Having written far too many emails explaining my views on how academia can best move to toll-free access to the scholarly literature (often abbreviated as Open Access) I have written this up on my web site: How to Achieve OA.

One of my current research projects (DESVALDO, funded by the CIGREF Foundation) involves surveying people about their use of digital data. While our primary target is non-expert computer users, expert users are also welcome to take it. This is the survey.

On The Register recently there was an interesting article about ebooks and how the book publishing industry seem to be following the music and movie industry down the same path of woe by trying to screw their customers in the move to digital distribution. Leaving aside the actual proportion of costs which the physical printing, distribution and returns of overstock entail, the idea that the digital edition costs MORE than the print edition really is utterly stupid. Modern publishing uses internal digital formats for the files which are then passed to the printer for physical printing. Getting this into the digital distribution medium is  trivial one time programming exercise. While I would be willing to accept that the digital price difference should only be small, the fact that new ebooks are selling at higher prices than the hardcover is just stupid.

Anyway, that’s all covered in the article. In the comments the author discusses the issue of the public lending library with some of the commenters. That’s what prompted this post, actually, which is thinking how it might be possible to run a public lending library with ebooks. (more…)

I just came across a book which I thought would be useful for one of the courses I’m teaching at Meiji University: Information Society. It’s a 2009 book called The Information Society and it includes the same kind of approach I’m using, with a historical background and various sociological, technological, economic and other facets explored. It’s a huge book, admittedly, at almost 2,000 pages. You can see the full details at the publisher’s web site. I’m not going to be using it as a book, though, even purchased for my University library, because it costs £675.00 (Amazon UK) $1,325.00 (Amazon US) $1,192 (Routledge List price). What on earth? That’s 25p per page! (more…)

In a clear abuse of the parliamentary process and a travesty of democracy, the Digital Economy Bill had its second reading in the House of Commons yesterday, a process which now allows the final passage of the bill to be pushed through “wash-up”. The reason this is a travesty is that the wash-up process is supposed to be for bills with cross-party support and few concerns about the detailed provisions needing further parliamentary scrutiny, to avoid clogging up the post-election parliamentary timetable with uncontroversial matters getting in the way of (supposedly) the new governments’ manifesto commitments. Neither of these is truly the case for the Digital Economy Bill. While the Conservative and Labour Front Benches may have whipped sufficient of their MPs into line this did not have all-party support. It was not (and is not) uncontroversial. Claims that it had received significant debate in the Lords ignores the constant cries from the current government about how undemocratic our Upper Chamber is. When the Lords blocks something the government doesn’t like, it’s undemocratic, but when it serves as a mechanism for the near-dictator Lord Mandelson to push through a piece of captured legislation then it’s sufficient democratic scrutiny for a major bill. The Digital Economy is incredibly important to the UK and a bill to support and develop it needed to be put through the appropriate parliamentary scrutiny and crafted with balance on all sides of the discussions. Ramming something through with Henry VIII powers, a lop-sided set of proposals which run the risk of destroying significant chunks of internet access and business through chilling effects if not legal action, all because Lord Mandelson got his ear bent by a rich representative of a dinosaur industry, is not democracy, it’s corruption and abuse of power.

Larry Lessig changed his tack in the US from lobbying for more sensible copyright (and related rights) laws to the issue of corruption in US politics and the capture of the law-making process by small groups with large amounts of money. After the DEBill fiasco in the UK, it’s easy to see why he felt that move necessary.

According to this article in The Grauniad, the UK government is set on ignoring the recommendations of yet another report it commissioned (this time the Digital Britain Report, last time the Gowers Report) and are set to introduce proposals for a two strikes law on suspending/removing internet access from those accused by rights’ holders of illicitly sharing copyrighted material online (official government details). (more…)

In the 30th April 2009 issue (1,894) of the Times Higher Education magazine, Prof Kathryn Sutherland of Oxford Unviersity wrote an ill-considered and wrong-headed attack on digital communication in general and on Open Access in particular titled Those who disseminate ideas must acknowledge the routes they travel. (more…)

In this article, which misses one major economic element of the current decline (that the previous high was partly based on the 15-20 years it took music lovers to be able to afford to replace all their vinyl on CD) the following comment comes near the end:

“By mid-2007, when the majors realised that digital downloads were not growing as quickly as they had hoped, they landed on a more adventurous digital strategy. They now want to move beyond Apple’s iTunes and its paid-for downloads. The direction of most of their recent digital deals, such as with Imeem, a social network that offers advertising-supported streamed music, is to offer music free at the point of delivery to consumers.”


I recently wrote an article (link) that appeared in the online journal Script-Ed. A professor (with chairs at both Southampton University in the UK and University of Quebec in Montreal, Canada) posted some highly positive comments to it on a number of mailing lists describing it as:

lucid, timely, rigorous and compelling synthesis…It will be seen and cited as a landmark in the research community’s delayed but inexorable transition to Open Access.

While there were others who disagreed with either some of what I wrote, or with this evaluation of it, it’s always nice for one’s work to be noticed by a wide audience, and being lauded by a professor (whose work I admire and reference, of course) is also very nice for the ego.

Showing exactly how much they regard CD sales as a god given right to charge high prices to customers, representatives of the music industry have thrown their toys out of the pram at a deal by Prince to provide the Sunday Mail with copies of his new album “Planet Earth” for distribution as a “free” gift with the newspaper sometime soon.

“Free” CDs and DVDs with newspapers have become standard fare in the UK in recent years, but these are usually older material which has long been available, including compilation albums of well-worn “classics” as well as B&W movies which have typically been available for a few years on DVD.


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