Observations On the Contrary

Springtime for open access in academia

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e2937 (Published 25 April 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e2937
  1. Tony Delamothe, deputy editor, BMJ
  1. tdelamothe{at}bmj.com

Will history label this the “academic spring”?

The digital revolution is far from over and continues to inflict heavy casualties. Kodak, founded in 1889 and synonymous with amateur photography ever since, filed for bankruptcy in January. The company saw the digital revolution coming, says the Financial Times (3 Apr), but didn’t move fast enough.

Another household name, Encyclopaedia Britannica (first volume 1768), has announced that it is moving out of print to focus on its online version. Is this merely a prelude, one wonders, to its being driven out of business altogether by its free competitor, Wikipedia (launched 2001)?

If so, newspapers may be joining Kodak and the encyclopaedia in the knacker’s yard. The newspaper industry has this year been judged the fastest shrinking industry in the United States, and each month its British counterpart announces further retrenchment. At the heart of the problem is a failure to find financially sustainable online business models. There are many ways of getting it wrong: when the Times (1785) introduced a paywall in July 2010 visitor numbers fell off a cliff and have not recovered since (see www.alexa.com/siteinfo/timesonline.co.uk). For the record, the world’s most visited news website is currently the free Huffington Post (2005).

Academic publishing hasn’t been spared digital disruption, but the big publishers …

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