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October 26, 2012

The Cost of Knowledge

Posted by: Katie Heasley

Our Open Access Week celebration ends with a guest post from Gaëlle Krikorian, coeditor of Access to Knowledge in the Age of Intellectual Property (Zone Books). 

Mobilizations for access to knowledge often pose the question of price. Price directly impacts the affordability of a good or a service. In the field of research publications, academics and researchers have also, interestingly, raised the issue of cost. The price is what you pay to acquire something, but the cost refers to the amount paid to produce a good or service. It represents the sum of the value of the inputs in production (labor, capital and enterprise). It is certainly not an accident that academics and researchers choose to call their international mobilization for open access to publications “The cost of knowledge.”

Those who produce knowledge are well placed to know what is invested into the production of publications: besides the research, part of their working hours is dedicated to writing, and part of their time is dedicated, through peer review, to the scientific evaluation of the written products of others. They are responsible for the content and its quality. Yet, they are almost never paid to do this, and in some fields they must pay the journal to be published. Thus, they know well the cost of the production of knowledge and its dissemination.

Due to exorbitant subscription prices, thousands of academics across the world and in many different research fields are calling for “open access” to become the norm for publication. Knowledge would become more easily and broadly accessible to students, researchers, academics, universities, and libraries. Price would no longer be an obstacle to access to knowledge and to innovation itself, in both the global North and South. Academics promote, and in some cases develop, new publishing models that fit the technical environment more adequately than the old ones. These new models may help fix major incongruities and abuses that have occurred over the years in the context of what looks like than oligopoly.

In the United States, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has already embraced an open access policy. The European Parliament is currently discussing the issue. Hopefully, they will make it the rule for all research financed by the European Union.

If you'd like to learn more about the basics of open access and what it is (and isn't), be sure to check out Peter Suber's Open Access

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