Collaborative Commons: Why cheap e-books won’t beat copyleft publications

Image licensed as Public Domain: Public Domain Information in the public domain is free for anyone to use, in any way they see fit. This includes exhibition, distribution and making derivative works.

Image licensed as Public Domain: Public Domain Information in the public domain is free for anyone to use, in any way they see fit. This includes exhibition, distribution and making derivative works.

In this series of post we have explored to what extent can we rethink the licensing instruments (perhaps beyond Creative Commons); alternative forms of economic sustainability (freemium); as well as new incentives mechanisms (non-traditional knowledge currencies) into the Open Access movement. Here we will add some arguments to the two first aspects.

Alternative forms of economic sustainability:

On its recently published book, Rifkin (2014) The Zero Marginal Cost Society, argues that the meteoric rise of a global Collaborative Commons might eclipse of capitalism. He presents some interesting arguments to better understand how and why the world of online Open Access might have a promising future, but before we need to clarify what ‘marginal cost’ means:

  • Marginal cost denotes the extra or additional cost of producing 1 extra unit of output (Samuelson, 2010)
  • The amount at any given volume of output by which aggregate costs are changed if the volume of output is increased or decreased by one unit (Thakur, S. G., Ajay Sharma, Vikram).
  • The total cost of a production run for making one additional unit of an item. The fixed costs have already been absorbed by the already produced items and only the direct (variable) costs have to be accounted for. Marginal costs are variable costs consisting of labor and material costs, plus an estimated portion of fixed costs (such as administration overheads and selling expenses). (WebFinance, 2014).

Based on this principle, Rifkin explains that “the cost of actually producing each additional unit—if fixed costs are not counted—becomes essentially zero, making the product nearly free“.

“But what if the marginal cost of producing and distributing a book plummeted to near zero? In fact, it’s already happening. A growing number of authors are writing books and making them available at a very small price, or even for free, on the Internet—bypassing publishers, editors, printers, wholesalers, distributors, and retailers. The cost of marketing and distributing each copy is nearly free. The only cost is the amount of time consumed by creating the product and the cost of computing and connecting online. An e-book can be produced and distributed at near zero marginal cost”.

The near zero marginal cost phenomenon has already wreaked havoc on the publishing and communications industries as more and more information is being made available nearly free to billions of people.

Here a slight rephrasing in brackets “[…]” of Rifkin’s argument from the Open Access perspective:

…the near zero marginal cost revolution argue that while nearly free goods and services [i.e. repositories and full open access journals, DOAJwill become far more prevalent, they will also open up new possibilities for creating other goods and services at sufficient profit margins to maintain growth and even allow the capitalistic system to flourish [apart from the classic examples of hybrid models such as Public Library of Science (PLoS) or BioMed Central (BMC) see 30 hybrid freemium models].

“The diminishing marginal cost of producing and delivering e-books has reduced retail prices significantly and forced smaller publishers and many retail book sellers out of business. Even the cheaper e-books are facing ever stiffer competition from copyleft publications that are distributed for free or nearly free“. (p.203)

Talking about the marginal cost of producing and distributing information at a nearly zero cost, Rifkin mentions the case of online education, MOOCs in particular:

…They [Moocs providers] have yet to fully realize the fact that the near zero marginal cost of education in a global virtual Commons they themselves are creating will increasingly become the new teaching paradigm for higher education, while brick-and-mortar learning eventually will play an ever more circumscribed and narrow supplementary role.

At least in information rich environments the transition from scarcity to abundance has been speeding up — not slowing down. It is still to be seen if smaller and smaller marginal costs liberate goods and services from market pricing (free). In the meantime, it will be interesting to see if in this changing scenario [of open, closed and hybrid models] is there going to be any kind of ‘natural selection‘ phenomena or David will be (finally) able to defeat Goliath.

Rethinking the licensing instruments:

Here some ideas to challenge Copy Right but also Creative Commons. Boyle (2009) argued that ‘[people have] the idealized vision of intellectual property. It is not merely supposed to produce incentives for innovation by rewarding creators, though that is vital… Copyright, intended to be the servant of creativity, a means of promoting access to information, is becoming an obstacle to both. [However] the current intellectual property policy is overwhelmingly and tragically bad in ways that everyone, and not just lawyers or economists, should care about”.

The author claims for the importance of thinking in the “opposite of property” as a concept that is much more important when we come to the world of ideas, information, expression, and invention: “public domain”, which is free of property rights and the user could do with it (content, art or creation) whatever is wanted.

Interestingly, he adds, commons can be restrictive. The term “commons” is generally used to denote a resource over which some group has access and use rights—albeit perhaps under certain conditions. (Creative) Commons is actually based on Copyright and removing the embedded conditions it would open a completely new open perspective.

The-Public-Domain-Grunge-White-Stamp-finalBoyle claims that the public domain has a vital and tragically neglected role to play in innovation and culture: Public domain has been a grand experiment, one that should not be allowed to die. The ability to draw freely on the entire creative output of humanity is one of the reasons we live in a time of such fruitful creative ferment.


  • Samuelson, P. A. (2010). Economics. Tata McGraw-Hill Education.
  • Thakur, S. G., Ajay Sharma, Vikram. (n.d.). Cost Accounting. FK Publications.
  • WebFinance. (2014). What is marginal cost? definition and meaning. Retrieved October 20, 2014, from
  • Rifkin, Jeremy. The Zero Marginal Cost Society: The Internet of Things, the Collaborative Commons, and the Eclipse of Capitalism. Macmillan, 2014.
  • Boyle, James. The public domain: Enclosing the commons of the mind. Yale University Press, 2009.

Criticism to Creative Commons: Why open access is not enough?

Screen shot 2014-10-15 at 14.59.29

Q – What has Open Access in common with Creative Commons, U2 or Radiohead?
A– All contents (either academic or artistic) are affected by CopyRight laws obsolete in the digital world.

At least within the academic world (as in many others probably) to embrace the principles promoted by Creative Commons it is something increasingly accepted, which just to be a radical idea but today it is increasingly accepted. That can be considered as a clear evidence that in a digital world new forms and frameworks for more open knowledge dissemination are needed.

For instance, UNESCO (2012), synthesized a summary of the benefits from Open Access:

Open Access improves the speed, efficiency and efficacy of research
Open Access is an enabling factor in interdisciplinary research
Open Access enables computation upon the research literature
Open Access increases the visibility, usage and impact of research
Open Access allows the professional, practitioner and business communities, and the interested public, to benefit from research.

However, as Kaja Scheliga, Sascha Friesike (2014) showed, there is an interesting tension between the rhetoric about open access and the implementation of it:

For instance, as indicated in a global survey about OER analyzed by Stockwell (2012) there is a variety of barriers that need to be overcomed (institutional, practices, regulations, technicals, economical and even technological berrier) in order to significantly implement the principles of openness in the academic (and educational) world. Screen shot 2014-10-15 at 11.57.57    

Despite that we’ve promoted the importance of Creative Commons for years (yes me too!) I consider very interesting the arguments provided by van Schijndel and Joost (2005) who argue against CopyRight and the need of a ‘world free of CopyRight but they also provide some criticisms to Creative Commons as ‘the’ solution (their analysis is mainly focus on art although it is consider relevant for the academic environment):

Copyright has become a mechanism for a few cultural conglomerates to control the broad terrain of cultural communication. The system is substantially more beneficial for cultural conglomerates than for the average artist.  

There is a need for alternative ways to protect the public domain of knowledge and creativity, and to assure many artists and other cultural entrepreneurs a fair income for their labours.

Criticism to Creative Commons.

van Schijndel and Joost (2005) emphasized three critics to the CC licences:

  • Creative Commons-like approaches is that they do not fundamentally question and challenge the copyright system.
  • The Creative Commons appears to be a useful solution that may even serve as an exemplar. But there are some strings attached. The Creative Commons does not paint a clear picture of how a diverse set of artists from all over the world, as well as their producers and patrons, might generate an income.
  • The idea behind this approach is that “A”’s work must be available for use by others, without them being obstructed by prevailing copyright. In turn, the other cannot appropriate the work. Why not? The Creative Commons entails that “A” supplies some kind of public license for his or her work: go ahead, do with the work as you please, as long as you do not bring the work under a regime of private ownership.

The same authors concluded saying, ‘Under the present system of copyright, creative adaptation is at risk of being interpreted as a wrong and of being fined by the courts, so the scope and duration of the protection are immensely important. In our approach, creative adaptation is instead applauded and encouraged‘.

Final thoughts:

I still think that the elephant in the room of Open Access is how to make it sustainable (see previous post with 30 explorations in that respect). I argue that if authors are not sponsored by any organizations (i.e. national or international agencies) they would be subject to the same challenges that van Schijndel and Joost (2005) described: no clear/sustainable sources of income. Therefore, open access or Creative Commons yes, but that doesn’t necessarily address the how to make costly effective for those who lack of any support to generate, adapt or disseminate their knowledge, creativity or art production.

Otherwise, the main risk is to turning this open access or Creative Commons debate only for the elite/privilege/sponsored sectors of the society (i.e. see U2 and their new album launched from iTunes). In a similar arena, I would like to (in)conclude this post with a quote from Yorke from Radiohead criticising the poor economic model that Spotify provides to artist:

More in The Guardian.


UNESCO. (2012). Policy Guidelines for the Development and Promotion of Open Access. UNESCO.

Stockwell, G. (2012). Computer-Assisted Language Learning: Diversity in Research and Practice. Cambridge University Press.

van Schijndel, Marieke, and Joost Smiers. “Imagining a world without copyright: The market and temporary protection a better alternative for artists and the public domain. An essay.” Cut-Up: The Art of Living in a Mediatised Landscape 20 (2005).

How to make #OpenAccess in Science more sustainable? 30 possible answers



As many others probably,  I always thought that the confusion between free and libre was problematic and likely to cause a great deal of confusion (English adjective “free” does not distinguish between “free of charge” and “liberty”, the phrases “free as in beer”). Although a similar confusion arises between free and gratis. In Science for instance, for many of us, there’s no doubt that Open Access Science should be free, but that has little to do with the real question: How to make Open Access in Science Economically Sustainable?

As discussed in previous post (i.e. changing business models or new metrics), one of the main challenges that the Open Access movement faces is to explore (more) economically sustainable models to embrace and support openness. Shieber (2014) argues a ‘transitional process should allow for a smooth transition path from toll-access to open-access‘, which as you will see in the Table above, it goes far beyond the Green and Golden possibilities of publication.

‘A transitional process is revenue-neutral in the short term does not mean that no moneys will be saved in the longer term as the result of the transition; a move to author-side fees from reader-side fees has the potential to be a much more transparent, competitive, and efficient market, which may well lead to overall cost reductions. It requires knowledge of the average revenue per article, as well as transparency of subscription prices to verify that subscription fees are reduced.’

Chang (2006) when explored “Business models for open access journals publishing“, wrote that there are four critical factors in the sustainable solutions to open access:

(1) By saving costs: The publisher can set up an expenditure reducing plan to decrease any expenditure.

(2) By increasing incomes: Try to increase incomes by not only subscribing to print journals, printed advertisements and online advertisements, but also the fee of association membership and author reprints.

(3) Through the adoption of innovative technology: By utilisation of creative ways of developing a sustainable operation of open access publishing and continuing to exploit new technology to improve the cost-efficiency of publishing.

(4) By control of the quality of journals: The high quality of journals makes the author willing to publish research in those journals.

These four factors, according to Chang, can guarantee the open access publishing model with sustainable development and make the research permanently visible and accessible, ensuring permanent preservation and making the research results available.

From these critical factors described by Chang, we have elaborated a chart focus on how increasing the income (compilation of different sources) which explores nearly 30 sub-models for funding Open Access for journals and publishers (they provide diverse levels of economic sustainability). All these sub-models are organized under the Cross-subsidy model of Anderson: cross-subsidies, three-party market, freemium and non monetary markets (previously presented). Pros and cons will be explore lately.










  1. Chen Chi Chang, (2006) “Business models for open access journals publishing”, Online Information Review, Vol. 30 Iss: 6, pp.699 – 713.
  2. Shieber, S. (2014). » A true transitional open-access business model The Occasional Pamphlet. Retrieved from
  3. UNESCO. (2012). Policy Guidelines for the Development and Promotion of Open Access. UNESCO. “
  4. Open Access Directory (2013) OA journal business model.
  5. Anderson, C. (2009). Free: The Future of a Radical Price. Hyperion.

A smarter accountability: combining ‘traditional’ and social impact metrics in #OpenScience


Wikipedia defines Open Science as:

“… the movement to make scientific research, data and dissemination accessible to all levels of an inquiring society, amateur or professional. It encompasses practices such as publishing open research, campaigning for open access, encouraging scientists to practice open notebook science, and generally making it easier to publish and communicate scientific knowledge.”

From all these transformative aspects here we will address what concerns making scientific research more transparent, more collaborative and more efficient. Here we will compile some of the current discussions about how to have a more comprehensive understanding of scientific impact [for more context here].


Since the 1960s citation counts have been the standard for judging scholarly contributions and status, but growing awareness of the strategy’s limitations should lead to acceptance of alternative metrics. (Buschman and Michalek, 2013). The highly popular journal impact factor (JIF), calculated by the scientific division of Thomson Reuters and published in the Journal Citation Reports (JCR), is an average measure of citations within 1 year after the publication of a journal as a whole within the two preceding years. It is widely used as a proxy of a journal’s quality and scientific prestige influencing the decision-making process for research grant allocation, hiring and promotion of academic staff. (Bornmann, Lutz, et al. 2012).

However, as Shema, et al (2014) argue the age of the web has given rise to new venues of discussion and dissemination of scholarly information. And as a consequence, JCR as the sole assessment of journal impact, has raised questions regarding the validity of the Institute of Scientific Information’s Impact Factor (ISI IF), a unique standard by which to judge the impact of a given journal (Bollen, et al, 2005). Buschman and Michalek also add, just because a paper is cited does not mean that it is cited positively; yet, there is no distinction between positive and negative references when evaluating citations counts (2013)

As scholarly communication migrated to the web, so did citations. However, the meaning of web citation remained rather vague because the web is made of much more than formal research discourse, and citations can appear everywhere. Shema, et al (2014)

photo 3





In an analysis by PLOS, citation counts only represent a small fraction of how a paper is used; in fact, citation counts represent less than 1% of usage for an article.
(Buschman and Michalek, 2013)



Currently, both citations and peer review are considered mostly as partial indicators of ‘‘scientific impact’’ and also no single metric can sufficiently reveal the full impact of research. Given these limitations, the combination of peer review with ‘‘multi-metric approach’’ is proposed as necessary. (Zahedi, et. al, 2013)

The fast increase in facilities and new tools provided by the internet has lead to the development of alternative metrics (Sidinei and Martens, 2009). Alternative metrics refer to more ‘‘unconventional’’ measures for evaluation of research, including metrics such as usage data analysis (download and view counts); web citation and link analyses or social web analysis (Zahedi, et. al, 2013).

Today the so-called ‘alternative indicators’ in assessing scientific impact has entered the scientific debate, and these new metrics are expected not only to overcome some of the limitations of the previous approaches but also to provide new insights in research evaluation.

Chart published by Buschman, Mike, and Andrea Michalek. “Are alternative metrics still alternative?.” Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 39.4 (2013): 35-39.

Here some ‘real-time’ transactions that can be also considered and tracked: Likes, comments, reviews, discussions, bookmarks, saves, tweets and mentions of scientific publications and sources in social media.  (Zahedi, et. al, 2013) … mentions in blogs and other nontraditional formats, open review forums, electronic book downloads, library circulation counts and more. (Buschman and Michalek, 2013).


The more traditional metrics based on citations, although widely used and applied in research evaluation, are unable to measure the online impact of scientific literature (for example via Facebook, Twitter, reference managers, blogs or wikis) and also lack the ability of measuring the impact of scholarly outputs other than journal articles or conference proceedings, ignoring other outputs such as datasets, software, slides, blog posts, etc. Zahedi, et. al (2013)

Although altmetrics is still in its infancy here some interesting samples:

Among these tools we find F1000 (, PLOS Article-Level-Metrics (ALM) (http://, (, Plum Analytics (, Impact Story (, CiteULike (www., and Mendeley ( Zahedi, et. al (2013)

As well as some references and research of their efficacy:

  • Blog citations (i.e. are worth pursuing as an altmetrics source,…[they] take a great deal more time and thought than microblogging, bookmarking, or downloading, even if the latter activities are not automated (Shema, et al, 2014)
  • Impact Story which shows the impact of the ‘artifacts’ according to a variety of metrics such as the number of readers, bookmarks, tweets, mentions, shares, views, downloads, blog posts and citations in Mendeley, CiteULike, Twitter, Wikipedia, Figshare, Dryad, Scienceseeker, PubMed and Scopus. Impact Story is an interesting open source for collecting altmetrics, however, we also see some important limitations particularly regarding the speed and capacity of data. Zahedi, et. al (2013)
  • Mendeley is the major and more useful source for altmetrics data. (Zahedi, et. al, 2013).




Eysenbach (2011) found a correlation between the number of tweets about Journal of Medical Internet Research [JMIR] articles and future citation counts.



Some final ideas for an area that is now getting more and more attention:

  • The greatest opportunity for applying these new metrics is when we move beyond just tracking article-level metrics for a particular artifact and on to associating all research outputs with the person that created them. We can then underlay the metrics with the social graph of who is influencing whom and in what ways even before the system as a whole changes, new metrics are already available (Buschman and Michalek, 2013).
  • These new metrics, may accelerate their widespread use by authors, editors, and librarians as alternatives to this traditional institute (ISI IF) that had a monopoly until recently. (Sidinei and Martens, 2009)
  • The proper use and acceptance of these new tools might experience a time lag. (Sidinei and Martens, 2009)
  • As Gunther Eysenbach conclude ‘rather than as a replacement for citation metrics, which is in some cases weakly correlated with citations, but fundamentally measures something differently’.

* The title is inspired in an article from Nature


Bornmann, Lutz, et al. “Diversity, value and limitations of the journal impact factor and alternative metrics.” Rheumatology international 32.7 (2012): 1861-1867.

Zahedi, Zohreh, Rodrigo Costas, and Paul Wouters. “How well developed are altmetrics? A cross-disciplinary analysis of the presence of ‘alternative metrics’ in scientific publications.” Scientometrics (2014): 1-23.

Buschman, Mike, and Andrea Michalek. “Are alternative metrics still alternative?.” Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 39.4 (2013): 35-39.

Bollen, J., Van de Sompel, H., Smith, J. A., & Luce, R. (2005). Toward alternative metrics of journal impact: A comparison of download and citation data. Information Processing & Management, 41(6), 1419–1440. doi:10.1016/j.ipm.2005.03.024

Shema, H., Bar-Ilan, J., & Thelwall, M. (2014). Do blog citations correlate with a higher number of future citations? Research blogs as a potential source for alternative metrics. Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology, 65(5), 1018–1027. doi:10.1002/asi.23037

Eysenbach, G. (2011). Can tweets predict citations? Metrics of social impact based on twitter and correlation with traditional metrics of scientific impact. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 13(4), e123.

Thomaz, Sidinei M., and Koen Martens. “Alternative metrics to measure journal impacts: Entering in a “free market” era.” Hydrobiologia 636.1 (2009): 7-10.

In transition to a sustainable Open Access?

One step ahead

Higher education institutions are operating in an altered context now with the advent of digital, networked technologies. The IT Revolution had resulted in new dysfunctions and inequalities in scholarly communication.

Authors, such as Hopkins (2009), among others, suggest that Higher Education requires resilience, to face this changing landscape of knowledge dissemination. Resilience requires adaptation and evolution to new environmental conditions, but retains core identity, in other words ‘the capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and reorganise while undergoing change, so as to retain essentially the same function, structure, identity and feedbacks’.

In order to better understand how resilient are the post-secondary institutions regarding the transition that OA (open access) it is important to consider four key aspects: incentives, metrics, changing business models and sustainability.

IncentivesThe importance of establishing effective incentive models for open contributions and tool builders, for example, meaningful metrics and research grants.

The analogy between corporations and scientific investigators (particularly in terms of competition, cooperation and competitive advantage) might not be always applicable because of the different incentive structure the comparison is not universally applicable.(Venters, et al., 2013)

One source of resistance is the belief that impact will suffer if the work is submitted to an open access publisher.Evidence for this belief has been mixed with some studies supporting this claim, while others showing that open access publishing increases citations (e.g. Davis, 2010; Hajjem, Harnard & Gingras, 2005). Thus, the resistance to OAP both in terms of general academia… is declining (Weller and Anderson, 2013).

All of the largest research-led universities now have repositories in place and have, in many cases, developed policies or even ‘mandates’ [regarding Green publication] at an institutional level .(Pinfield, 2010).

Open Access mitigates or resolves these dysfunction and inequalities, such as: (a) fair returns to all stakeholders; (b) unlimited access and efficient usage; (c) quality safeguarding (transparent processes including easier detection of plagiarism and fraud); and (d) free sharing and re-use (e.g. CC-BY license). (Venters, 2013)

In the UK if the UK Publishers’ Association ‘Decision Tree’ offers open access publishing but no APC funds are available to the author, then the embargo would vary from 12 to 24 months. (Venters, 2013)

MetricsThe way we conducts science has changed so fundamentally that a metrics mechanism that ignores this change is totally passe.

Policy issues related to software sustainability such as measuring impact, giving credit, and incentivizing best practices; and education and training. (Venters, et al., 2013)

In addition to how long a project has been active, other metrics are important, such as number of developers, number of institutions, and whether there are active collaborators acting as advocates for the continued viability of a (research) project beyond individual projects and/or institutions.(Venters, et al., 2013)

Current assessment mechanism is counter productive to scholarly communication. Need to make policy makers realise and accept that. Today only formal citations count. Not other impact. How to come up with other metrics that can be generated in an open and scalable way?

  • Need a multidimensional metrics model to count various things. If possible, the model should apply across disciplines.
  • Impact factor doesn’t work for across disciplines.
  • Scholarly communication system is skewed by impact assessment as it is (Clark, 2011)

Changing business models: Scholarly publishing is now supported by two business models: subscriptions and article-processing charges (APCs), and it is in the interest of all stakeholders that the foundations be solid and the publishing operation sustainable (Venters, 2013)

Currently, most of the policies encourage publication in a journal that makes articles available in an OA form. This might either be a fully-OA journal, such as those published by Public Library of Science (PLoS) or BioMed Central (BMC), or a so-called ‘hybrid’ journal which permits an OA fee to be paid to make a particular article OA. Since, in both cases, pre-publication OA fees are normally payable, a number of funders have policies which specify that grant-holders should where possible pay an OA fee in addition to promoting to send a copy in an OA repository (Pinfield, 2010).

There is an ostensible argument that, as the business models of publishers shift from library subscriptions to OA publication charges, the income for publishers will come from OA fees increases, therefore it is expected that the subscriptions should correspondingly reduced their cost. “As the business model associated with author-side fees becomes more widely accepted, it is only reasonable to expect publishers to make such changes”.  (Pinfield, 2010).

Sustainability: Building a sustainable approach to research communications of the future will require the exploration of the space of potential business models. It will be required toUse various architecture evaluation [metrics] approaches to assess sustainability” Venters, et al. [2013]


If OA publishing models are to become widely accepted and adopted, research funders, institutions, should provide co-ordinated arrangements for ensuring that such funds are properly resourced. (Pinfield, 2010).

As a summary can be suggested that OA publishing faces challenges such as:

  • Sustainability (as well as changing business models).
  • Participation of faculty (particularly for institutional).
  • Confusion over what can be deposited (post print, pre print, published version?)
  • Copyright issues murky and (often) frustrating (Shreeves, et al. 2012)

Funding strategies:

  • It is equally important, however, for institutions to identify ways in which researchers can be helped to pay OA publication fees.
  • Only a minority of institutions have developed any formal way of enabling authors to pay OA fees, either at central or faculty/ departmental level. At the same time, authors report a lack of support from their institutions.
  • One of the potential benefits of a business model based on author-side fees is that it scales with research resources; funding institutions need to ensure that internal funding streams allow this to happen.(Pinfield, 2010).

The main recommendations of this revision suggesting that (a) that a mixed economy with subscription-based and open access journals should be tolerated for the foreseeable future; (b) policy direction should be set towards open access; (c) actions needed to implement this should be identified by relevant stakeholders; (d) the costs of transition should be monitored (Venters, 2013)





Pinfield, S. (2010). Paying for open access? Institutional funding streams and OA publication charges. Learned Publishing, 23(1), 39-52.

Sarah L. Shreeves and Molly Kleinman. Lee C. Van Orsdel changed the template, made revisions and added new slides in May 2012. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution- NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. To view a copy of this license, visit

Venters C, Lau L, Griffiths MK, Holmes V, Ward RR, Xu J. The Blind Men and the Elephant: To- wards a Software Sustainability Architectural Evaluation Framework. figshare; 2013. 790758. Available from: .

Walker, B.; Holling, C.S.; Carpenter, S.R. and Kinzig A. (2004). Resilience, adaptability and transformability in social–ecological systems. Ecology and Society, 9(2), (p. 5). Available at: Accessed 12th December 2012

Hopkins, R. (2009). Resilience Thinking. Resurgence, 257.

Weller, Martin and Anderson, Terry (2013). Digital resilience in higher education. European Journal of Open, Distance and e-Learning, 16(1) p. 53.

Katz, Daniel S., et al. “Summary of the First Workshop on Sustainable Software for Science: Practice and Experiences (WSSSPE1).” arXiv preprint arXiv:1404.7414 (2014).

Clark, T., De Waard, A., Herman, I., & Hovy, E. (2011). The Future of Research Communication (Dagstuhl Perspectives Workshop 11331). Dagstuhl Reports, 1(8).

Armbruster, C., & Pleintinger, A. (2013). Academic Publishing in Europe – Short report: The funding of publishing. Changes and consequences for science and society29–30 January 2013, Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences preceded by the Education and Training Course: “Talking to the Elephant in the Room” on 28 January 2012. Information Services and Use, 33(1), 41–49. doi:10.3233/ISU-130692


Rethinking the sustainability of Open Access and Open Science

Leuven, Belgium

Meanwhile, I am enjoying my stay as ‘visiting scholar’ at the Institute for Cultural Studies (KU Leuven) I am collaborating with Dr. Frederik Truyen exploring mechanisms to better understand Open Access from the sustainability point of view.

Open Access (OA) is a term widely used to refer to unrestricted online access to articles published in scholarly journals. Here a compilation of a (open) work-in-progress…

Several authors have highlighted that in the Digital Era we are reinventing discovery, with a new area of networked science that speeds up discovery highly influenced by digital technologies providing social and technical platforms for openning science, allowing scientists to share knowledge and to collaborate in ways that were not possible before. However, and as Scheliga and Friesike (2014) rightly stated despite the broadly acknowledge concern regarding the need of transforming science and opening up the research process, there is a clear discrepancy between the concept of open science and scholarly reality. 

These authors stated that this discrepancy is the result of two main categories of obstacles: individual and systemic obstacles. Here we will address one in particular: the current transition in the business models of Open Access journals. As indicated by Chesbrough (2012) a business model performs two important functions: It creates value, and it captures a portion of that value.

Open business models help create value by leveraging many more ideas because of their inclusion of a variety of external concepts. They also allow greater value capture by utilizing a organizations’s key asset, resource or position not only in that institutions’s own operations but also elsewhere (Chesbrough, 2012)

Björk & Solomon, (2012) organize in three phases the transition of Open Access journals.

  1. Lacked the prestige: In the latter half of the 1990s when journals created by individual scientists were dominating OA publishing, these journals were not considered by most academics a serious alternative to subscription publishing. There were doubts about both the sustainability of the journals and the quality of the peer review (usually not  indexed in the Web of Science).
  2. Digitalization: A second wave of OA journals consisted of established subscription journals, mainly  owned by societies. These publishers decided to make the electronic version of their  journal(s) freely accessible.
  3. Economic Sustainability: The third wave of OA journals was started by two new publishers, BioMedCentral and  Public Library of Science (PLoS). They pioneered the use of article processing charges  (APCs) as the central means of financing professional publishing of OA journals. The results highlighted how OA journals have achieved a share of around 15% of all SCOPUS indexed journals for Asia and Africa and a remarkable  73% for Latin America.

Aligned with this description Crow (2009) describes that since the year 2000, the average annual growth rate has been 18% for the number of journals and 30% for the number of articles. This can be contrasted to the reported 3,5% yearly volume increase in journal publishing in general. The Pioneering years (1993–1999), the Innovation years (2000–2004), and the Consolidation years (2005–2009).

The most compelling argument for Open Access, according to Cow (2009) is that improves the efficiency, effectiveness, and equity of the research process, delivering greater social and economic benefits as a result. Greater social utility, however, does not necessarily translate into reduced costs from a local library procurement perspective. Some interesting findings are:

  • OA journals that fund publishing with article processing charges (APCs, fee charged to authors in order to publish an article in academic journals) are on average cited more than other OA journals.
  • Several studies have shown that gold open access journals have had a larger uptake in the biomedical fields, where authors usually have less problems in financing APCs and where many research funders also require some form of OA for the results.
  • Laakso and Mikael (2011) the relative volume of OA published peer reviewed research articles has grown at a much faster rate than the increases in total annual volume of all peer reviewed research articles.
  • It is expected that publishers will continue to apply a variety of income models to support open-access distribution. Laakso and Mikael (2011) add that open access business models have been introduced in parallel to traditional subscription-based models; a journal might charge authors for submissions or rely on advertising revenue as a source of income.

Some criticisms to the emerging alternative income models used to support open-access journals are:

  • A given model lacks universal applicability to all journals regardless of type or discipline.
  • A particular model maintains a publication’s current cost basis, without restructuring the underlying economics of publishing.
  • The operations with APCs (i.e Golden Route) might lead to journals lowering  their review standards in order to maximize their profits.

This is a transition that might take a still unknown amount of time to distill into the academic and publishing world. However, as the authors suggested, only by ‘fostering openness in research cannot simply mean forcing scientists towards openness’ (Scheliga and Friesike, 2014).

It’s the economy stupid!


Here’s something interesting to think about, by revising the four models of cross-subsidies described by Anderson in his book Free (2009).

Cross-subsidies: in return to the free product or service provided the attention given can contribute to enhance the visibility or the reputation of the provider. Paid products subsidizing free products (i.e. free gift inside). Here, paying later can subsidize free consumption now. Alternatively, paying people subsidizing free people (i.e. Evernote offers a premium and a free version). In both cases, the hope is that the free consumers will attract or bring with them paying consumers or that some fraction of the free consumers will convert to paying consumers.

Cross-subsidies can work in different ways, here four of them:

WHAT’S FREE: Any Product That Attracts You to Pay for Something Else.
FREE TO WHOM: Everyone Willing to Pay Eventually, One Way or Another.

Here organizations look at a portfolio of products and price some at zero (or close to it) to make the other products, on which they make healthy profits, more attractive (i.e. offering open access to online books or some sections of it and selling the hard copy).

WHAT’S FREE: Content, Services, Software, and More.
FREE TO WHOM: Everyone.

The most common of the economies built around free is the three-party system. Here a third party pays to participate in a market created by a free exchange between the first two parties. A well known case is the advertising but it goes far beyond that. Media companies, for instance, make money around free content in a variety of ways, from selling information about consumers to other companies; via subscriptions, direct e-commerce, etc. The costs (i.e. of the media companies) are distributed and/or hidden enough to make the primary goods feel free to consumers (i.e. free newspapers).

WHAT’S FREE: Anything That‘s Matched with a Premium Paid Version.
FREE TO WHOM: Basic Users.

Freemium can take different forms: varying tiers of content from free to expensive, or a premium version of some site or software with more features than the free version (i.e. Skype). In the freemium model, that means for every user who pays for the premium version of the site, nineteen others get the basic free version.

WHAT’S FREE: Anything People Choose to Give Away with No Expectation of Payment.
FREE TO WHOM: Everyone.

This can take several forms: From the ‘Gift Economy’ perspective, the incentives to share can include a range of possibilities from reputation and attention to less measurable factors such as expression, influence, visibility, leadership, and simply self-interest. From the ‘Labor Exchange’ the act of using the service creates something of value, either improving the service itself or creating information that can be useful somewhere else (i.e. using Beta version of softwares).

Taking into account initiatives such as Altmetrics or ImpactStory, which stress some of the additional ‘knowledge currencies’ (i.e. visibility, influence, knowledge transfer, etc.), to what extent would be possible to explore innovative cross-subsidies that could provide sustainability (and even profit) to Open Access publications? We will continue the exploration from the cultural capital of Brussels.


Anderson, C. (2009). Free: The Future of a Radical Price. Hyperion.

Björk, B.-C., & Solomon, D. (2012). Open access versus subscription journals: a comparison of scientific impact. BMC Medicine, 10(1), 73. doi:10.1186/1741-7015-10-73

Chesbrough, H. “Why companies should have open business models.” MIT Sloan management review 48.2 (2012).

Crow, Raym. “Income models for open access: An overview of current practice.” Washington: SPARC (2009).

Laakso, Mikael, et al. “The development of open access journal publishing from 1993 to 2009.” PloS one 6.6 (2011).

Scheliga, Kaja, and Sascha Friesike. “Putting open science into practice: A social dilemma?.” First Monday 19.9 (2014).

The shifting ecology of online scholarly communication

The expansion of the Internet as well as other digital technologies has brought a great deal of interest as well as new opportunities to our society, one clear example of that is how open access initiatives have already diversified the alternatives to access and share academic peer-reviewed scholarly information (papers, reports, books, data base, etc.) more readily available to all who might benefit from it across the globe. The interest in open access is highly influenced by other practices which promote more diverse and inclusive mechanisms of production, consumption and socialization of knowledge, such as open source, open science and open education. The open access (OA) literature can be understood as “digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions”(Suber, 2010[1]).

The “nature of openness” as described by Conole (2013) in higher education is understood as: “Openness is becoming a trend, both in terms of the production and sharing of educational materials, as well as making research publications (and even research data) freely available.“ The promoters of OA usually refers to concepts such as: e-science, digital scholarships and digital humanities, science 2.0 as well as open scholarship or open science. Here, Burton (2009) emphasis on the notion of open scholar:

 “…is not simply someone who agrees to allow free access and reuse of his or her traditional scholarly articles and books; no, the Open Scholar is someone who makes their intellectual projects and processes digitally visible and who invites and encourages ongoing criticism of their work and secondary uses of any or all parts of it — at any stage of its development.“

An example of the current concern of how academic knowledge is commodified can be found on ‘The Cost of Knowledge’ (, where almost 15,000 academics protested against the business practices of the academic journal publisher Elsevier. The protest was materialized in a massive rejection to publish, participate as referee or doing any editorial work with “any Elsevier journal [~2,000] unless they radically change how they operate”. This digital movement simply illustrates the increasing interest of incorporating higher levels of “openness” in science and the dissemination of knowledge.

 Evolution of the ‘open science’ references  in Google Books,

Image: Evolution of the ‘open science’ references  in Google Books, between 1960 and 2000, according by Ngram Viewer (Source)


Source: Cope, B., & Phillips, A. (2014). The Future of the Academic Journal. Chandos Publishing.

In the last few years the number of open access publications as well as the volume of studies about this topic have grown notably (see DOAJ[2]). There is an increasing amount of publications explaining and analyzing the importance of adopting open access publications as a form of knowledge dissemination. Although, not always broadly understood, the different positions in this field somehow illustrates the current transitions that exist regarding how to access and consume knowledge in this (changing) digital era.

For instance, the guidelines of the EC in this field activated an interesting debate about the consequence of adopting green and golden[3] routes of (more) open publications[4]. This initiative has been considered as a possibility to increase and accelerate the pressure toward open access and more liberal licensing opportunities that could change the landscape of publishing. Although the emerging business models behind the academic publication in open access (i.e. direct cross-subsidies; the three-part market; freemium; or non-monetary market) are by no mean consolidated[5].


Today the mechanisms of pre-print and post-print publication[6] in open access are certainly more diverse. That can be associated with a large number of alternatives in the digital ecosystem: self publication; open repositories, adoption of open licenses as well as the increasing appropiation of platforms for knowledge dissemination such as Wikipedia, SSRN, and the growing acceptance of more flexible licences like Creative Commons. Jackson and Richardson[7] argues that open access has moved firmly into the mainstream of academic publishing, and in some cases it can be even profitable at least within some disciplines (see cases of PLOS or BMC).

 The promoters of OA publication suggest that it expands the access to high- quality and up-to-date contents; stimulates the exchange (and combination) of knowledge (disciplines); generates reputational benefits like visibility, recognition or traffic; accelerating feedback and open peer review and facilitating networking and engagement with a wider community (transdisciplinarity). Some of these benefits can be summarized as reuse, redistribute, revise and remix (Hilton et al., 2010)[8]

However, not everyone sees the clear benefit to move to further technological means and particularly new open practices. There is a number of challenges and constraints that individuals and institutions need to be prepared to deal with (i.e. current institutional rules for rewarding, dissemination and quality measurements) before embracing the openness in publication as the way to move forward. According, to previous research these constraints could be associated with institutional and cultural resistance to give up the traditional model of academic publication (well embedded in the culture of the Higher Education), others are suspicious with the idea that open publication (self-publication, for instance) and its reliability in terms of quality assurance in contrast to the ‘traditional publication’ practices. At the same time, there are technological challenges that affect at least a segment of the academics who are not familiar with the current digital media ecosystem and the possibilities behind these tools. In addition to the already mentioned challenges, the sustainability of open access publication is still under development in the best of the cases. The business models and the economic strength of open access it is by no mean an exclusive challenge for the academic publications but it also affects other sectors such as mass media, art and culture industries.

Summary of key barriers to foster OA initiatives: lack of awareness; digital proficiency limitations; change resistance in the culture of the academic institutions (policies and practices); copyright issues (reproduction, derivative versions), concerns for the quality-reliability and information-quality control; legal limitations; lack of business models (securing economic sustainability); pedagogical challenges (OER); others.

 As Meyer and Schroeder suggested (2009)[9] even if open access somehow succeed and a large volume of scientific products are published under OA license offering more flexible avenues for accessing knowledge it is possible to foresee new problems and challenges such as: the predominance of gatekeepers (such as academic search engines) that will “shape the online visibility” combined with the limited span attention from individuals exposed to an information overloaded Internet.

 Although the future of copyright as well as academic publication might be difficult to predict it is tempting to venture that the new changes for academic journals and publishers will come, affecting for good or for bad the academic community and their institutions. The digital ecosystem is continuously evolving and it is important to understand its momentum.

For more infomation here: @cristobalcobo or here

Images used by Times Higher Education

Image used by Times Higher Education


[1] Suber, P. (2010). Open Access Overview. Retrieved October 31, 2010 from

[2] Heather Morrison » Open Thesis. (2012). Retrieved from

[3] A gold open access model: with the article processing charges paid up front and not by the reader.

[4] For instance, in 2012 both the European Commission and the British Economic and Social Research Council announced that they would be adopting policies to facilitate and accelerate the open access to scientific knowledge (cf. ‘gold’ and ‘green’ schemes of publication) Van Noorden, R. (2012). Europe joins UK open-access bid. Nature, 487(7407), 285–285. doi:10.1038/487285a.

[5] Income models for Open Access: An overview of current practice. (2009). Retrieved August 20, 2014, from


[7] Gold open access: the future of the academic journal?∗ Rhodri Jackson and Martin Richardson. In Cope, B., & Phillips, A. (2014). The Future of the Academic Journal. Chandos Publishing.

[8] Hilton III, J., Wiley, D., Stein, J., & Johnson, A. (2010). The four ‘R’s of openness and ALMS analysis: frameworks for open educational resources. Open Learning, 25(1), 37-44.

[9] Meyer, E. T., & Schroeder, R. (2009). The world wide web of research and access to knowledge. Knowledge Management Research & Practice, 7(3), 218-233.

Strategies to foster (virtual) collaboration

Roschelle & Teasley (1995) explained in their well known research (see open access version*) that collaboration: involves group-directed negotiation and construction of shared goals and meaning. A better understanding of collaboration (face-to-face and/or online) becomes a critical factor in today’s society.

As known, the OECD has been working on a new assessment to test student performance in creative problem solving, which measures students’ capacity to respond to non-routine situations in order to achieve their potential as constructive and reflective citizens (see summary). The idea is not only testing student’s skills but also to explores the role of formal education in fostering problem-solving skills (see draft).

The following presentation focus on different mechanisms, tools and practices that can be adopted in order to enable distributed and collective collaboration.

Disclaimer: The presentation is pretty big (but worth it I hope) if problems, try here.

(*) Roschelle, J., & Teasley, S. D. (1995, January). The construction of shared knowledge in collaborative problem solving. In Computer supported collaborative learning (pp. 69-97). Springer Berlin Heidelberg.

The social platform for learning is changing


‘Karen McCoy’ from the International Baccalaureate Organization (IB Global Centre) interviewed me a few days ago, here its transcription.

Question 1: Could you tell us a little more about your key ideas?

Lately, I’ve been focusing on three key ideas in education.

  • First of all, moving more into context rather than content. Proper context will stimulate different synapses and connections between people.
  • Secondly, I have really been inspired by the work done by George Siemens. The value of information is changing in a dramatic way and has a different flavour than when we tried to access knowledge 20 years ago. This network of knowledge challenges the structure of learning.
  • Last but not least, the idea of entrepreneurial driven initiatives within schools. This can be socially driven and creates new business.

Question 2: Who have been the key educational thinkers who have influenced your own thinking on teaching and learning?

  • John Seely Brown is a senior promoter of innovation.  He originally comes from the industry world, but switched to new forms of learning. His work brings up challenges in thinking about knowledge.
  • Larry Cuban is a researcher and academic from the Stanford University. His contributions are on the incorporation of technology in classroom. He gives a thought provoking critical voice to the matter.
  • Neil Selwyn has a comprehensive approach on how knowledge has been brought into the classroom and addresses failures that have been replicated systematically.
  • George Siemens and his ideas on connectivism. I was a little suspicious of connectivism, I think it’s challenging, but it has lots to do with the amount of information that kids have to deal with these days.
  • Ivan Illich gives harsh criticism to school, but is a thought provoking read on highlighting  the combination of formal and informal education.

Question 3: If you could recommend one book for our Diploma Programme teachers to read, what would it be and why?

I would recommend the book Knowmad Society. ( Moravec . J. 2013. Knowmad Society. Education Futures LLC) It focuses on one of the key ideas I mentioned in the previous question – integrating entrepreneurship initiatives in formal education. It focuses on the idea of knowledge workers by Peter Drucker and talks about permanent flowing not only in terms of territory but flowing in terms of knowledge and highlighting the relevance of resilience and adaptability in students. It is linked to “Flat World” knowledge by Friedman.

Question 4: What do you think is the biggest difference between education today and education 30 years ago?

My criticism would be that we are increasingly more obsessed with assessment. Every time we want to explore potential innovation in the classroom, the concern that we will fail in national and institutional assessment comes up. Innovation suffers because of concern we may fail.

Positively, we are beginning to open the door from formal venues of learning into informal learning venues and the hybrid approach to learning. By hybrid I mean formal and informal, individual and collective, and online and offline.

Question 5: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing teachers today? What do you think is the biggest challenge facing students today?

Teachers are knowledge workers or “knowmads”. Knowledge is becoming a commodity, and if you have the proper switch activated then you will always find valuable knowledge to be learned from.

The challenge is how to deal with information that is always changing. Knowledge is liquid – it is always going to be moulded or reshaped. For example, we use books but updating them is not the fastest way to update our learners. The analysis of how difficult it is to update contents in comparison of how knowledge flows means finding other currencies and recognizing teachers that are doing good stuff in assessing.

As for students, the world is complex and no one understands well where we are going. We tend to talk about the future because we don’t know what is going on in the present. This puts a lot of pressure on our students, because we have no idea which direction they need to go. They need to decide early on different strategies and mechanisms beyond formal education. They need to know that what they get from school is not going to be enough – that grades will not be enough. Students have to be their own engineers of their own learning path, to dedicate as much time as possible in laboratories of innovation out of school and within school, to embrace social entrepreneurship initiatives, and to promote ideas of lifelong learning.

Look at the “geek” community and the way they collaborate on the internet. Their collaboration is based on “digital badges” (flexible competence-based systems),  as a way to recognize the achievements of others within the community. There is an increasing agreement that the social platform for learning is changing.

Delivering higher education in the digital age


See also the great report from By Simon Knight.

The workshop for the Oxford Internet Institute, “What does it mean to be an ‘expert’ in the web age”, took place on Wednesday 28th May at Oxford University’s Research Centre in the Humanities. Here the members of the panel:
Doug Belshaw @dajbelshaw from The Mozilla Foundation.
Hannah Gore @HRGore from the OpenLearn at the Open University.
– Ken Skates @KenSkatesAM from The Welsh Government, Deputy Minister for Skills and Technology.
David White @daveowhite from The University of Oxford,

The workshop comes against the backdrop of new ways of engaging with higher education, including Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).

The panel discussion reviewed and discussed these new emerging learning opportunities, exploring how the Web influences our understanding of what it means to be an ‘expert’, and the manner in which universities and disciplines should respond to the opportunities offered by the Web.

Particular attention was given to understanding how traditional and novel forms of education, as well as non-traditional forms of certification, presented a more complex future for higher education.

Deputy Minister for Skills and Technology from Welsh Government, Ken Skates presented on the findings of the Online Digital Learning Working Group which published its report for the Welsh Government in March.

The Group was set up to advise the Welsh Government on the potential opportunities offered by new technologies for the Welsh HE sector; the extent the sector is working together to maximise these opportunities; and to what extent technological developments would increase participation in part-time and full-time education.

The Group made a number of recommendations, namely using open and online resources as a way of improving skills of learners and practitioners and to encourage Welsh higher institutions to use MOOCs as a means of widening participation and promoting excellence within the sector.

The Deputy Minister said, “I would like to thank the Oxford Internet Institute for inviting me to take part on this Expert Panel and I look forward to hearing the views of the other panel members. I’m sure that there is much that we can learn from each other.” [Press Release Excerpt]