It Didn’t Work for Phil Ochs, It Doesn’t Work for Jeffrey Beall

I had read a few items recently attempting to argue that the serials crisis was over, thanks to the Big Deal and other publisher “discounts” from the early late 20th and early 21st centuries. Indeed, reading those items (or in one case an apparently-accurate comment on an article behind a paywall) was part of what convinced me to do something outrageous:

Look at the facts

Looking at the facts–actual academic library serials expenditures and the apparent effects on library book budgets and everything else academic libraries need to spend money on–was a lot more sobering than I expected.

Thus the book, The Big Deal and the Damage Done. (Read more about that here, download the ebook for a mere $9.99 here, or buy the paperback for a modest $16.50 here.)

The Big Deal and the Damage Done

The Big Deal and the Damage Done

I wasn’t planning a sales pitch, and this really isn’t one, but very recent events encouraged this brief post.

To wit:

  • Jeffrey Beall’s absurd pronouncement that “The Serials Crisis is Over” and his even more absurd suggestion that the only reason for OA is the serials crisis, and thus that OA should go away. (At this point, naming Beall’s blog “Scholarly Open Access” is, I guess, a kind of joke. Not a very good joke, to be sure.)
  • His absurd and offensive response to Karen Coyle’s note on my book (thanks, Karen!), where he said “He should have read the sources I cite first.” As I noted, I had read most of the sources–but I didn’t take their publisher-oriented claims as The Word, when I also had facts available.
  • Mike Taylor’s post at SV-POW (I’ve typed out the full name WAY too often already), “Of course the serials crisis is not over, what the heck are you talking about?”
  • And, perhaps tangential but not entirely unrelated, some suggestions at LSW-FF that I might consider trying to unglue.it the ebook version of this book, so that library school students and every academic librarian might have ready access to it. (It’s off to a plausible start, but that start still doesn’t represent much more than 0.5% of American academic libraries, especially since several of the sales have been to Canada and the UK.)

Phil Ochs?

The first line of the chorus of his song “The War is Over”–”I declare the war is over.” It wasn’t; he knew that; but it was a valiant attempt at showing the power of song.

Beall’s post, on the other hand, appears to be a valiant attempt at showing the power of nonsense.

I declare that the serials crisis, the event that gave birth to the open-access movement, is over.

That’s the first sentence of the post, and the only portion of it that squares with the facts is that Beall is making a declaration.

Fact: The serials crisis did not give birth to the OA movement, or at least it certainly wasn’t the only causative factor. There are several important reasons to support OA, only one of which is the serials crisis. (Solving the affordability crises for academic libraries–if that had happened, which it clearly has not–does NOTHING to provide access to all of us unaffiliated types: independent scholars, patients, everybody else, just to name one issue.)

Fact: The serials crisis is not over in any real-world sense. Even Harvard can’t afford the serials it wants–and other academic libraries can’t afford to keep being libraries and keep up with serials prices.

Of course, my book isn’t part of the “scholarly literature.” It’s entirely fact-based, the facts are entirely reproducible, I was entirely transparent about my methodology, and I believe it’s in the best traditions of scholarship (except that there’s no literature review and I didn’t actually begin with a hypothesis)…but I’m not a scholar and didn’t submit it to a refereed journal.

Crowdsourcing?

Now comes the tough part (for me, at least): It’s been suggested that it would be nice if everybody could have access to my study–which is book-length, although it’s a relatively short book–at no charge.

Those who have suggested it do recognize that I put a fair amount of work into it, and that nobody is sponsoring my work (nor is it something I do in my “spare” time after an actual paid job). What they’re suggesting is crowdsourcing a reasonable payment to make the ebook version free (and maybe get it into EPUB rather than only the current non-DRM PDF form). That means unglue.it (or some other crowdsourcing system, but unglue.it seems most appropriate here).

I’m thinking about it. I’m not much of a promoter, and I shudder at the thought of creating a little video on the book, but…well…

Here’s how you can help (other than buying the book, which encourages me to keep going):

  • What sorts of premiums–preferably ones that don’t involve actual cash, since that sort of undoes the purpose of the crowdsourcing–would you find worthwhile?
  • Do you think this is a good idea?

I can think of some possibilities (e.g., custom analyses for single campuses or groups of campuses) but would be interested in your ideas.

One note about this: If I do it, there will be three goals–

  1. A minimal level at which I’d agree to make the ebook freely available (and maybe provide an epub version)
  2. A higher level at which I’d guarantee to do a new edition when the 2012 NCES data is available
  3. An even higher level at which I’d guarantee to do the 2012 edition–and would make the ebook version of that open access and available for free.

Comments? Suggestions? Either as comments or to waltcrawford@gmail.com

(Of course, if somebody wanted to underwrite the whole project, get in touch, but I won’t hold my breath. I can tell you the price in that case would be in the medium four digits.)


The eagle-eyed may note a slight change in the text. As of 7 p.m. PDT, sales hit 20 copies, which is–technically-just over 0.5% (that is, one-half of one percent) of U.S. academic libraries. On the other hand, the 20th sale, along with several others, is Canadian…

4 Responses to “It Didn’t Work for Phil Ochs, It Doesn’t Work for Jeffrey Beall”

  1. Bill Hooker Says:

    I’ll definitely contribute if you unglue the book. I want a physical copy anyway (I like e-books but… I’m old) so I’m not buying it until I am settled in my new job — which is 3,000 miles away.

  2. Walt Crawford Says:

    Thanks, Bill. The book will remain on sale at least until a 2012 version comes out (if & when, and that depends on NCES: unlikely to be before 2014), and maybe even then. Still working out the unglue.it possibilities… If it happens, I’ll publicize as widely as I know how. Good luck with the new job and the tiny little move… Oh: And while the paperback doesn’t have colors in the graphs, I think it’s a nice job, and uses my favorite text typeface. [The fact that it was created for my alma mater is immaterial.]

  3. Bill Hooker Says:

    I’m partly colour-blind (red/green and a few other deficiencies) anyway, Walt. :-)

  4. Eric Hellman Says:

    If you want the book unglued, wish for it at https://unglue.it/work/120545/


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