Why I have decided to go completely commercial free


Briefly, the business model on which commercial publishing is based is not only grotesquely outdated, but it is contributing directly to some serious social evils. And so it now strikes me that continuing to support commercial publishing, is, frankly, unethical.There was a time when the dissemination of scholarly work required the help of publishers, and so it made sense for academics to transfer various rights to these businesses, and to pay for their services. Now, though, the ability to disseminate research is ubiquitous and free. Ironically, most publishers now work hard to RESTRICT access to the work of philosophers, to those who can pay for it. This may not seem like a problem to professional philosophers at wealthy universities. But it is a problem for students, and for anyone not fortunate enough to be in the financially elite class.

But students and teachers at thousands of colleges and universities around the world either cannot afford the prices that commercial publishers charge for our work, or they can afford them, but the cost for them is significant -- working extra hours for college students, paying out of pocket for a little access. For example, Ryan Heavy Head, who teaches at a small American Indian reservation college in Canada:

I am the acting director of an academic program called "Kainai Studies" - a series of courses with various degrees of hybridity between Western and Blackfoot knowledge systems. Anyway, being situated in a small tribal college in Southern Alberta, I am intimately familiar with the kinds of problems you've described.  Here in Canada, a great deal of federal research funding is currently being funnelled toward research controlled and authored by First Nations thinkers (be they degreed or not).  Given our national multicultural policy, the government is hoping to locate bridges to discourse between Western and Indigenous theoretical paradigms.  Unfortunately, for those of us at ground-zero in these movements, the resources that would make such conversations potentially possible - i.e. access to a wide variety of Western scholarship - are not there.  Our library is tiny, and although my students have access to some electronic journal databases (via subscriptions that I pay from my pocket), we don't have nearly the resources as someone situated at a decent university.  The technology is there to change these kinds of circumstances.  I just wanted to thank you for reminding our colleagues of this issue.

In literally thousands of colleges and universities, in third world or developing countries, and less than wealthy ones in North America, students simply do not have access to top research in the field, or they must pay for it themselves, out of their own underpaid pockets. To put the point in deep relief with a specific example, each article included in a college course reader for which royaly fees must be assessed translates directly into the budget of students, including working students, single parent students, and anyone else. Some of these individual articles, in Sythese or other venues, may EACH translate directly into an extra three or four hours of work at a minimum wage job. Ten or fifteen such articles in a reader for a class taken by a struggling college student can easily make the difference between finishing college and having to drop out, or between being able to spend time with their child and having to work overtime instead. (As an aside, I should make clear that my remarks here are intended primarily to apply to pubilshed original research. The situation with textbooks and instructional materials is analogous in many ways, but disanalogous in others. I am not sure at this point what to think, though clearly the current situation stands in need of improvement.)

It is easy for those of us who are at a privileged institution and no longer students ourselves to be blind to the problems. We are given access for free -- free to us, though the institution itself must pay, money supplied in turn by taxpayers or student fees. But so long as the wealthy academics who produce the product continue to supply this product to the commercial interests, the academic class society will persists.

Ever wonder why so many of the top philosophy jobs go to philosophy PhD students from wealthy US Universities? There are many reasons, to be sure, but one is that even the best aspiring philosophers from non-wealthy countries are simply denied access to the content that thet would need to have ubiquitous access to in order to get their own philosophical skills up to the standards that are expected. As a PhD student in Eastern Europe pointed out to me:

Although I am doing my PHD at one of the best institutions in Europe, I still find it rather difficult to get access to articles and books I really need for writing my thesis. I could get some necessary literature with the help of Doctoral Support Research Grant, but the problem is still present. I just dont see the point of paying 30 USD for an article. The situation with books is even more depressive, their prices make them rather luxury goods.

For these and many other reasons, I can no longer in good conscience support this sytem or business model, and so as of January 1, 2008, I have decided to stop. (Actually, the decision to stop was made about 18-24 months prior, but it took a while for my prior committments to work their way through the pipeline.) I no longer give any work or research I have produced to any commercial interest, nor do I support them by refereeing, serving on editorial boards, or anything else of the sort.

Our system is one that rightfully places importance on the production of good research, and unfortunately publishing in certain journals or with certain presses is taken to be the main indicator of research productivity. Hence the system survives. Someone without a job or without tenure simply can't afford to avoid playing the game. However, many of us are quite secure professionally, and don't take any professional risk by publishing in The Philosophers Imprint (free to anyone in the world) as opposed to Phil Review or Synthese (free to those are privileged universities, everyone else must pay).

The only exception I make is the venue of publication on pieces I co-author with collaborators whose professional position is insecure, students or untenured faculty. Since their professional position is decided by mechanisms that fetishize 'top' journals, all of which are commercial, I have to make this exception in order to not put those people at risk. Though my hope is that one day the system will change.

There are now some resources that are non-commercial -- venues that do a better job of disseminating research, and don't place anyone at a disadvanatge in the process. The Philosophers Imprint, the Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, and the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy are a few prominent examples (more can be found on the Resources page). If more of those of us who are leaders in our fields, and whose professional positions are not at risk, support these venues -- by reading them, publishing our best work in them, and so forth -- then we have a chance to raise their perceived standing in the field, increase the number of such venues, and perhaps one day completely remove ourselves from the exploitative commercial enterprises with which we have become entwined.


Advantages of publishing in open access venues, other than social responsibility

There are many benefits to publishing in open access venues, aside from the social benefits of helping those excluded by the current system. First, authors retain copyright to their work. No more asking someone else for permission to use one of your own diagrams in a future publication, for example. Second, the work is more widely available. The internet reaches almost everyone, and in an open access venue, the usual mechanisms of preventing anyone but the wealthy from reading your work are removed. In addition, because the full content is available, it is retrieved by interested parties doing an appropriate internet search. If you've written on topic X, and someone in Romania is interested on X and does a google search, your work can com up and they can begin reading it immediately. Even for those of us at rich universities, this is better than the current system. Even if we have access, the content is usually not searchable, and even if we can get content, it is often only after navigating some set of portals and special websites.

Other potential benefits derive from the fact that venues not tied to print publication have freedoms that other venues do not. Of course, 'open access' need not mean that the content is not available in print form, and commercial access need not mean that the content is not available electronically. But it remains true that commercial publications' online content is a reflection of, and hence largely must conform to the constraints of, the printed medium. Open access venues need not (though those that choose to have printed distribution might) have these limitations. What are they? Color images and graphics. Easy to produce in electronic documents, difficult and expensive in print.  Multimedia. Impossible in print, easy in electronic.

But more importantly, the tether to print distribution creates artificial constraints on the form of academic expression. A journal article must be of a certain size in order to allow for a certain number of them to appear in a physical print object that is roughly journal sized. Hence the ubiquitous word-count constraints (minima as well as maxima) that are imposed on academic work independent of what the nature of the topic and project itself recommends in the judgment of the one who produces it. In an electronic distribution format these artificial limitations are removed, and academic expression and research can take the form, including length, that the author feels appropriate for the project at hand.

If I have managed to convince you that open-access publishing is worth supporting, please take a look at the What you can do page.

What can you do?

A few of the web discussions have contained something like good-faith pledges for anyone who is interested in supporting the open access movement. See, for example, the Open Philosophy Pledge. I am on board with the bulk of this, but it seems to me to confuse a few issues (for example, what is important is not something being online, but it's being open access. Open access materials can also be published in hard copy format, and closed-access can be published online).

In any case in order to help spread awareness of the issue, I have decided to create a couple of little logos, representing one's level of commitment to the ideal of supporting the open access movement in philosophy. If you feel as I do, then I encourage you to adopt one of these and, for instance, display it on your own web page, include it on the sig. file of your emails, and maybe even have it displayed on the bottom of the title page of any powerpoint presentations you give. Whatever you deem appropriate. The two logos are "I support commercial free philosophy", and "I am a commercial free philosopher". To support commercial free philosophy is more or less along the lines of the Open Philosophy Pledge referenced above. In displaying this logo, you are communicating your committment to:

i) support open access publication by submitting some of your best work to open access venues -- only by getting a good selection of top research will open access venues become increasingly accepted as viable alternatives to commercial venues.

ii) support open access publication by diligently checking the current contents of open access journals -- if it is known that most philosophers willl actually see the TOC of open access journals, this will encourage more people to submit their best work to those venues. I plan, in the near future, to create a mailing list to which anyone can subscribe, that will distribute the new articles and contributions published in the relevant open-access venues once a month, so that all you will need to be done is to skim through one fairly brief email once a month to see if anything relevant to your own work has been published.

iii) support open access publication by citing and using articles published in open access venues where possible, as opposed to, or in addition to, those published in commercial venues. For example, if an entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia is as suitable for some classroom or seminar purpose as a similar entry in a commercial encyclopedia, then put the open access entry on the syllabus rather than the comercial entry.

iv) support open access publication by taking material published in open access venues seriously when making tenure and hiring decisions, and so forth. That is, don't simply assume a standard correlation between quality of work and the current presitge of the venue, but, for work published in open access venues, read that piece carefully and make an independent assessment (this is better in any case), or if the material is not in your field, ask a colleague who does know that field to read it careully and give you an honest independent assessment.

If you are a bit more hard core and radical, then you might consider following me in being commercial free. For me, this means that, as of January 1, 2008, I no longer publish any of my own single authored work in any non-open-access venue, nor do I support such venues by volunteering my time and resources to them (e.g. refereeing). Doing so now strikes me as supporting a deeply unethical economic-based class structure in philosophy, and I for one can no longer participate in that in good faith (it strikes me as analogous in many ways to continuing to play gold at a whites-only country club). It's not easy, though, since right now there are only a few top-shelf open access publishing venues for articles, and none for books, in philosophy (though I am putting some thought into doing something about the latter problem). So it's not going to be easy for me. I am feeling the pinch in several ways. But as I am one of the fortunate ones who has tenure and has achieved some degree of professional success, while I am undertaking a lot of cost and inconvenience by vowing to be commercial free, I am not undertaking any significant career risk. My hope is that at least a few, and hopefully eventually many, philoosphers who are in a similar position will move from supporting commercial free philosophy to being commercial free philosophers. (And n.b., it will take anyone at least a year, perhaps longer, to do this -- if you are like me, you have a long list of prior commitments that have to get through the pipeline before you can shed commercial interests). If you are willing to go as hog-wild as me, then please take and display the "I am a commercial-free philosopher" logo, and in using it you will be communicating your committment to do (i)-(iv) above, and in addition:

v) not publish any of your original research in any non-open access venue. (Of course, co-authored work with people who are not professionally secure is a well-motivated exception to this committment.)

vi) stop contributing to the commercial publication model (and its associated social evils) by giving it the resources of your time and expertise -- via refereeing, editing volumes, serving on editorial boards, and so forth.

Also, as part of the more complete version of this website I hope to soon put up, I will include a list of those people who have decided to either support commercial free philosophy, and who will join me in being commercial free philosophers. Please send me an email (rick@mind.ucsd.edu) and let me know if I can add your name to the "I support commercial free philosophy" list, or the "I am a commercial free philosopher" list. Your name and institutional affiliation is all that will appear.


Rick Grush (rick@mind.ucsd.edu)



PS. Here are some emblems/logos you can use if you'd like to show your suport for Commercial-Free Philosophy, three sizes, in black on white and white on black -- just right-click (windows), or control-click (mac) to download and save, and add to your email sig, web site, or whatever. Hopefuly they will get people to take a look at this website, and soon this site should be more than just my own rants, but actually a good resource for various open-access discussion, venues, and so forth. General awareness raising stuff: