Intermezzo: sponsored editing costs

While reading up on Richard Stallman, the subject of my previous entry, I came across an article he wrote in 2001 for Nature in which he sums up the reasons why science must “push copyright aside”. I was struck by a pragmatic pre-emptive counter-argument to the argument that scientists need income from licensing to off-set editing costs:

Instead, the cost of editing could be recovered, for example, through page charges to the authors, who can pass these on to the research sponsors. The sponsors should not mind, given that they currently pay for publication in a more cumbersome way through overhead fees for the university library’s subscription to the journal. By changing the economic model to charge editing costs to the research sponsors, we can eliminate the apparent need to restrict access. The occasional author who is not affiliated with an institution or company, and who has no research sponsor, could be exempted from page charges, with costs levied on institution-based authors.

A publisher provides value-add. Nobody likes to provide value-add, because it makes one dispensable. And so adders of value try and become middle-men. Middle-men cannot be dispensed so easily because — as their name applies — they are in the way.

I would like to see copyright reforms, and that is why I am arguing about copyright so often on this blog. And often I take the approach that we should not care if the entire industry loses their jobs. It is not our responsibility as citizens to provide authors and their middle-men with a special kind of welfare. If they want money, they should get real jobs. Copyright only exists to foster creation, not to care for the creators.

But in order to convince the parties involved, being clear may be being fair, it doesn’t necessarily help to win them over. Developing models in which authors can free themselves of the shackles of the publishing industry might help. Outlining how the money-flow can be diverted so that it flows from the author to the publisher instead of the other way around is extremely useful. In that sense it would pay to keep an eye on Lulu, a POD publisher, where self-publishing authors can and are encouraged to interact with value adders such as graphic designers, editors, copy writers and so on.

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