“Open in order to…access and read”

Social Publishers

Social Publishers offer young readers an open access reading library that they can put into their pockets

To celebrate Open Access Week (October 23–29), I thought that I would shift my gaze from scholarly publishing (which normally gets most of the attention during this week) to social publishing

Social Publishers (SP) are “Open Access” publishers. They create reading materials for neglected audiences. Rather than operate on a profit basis, social publishers are driven by a mission. They see their books as a social goods, to be directed where they are most needed.

Social publishers are different from academic publishers in three main ways.

  • A social mission (and not the academic project) is the main driver behind their book production.
  • Instead of being found in academic spaces, they are at home in online networks, social media, word of mouth etc.
  • They are not subsidized by subscriptions or academia but rely on social subsidies / donations / grants / goodwill etc to support their efforts

Story books, when bound as hard-copies, become expensive because of the volume of books required to make the printing cost effective. Social publishers steer away from large print runs. They place digital versions of their books on servers for readers to download. They are a “non rivalrous” good that can be copied endlessly without significant cost. Some might even claim that these books could be a part of the new economy.

If social publishing books are purchased, they are bought in a print format. If you see them on the shelves, they are more affordable than a book that was produced traditionally because the cost that usually go along with print based publishing have already been covered.

Traditionally, commercial publishers offer a quality reading experience. They build their reputation on what they select and publish. Social publishers have adopted different mechanisms to ensure quality. Sometimes the book production process is crowd sourced. Professionals contribute their design, authoring, illustrating and editing skills for free. Other times, the book is editable on the platform, and corrections can be made to the digital text. Some social publishers only take popular digital texts to print.

Posting a book onto the web does not lead to reading. Neglected audiences depend on reading enablers in their communities who can show others how to access these stories and then prompt and promote reading. As we celebrate open access week, and the traditional focus on academic publishing, it might be appropriate to broaden the focus of our openness a bit wider and consider broader access issues.

Beyond open access

October has been Open Access Week. It’s an event that I have been celebrating for the past five years. This year, my commemoration lies beyond the ivory tower.

Although I’m not an academic or a researcher, as an ed techie who is interested in evidence based practice, I value the many open contributions to scholarship that are shared by “intellectuals”. I am neither a teacher or a lecturer, but as person responsible for educational tools and resources, I am dependent on the generous sharing of ideas, manuals, images etc by peers, often enabled by Creative Commons.

This presentation has been put together post Wits. It is my attempt to articulate how “open” can straddle both research and teaching domains. Open Access is primarily about scholarship.  If we are to enable digital capability and teaching excellence in education, then we need to look beyond “access” and see a bigger OPEN picture. To do this, I suggest that we look at three broad domains.

  • Open content (OER, Open Access),
  • Open process (e.g. usually espoused by a particular open proponent ) and
  • Open infrastructure (distributed education, open universities)

If we are to understand what open enables in an education context, then we need a holistic understanding of the concept. The opposite of “open” is not necessarily closed. Binary thinking won’t help us understand what is meant by this commonly used term. To appreciate the value of a particular open initiative in an education setting, we need a broader way of looking at open.

References

Corrall, S. & Pinfield, S. (2014) Coherence of “open” initiatives in higher education and research: Framing a policy agenda. In: Breaking Down Walls: Culture-Context-Computing, 04 March 2014 – 07 March 2014, Berlin, Germany.