Public Goods and Open Access

Shulenburger, David E.
January 2005
IATUL Annual Conference Proceedings;2005, Vol. 15, p1
Conference Proceeding
Of late, much has been spoken and written about the difficulties of the current scholarly communications system. Many have concluded that a complete revision is in order and have proposed several alternatives. Without a doubt, the scholarly communication system is broken. Scholarly information is denied to some and rationed to all on the basis of ability to pay. Even those who strongly support the notion of distribution of scholarly literature through the market system, have to be terribly concerned about distributing scholarly communications exclusively on the ability to pay. After all, almost all the underlying research supporting scholarly communications was generated by faculty and researchers whose time, research equipment, research facilities, and research subjects were paid for by members of the public. When the public pays for something, isn't there a right to public access? Public archives, open access, and public goods-based modifications of the current system are some of the proposed solutions to the distribution problem. While each of these schemes could be employed simultaneously and might co-exist with the current journal system based on subscriptions, they are proposed as alternatives, not as complements or extensions of the existing system. I intend to examine how much of a revision of the current system is really desirable, but before moving to advocate a particular course of action, I want to share with you my vision of the future of scholarly communications. Because I am an economist, it is natural for me to use the forces of supply and demand to describe this future.


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