by: danah boyd

On one hand, I'm excited to announce that my article "Facebook's Privacy Trainwreck: Exposure, Invasion, and Social Convergence" has been published in Convergence 14(1) (special issue edited by Henry Jenkins and Mark Deuze). On the other hand, I'm deeply depressed because I know that most of you will never read it.

It is not because you aren't interested (although many of you might not be), but because Sage is one of those archaic academic publishers who had decided to lock down its authors and their content behind heavy iron walls. Even if you read an early draft of my article in essay form, you'll probably never get to read the cleaned up version. Nor will you get to see the cool articles on alternate reality gaming, crowd-sourcing, convergent mobile media, and video game modding that are also in this issue. That's super depressing. I agreed to publish my piece at Sage for complicated reasons, but...

I vow that this is the last article that I will publish to which the public cannot get access. I am boycotting locked-down journals and I'd like to ask other academics to do the same.

Academics publish articles in journals. Journals are valued by academic disciplines based on their perceived quality. To be successful (and achieve tenure), academics must publish in the journals that are valued in their discipline. Journals are published by academic publishers. Academics volunteer their time to peer review articles in these journals. Editors consider the reviews and decide which are to be published, which should be sent back to be revised and resubmitted, and which are to be rejected. For the most part, editors are unpaid volunteers (although some do get a stipend). Depending on the journal, the article is then sent to a professional copyeditor who is paid (but not all journals have copyeditors). Academic publishers then print the journal, sending it to all of its subscribers. Most subscribers are university libraries, but some individuals also subscribe. (To give you a sense of the economics, Convergence costs individuals $112 and institutions $515 for 4 issues a year.) Academic libraries also subscribe to the online version of the journals, but I don't know how much that costs. Those who don't have access to an academic library can pay to access these articles (a single article in Convergence can be purchased DRM-ified for one day at $15).

The economy around academic journals is crumbling. Libraries are running out of space to put the physical copies and money to subscribe to journals that are read by few. No academic can afford to buy the journal articles, either in print or as single copies. The underground economy of articles is making another dent into the picture as scholars swap articles on the black market. "I'll give you Jenkins if you give me Ito." No one else is buying the journals because they are god-awful expensive and no one outside of a niche market knows what's in them. To cope, most academic publishers are going psycho conservative. Digital copies of the articles have intense DRM protection, often with expiration dates and restrictions on saving/copying/printing. Authors must sign contracts vowing not to put the articles or even drafts online. (Sage -allows- you to posts articles one year following publication.) Academic publishers try to restrict you from making copies for colleagues, let alone for classroom use.

I should probably be sympathetic to academic publishers. They are getting their lunch eaten and the lack of consistent revenue from journals makes it much harder for them to risk publishing academic books and they are panicked. Yet, frankly, I'm not humored. Producing a journal article is a lot of labor for scholars too. Editing a journal is a lot of labor for scholars too. Academic publishers expect authors to do both for free because that's how they achieve status. At the same time, they are for-profit entities that profit off of all of the free labor by academics. Some might argue that academics are paid by universities and this external labor is part of their university job. Perhaps, but then why should others be profiting off of it? Why not instead publish with open-access online-only journals produced as labors of love by communities of volunteer scholars (i.e. many open-access journals)? Oh, right. Because those aren't the "respectable" journals because they don't have a reputation or a history (of capitalizing off of the labor of academics). The result? Academics are publishing to increasingly narrow audiences who will never read their material purely so that they can get the right credentials to keep their job. This is downright asinine. If scholars are publishing for audiences of zero, no wonder no one respects them.

I think that this needs to change. I'd be sad to see some of the academic publishers go, but if they can't evolve to figure out new market options, I have no interest in supporting their silencing practices. I think that scholars have a responsibility to make their work available as a public good. I believe that scholars should be valued for publishing influential material that is consumed by anyone who might find it relevant to their interests. I do not believe that scholars should be encouraged to follow stupid rules for the sake of maintaining norms. Given that we do the bulk of the labor behind journals, I think that we can do it without academic publishers (provided that we can find hosting).

Here's what I'd like to propose:

  • Tenured Faculty and Industry Scholars: Publish only in open-access journals. Unlike younger scholars, you don't need the status markers because you're tenured or in industry. Use that privilege to help build new journals that are not strapped to broken business models. Help build the reputations of new endeavors so that they can be viable publishing venues for future scholars. Publish in open-access journals, build a personal webpage and add your article there. You will get much more visibility, especially from younger scholars who turn to Google before they go to the library. I understand that a lot of you prefer to flout the rules of these journals and publish your articles on your website anyhow, even when you're not allowed. The problem is that you're not helping change the system for future generations.
  • Disciplinary associations: Help open-access journals gain traction. Encourage your members to publish in them. Run competitions for best open-access publications and have senior scholars write committee letters for younger scholars whose articles are stupendous but published in non-traditional venues.
  • Tenure committees: Recognize alternate venues and help the universities follow. Younger scholars can't afford to publish in alternate venues until you begin recognizing the value of these publications. Help that process along and encourage your schools to do the same.
  • Young punk scholars: Publish only in open-access journals in protest, especially if you're in a new field. This may cost you advancement or tenure, but you know it's the right thing to do. If you're an interdisciplinary scholar or in a new field, there aren't "respected" journals in your space and so you're going to have to defend yourself anyhow. You might as well use this opportunity to make the valued journals the open-access ones.
  • More conservative young scholars: publish what you need to get tenure and then stop publishing in closed venues immediately upon acquiring tenure. I understand why you feel the need to follow the rules. This is fine, but make a point by stopping this practice the moment you don't need it.
  • All scholars: Start reviewing for open-access journals. Help make them respected. Guest edit to increase the quality. Build their reputations through your involvement. Make these your priority so that the closed journals are the ones struggling to get quality reviewers.
  • Libraries: Begin subscribing to open-access journals and adding them to your catalogue. Many of you do this, but not all. Open-access journals are free. Adding them to databases does costs money but it helps scholarship and will help you ween off of expensive journals in the long run.
  • Universities: Support your faculty in creating open-access journals on your domains. You are respected institutions. The bandwidth cost of hosting a journal would be much less than allowing your undergrads access YouTube. Support your faculty in creating university-branded journals and work with them to run conferences and do other activities to help build the reputation of such nascent publications. If it goes well, your brand will gain status too.
  • Academic publishers: Wake up or get out. Silencing the voices of academics is unacceptable. You're not helping scholarship or scholars. Find a new business model or leave the journal publishing world. You may be making money now, but your profits will not continue to grow using this current approach. Furthermore, I'd bank on academics shunning you within two generations. If you think more than a quarter ahead, you know that it's the right thing to do for business as well as for the future of knowledge.

Making systemic change like this is hard and it will require every invested party to stand up for what they know is right and chip away at the old system. I don't have tenure (and at this rate, no one will ever let me). I am a young punk scholar and I strongly believe that we have a responsibility to stand up for what's right. Open-access is right. Heavy metal gates and expensive gatekeepers isn't. It's time for change to happen! To all of the academics out there, I beg you to help me make this change reality. Let's stop being silenced by academic publishers.

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