30 July 2008

Why Open Access for Textbooks is Inevitable

Nice summary here:

With high up front costs and (relatively) low marginal costs, textbook publishing is like other media: the big winners are obscenely profitable and the losers have no hope of turning a profit. Thus, textbook publishers are exactly like record labels: they grew accustomed to high profit margins on winners both to cover their losers, but also to transfer wealth to shareholders and executives.

Without practical or legal protection, that business model will be as extinct as the dodo bird. It happened to CDs, it’s happening to textbooks, and movies are next. The publishers’ anti-piracy czar said “It is troubling that there is a culture of infringement out there.” No duh.

Unfortunately the author then goes on with a complete non-sequitur:

I’m really furious at both the publishers and these student self-appointed Robin Hoods, because together they are creating a generation of information pirates. To all these students studying organic chemistry: would you really prefer a world without IP — that instead of having a job producing information, you will instead have a job making things, delivering personal services or digging ditches? Is that really your nirvana?

A "world without IP" does not imply that everyone ends up digging ditches: it simply implies that business models are not based on exploiting one-sided intellectual monopolies.

I (and many others - hello, Mike) have written much about the alternatives to the "eye-pea" mentality, but if you want a single counter-example you could do worse than consider how open source companies make money. Hint: it's not by locking up their code. Although the GNU GPL *does* depend on copyright law to function, that's simply - if paradoxically - to make it available for all, not to forbid such re-use, which lies at the heart of the traditional copyright system.

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