COPIM Statement on the Corporate Acquisition of OA Infrastructure
At COPIM, we have noted the recent acquisition of Knowledge Unlatched by Wiley, which itself follows Knowledge Unlatched’s opaque transition in 2016 from a UK Community Interest Company (a non-profit organisation) into a German GmbH (roughly equivalent to a UK PLC, i.e. a for-profit company). This move by Wiley is one of several recent acquisitions of open access (OA) infrastructure by large commercial organisations, such as bepress by Elsevier in 2017, and F1000 Research by Taylor & Francis in 2020. It reflects an ongoing consolidation of research infrastructure by major publishing corporations, and in particular the increasing attempts to monetise and, potentially, monopolise the infrastructures of open knowledge dissemination.
From its beginning, COPIM has been driven by the belief, held by all its partners (a consortium of universities, libraries, scholar-led OA publishers and research infrastructure providers) that the infrastructure we rely on to publish and disseminate OA books should itself be open, and owned and governed by the research communities that use it. We have repeatedly cited the widely-quoted argument by Bilder, Lin and Neylon that ‘Everything we have gained by opening content and data will be under threat if we allow the enclosure of scholarly infrastructures’undefined and this motivates and shapes our work. The recent acquisitions of OA infrastructures by large for-profit corporations pose precisely this threat.
By contrast, the central philosophy of COPIM, which we have discussed publicly and written about extensively, is that of ‘scaling small’:
an alternative organisational principle for governing community-led publishing projects based on mutual reliance, care, and other forms of commoning […] this principle eschews standard approaches to organisational growth that tend to flatten community diversity through economies of scale. Instead, it puts forward the idea that scale can be nurtured through intentional collaborations between community-driven projects that promote a bibliodiverse ecosystem while providing resilience through resource sharing and other kinds of collaboration.
Essentially, ‘scaling small’ describes an ecosystem of small, diverse publishers and publishing projects working in collaboration with other stakeholders in scholarly communication, such as universities, libraries and non-profit infrastructure providers, which is sustained and expanded by commonly-owned and governed infrastructure that enables each individual initiative to operate at its optimum level, whatever that may be. It envisions the flourishing and proliferation of smaller entities that do not need themselves to grow radically in size in order to do their work effectively, nor to be owned by a much larger organisation. A powerful expansion of OA book publishing could (and in our view should) therefore be achieved not by the growth and dominance of a small number of disproportionately large companies, but by facilitating OA book publishing among a greater number of presses operating at smaller scales. This would also better reflect the current landscape of academic book publishing, in which small and/or specialist presses make significant contributions to the publication of long-form academic research.undefined In other words, the ‘scaling small’ philosophy that COPIM is following is explicitly and intentionally an alternative to large-scale, commercial approaches to academic publishing.
About Gary Price
Gary Price (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.