in August with an application for tax-exempt status (Form 1023).3 Four months later, in December, the IRS granted the request for tax-exempt status for Purdue Global.

If IRS examiners had studied the Purdue Global deal thoroughly, they likely would have delayed 501(c)(3) approval, if not rejected it completely. Purdue, however, answered questions on the IRS forms on a range of topics in ways that managed to avoid triggering any deeper review.

Purdue excluded its for-profit, more-than-partner Kaplan from its tax-exemption application. Did Mitch Daniels ever take the Purdue Honor Pledge?

‘Institutions should already be planning for the possibility of permanent closure’

From an Inside Higher Ed commentary on contingency planning for college closures:

Even before the pandemic took hold, many colleges were operating on razor-thin margins, with the enrollment trends and demographics of many colleges working against them. Thousands of institutions delicately balance their budgets by maintaining a steady supply of students, heavily dependent on their tuition dollars. Over the last five years, a number of college campuses enrolling hundreds of thousands of students in the United States have shuttered completely – sometimes without warning, so that students have been left with debt, no degree and nowhere to transfer their credits and finish their programs. And with the current turmoil throwing everything from deposit deadlines to fall enrollment to faculty health off-kilter, more of those college closures are, unfortunately, inevitable.

It’s a morbid read with some sensible suggestions. But the problem with any deathwatch inventory, as Inside Higher Ed itself realized in the spring, is the prospect of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

‘What are Academic Book Publishers for?’

Yale Unviersity Press’s Richard Fisher, writing on the Scholarly Kitchen in the first of a two-day post:

prior to 2020, no major publisher of academic monographs in the arts and social sciences was reporting print sales as less than 60% of the monographic whole, with the working norm at a ratio of perhaps 75% print to 25% electronic and even in 2020 no major imprint has yet tipped into majoritarian e-monograph sales globally, even if certain major library markets (including the North American and British) are moving in one direction only.

The persistence—an echo of the trade market—of print sales in academic publishing is an obstinate fact, but one at such head-scratching odds with the all-digital serials market, and with academic reading practices too, that it can’t long persist.

The whole post is worth reading. It’s a contemplative and fair overview of the recent debate on sales and acquisition costs in any OA monograph future.

'Moody's: Coronavirus Drives New Business Models, Disruption for Higher Ed'

Inside Higher Ed's Rick Seltzer, quoting a Moody's analyst:

“Some universities previously resistant to change will have to take more expansive steps to adapt to this transformation,” said Pranav Sharma, assistant vice president at Moody’s, in a statement. “Not all universities, however, have the resources or culture to move quickly and the coronavirus will expedite existential threats for some. Universities that have made extensive investments in digital capabilities and which have more entrepreneurial and flexible decision-making will be better positioned to adjust.”

Who moved my cheese?


Ethan Zuckerman, announcing the closure of MIT’s Center for Civic Media:

Thanks to everyone who’s followed our work over the years and lent a hand in one way or another. We have had an extraordinary run, thanks most of all to everyone who’s joined us around our table for conversation, collaboration, argument or support. My heart is only a little heavy as we close this chapter because the hundreds of people who’ve been part of the Center for Civic Media have gone around the world to spread the ideas, strategies and tools we’ve developed together. We are all, in our own ways, working to change the world.

Zuckerman, who will continue some of this work at his new UMass Amherst initiative, moved to shutter the MIT Center in the wake of Epstein disaster.

An Update to Elsevier’s ‘Mirror Journal’ Concept

A modest proposal: Given Coalition S’s recent Rights Retention announcement, what about embracing Elsevier’s cynical invention of the “mirror” journal concept? Recall that Elsevier has, in a stroke of evil genius, created over 40 “mirror” journals—each identical to its tolled/hybrid counterpart except for the “X” appended to its name:

To meet the evolving needs of our community and expand our open access publishing options, we are piloting the concept of open access “mirror journals”. These journals are fully gold open access but share the same editorial board, aims and scope and peer review policies as their existing “parent” journals – and the same level of visibility and discoverability.

Bullshit aside, the “mirror” journal concept was plainly designed to end-run Coalition S’s coming ban on hybrid journals. Elsevier’s mirror-journal scheme is in such unblushing bad faith that Coalition S had to publicly slap down the ruse.

So here’s the idea: Why not take leading Elsevier journals and mirror them—republish them—on an open platform like PubPub? The Rights Retention policy, after all, requires immediate, embargo-free CC BY archiving of the author’s accepted manuscript (AAM). So a newly published journal issue could be mirrored (i.e., republished) based on the CC BY–licensed AAM versions of its articles, harvested from whatever repositories they call home.

There’s always a catch, alas. Coalition is only requiring the no embargo CC BY rights retention for manuscripts whose authors have received funding from its members. Yes, the Coalition will “encourage” all publisher to extend the new policy to all “all authors”—not just Coalition S-funded scholars. Encouragement is not a promising lever, but it’s still time to heat up some popcorn and watch this unfold.

‘Big Tech Funds a Think Tank Pushing for Fewer Rules. For Big Tech’

Daisuke Wakabayashi, writing for The New York Times, buries the lede in his story about big tech’s funding of soft-gloves antitrust education:

The long era of restraint in antitrust enforcement in the United States can be traced back, in part, to an ideology that tied economic analysis to legal cases. The view was that it’s not enough for a company to dominate a market and crush competitors, there must be evidence of so-called consumer harm — usually in the form of higher prices. That notion permeated through the American judicial system with the aid of economics seminars for federal judges funded by corporate donors.

Google et al. are merely riding a wave, funded generously decades before Sergei and Larry started grad school, that placed economics at the center of U.S. antitrust policy-making.

‘Open-access Plan S to allow publishing in any journal’

From Nature’s story on the Plan S “Rights Retention” announcement:

“Very few” publishers allow the combination of both CC-BY and zero-embargo sharing of AAMs, says Bianca Kramer, a librarian at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Publishers often ask authors to sign agreements that stipulate that AAMs can be shared only under a more restrictive licence. For instance, some 2,800 journals from large publishers do allow scientists to post their accepted manuscripts immediately online, but fewer than 20 allow both zero embargo and CC-BY licensing, according to an assessment by Kramer and librarian Jeroen Bosman, also at Utrecht University.

There will ripple effects from the decision—hard to predict ones. The pressure, ironically, for big publishers to go gold OA may decline, for example—since this green route works too, and they’ll have a hard time opting out.

One ancillary benefit: overlay journals (which gather and re-assemble papers from repositories and other OA sources) should have a new forest of articles to harvest.

Students as a Promising Asset Class

From a Wired story on so-called income share agreements:

ONE DAY IN 2017, Lauren Neuwirth sank into a chair in her university’s financial aid office feeling out of options. She was finishing her second year at Purdue University in Indiana, a school she’d chosen for its top-ranked engineering program. Neuwirth, who grew up near Milwaukee, was working two jobs to cover her living expenses and quickly running through the money her mother had set aside for college. Federal student loans only covered some of Purdue’s pricey out-of-state tuition. She worried that to remain in school she’d have to take out expensive private loans or join the Army.

But then Purdue offered her another way to pay. Investors—including wealthy alumni, a hedge fund, and the Purdue Research Foundation—would front her $50,000 to cover two years of college. In exchange, she’d owe them 14.8 percent of whatever income she earned in the eight years after she graduated. Neuwirth agreed. Last fall, her fifth and final year as a double major in food science and biological engineering, she received a job offer from the agribusiness Cargill at a salary of $56,000. If all goes as planned, she’ll eventually return a healthy profit for those investors.

An American story: Underfund a public good—higher education—and, as a bonus, create a new investment market. If hedge fund managers can bet on mortgages and pork futures, why not a human being?

Purdue—the hook for the largely positive Wired story—even metes out different terms and award amounts according to its own students’ future earnings:

Instead of assessing borrowers based on their creditworthiness, ISA investors evaluate students’ earning potential. And that’s where things get tricky. At Purdue, one feature has proved particularly controversial: Students with the lowest earning potential receive the worst repayment terms. For example, Savannah Marina Williams, a senior from Auburn, Indiana, working toward a degree in the low-paying field of education, was fronted roughly $30,000 by Purdue, nearly $20,000 less than Neuwirth, the bioengineering student. But Williams is obligated to pay roughly the same share of her income as Neuwirth, nearly 15 percent, and she’ll be paying it for 10 years instead of eight.

The logic is unassailable: Since the student has already been objectified as an investment vehicle, why not punish her for pursuing the university’s mission statement?

The market has, perhaps inevitably, already been securitized:

At the same time, more investors are starting to view students as a promising asset class. Christopher Ricciardi is a managing partner with FlowPoint Capital Partners, a New York investment firm; he is known as the “grandfather of CDOs” for his role in popularizing collateralized debt obligations, the tools that seeded the 2008 financial crisis. This past fall, FlowPoint unveiled edly, an online marketplace that matches schools selling “shares” of their students’ ISAs with accredited investors. Ricciardi envisions that the market for ISAs could replace the entire $10 billion private loan market and then some, growing to at least $20 billion.

Students as a promising asset class.

‘The datafication in transformative agreements for open access publishing’

Samuel Moore, in a post on the researcher data clauses increasingly tied into transformative agreements:

The datafication embedded within transformative agreements is worrying not just because of the increased surveillance it will entail, it also illustrates more general misdirection of the transition to open access and the potential danger of universities to use researcher data as part of negotiations. Open access was initially premised on the idea that publishers are extracting from the free labour of academics and privatising the gains through closed-access publications. But through transformative agreements, publishers are still parasitic on this labour in addition to their new strategies of extractivism.

‘How to Stop the Cuts’

A sharp and unflinching call from Sara Matthiesen for faculty to not just analyze and critique, but organize against higher-ed’s never-let-a-crisis-go-to-wasters:

As the labor negotiator, strategist, and scholar Jane McAlevey has explained, the ability to create a crisis for their employer is what gives workers the power to improve their conditions. While the strike is McAlevey’s preferred example, we have seen from our own administration that there are a variety of ways one can induce crisis. If professors are going to keep administrators from capitalizing on this crisis, we need to turn the tables and become skilled, savvy, relentless organizers hell-bent on making crises work for us, in service of and in solidarity with the most vulnerable in our ranks. We have the evidence. Now we need the courage to act.

The piece is worth reading alongside Adam Kotsko’s complementary plea from May.

The SHAPE Disciplines

From this morning’s wince-inducing LSE Impact post:

Social sciences research is not only important for the development of effective policies, but it is equally crucial in terms of the direct contribution it can make to the private sector in stimulating growth and improving productivity, as well as in achieving the goal of a wider prosperity scorecard. 

It’s an index of the unblushing norm-erosion (in the UK more than anywhere, possibly) that the counterpoint to commercialism is policy advice—that there’s no felt need to pay even lip-service to advancing knowledge for its own or critique’s sake.

The piece includes an embarrassing acronym proposal—one that apparently designates an existing coalition:

An aim of this initiative is that these disciplines become known as the ‘SHAPE’ subjects – ‘Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts for People and the Economy’.

‘Higher education has much to learn from the world of work’

Dangerous gibberish from an Inside Higher Ed commentary, on never-let-a-crisis-go-to-waste grounds:

Before, [colleges and universities] represented only a relatively small cohort that recognized the importance — and potential — of providing flexible learning pathways that can help their students acquire the skills they need to find a good job in a turbulent economy. That cohort will only grow as higher education and employers begin to navigate a landscape that has been dramatically altered by COVID-19 — and as more colleges and universities realize they have much to learn from the world of work.

The piece‘s author, Maria Flynn, is president and CEO of JFF. JFF describes itself as “a national nonprofit that drives change in the American workforce and education systems to achieve economic advancement for all.” Its core values? “Mission-Driven,” “Bold,” Transformative,” “Rigorous,” and “Passionate.”

Among its “partners” are Google and Walmart, a fact that goes unmentioneded in the IHE tagline.

This feels a lot like astroturf.