[I’m not writing a proper full blog post myself: I couldn’t do this matter due justice as my word-brain is fried after marking, finally crashing after working since 6 a.m. So I will hand you over to other people who can address it better, more elegantly and eloquently: Eileen A. Joy follows below (I added links, and images from Schuiten & Peeters Les Cités obscures), and other text is from Custodians Online and Rabia Gregory:]
UPDATE on #saveashgate petition-campaign: the Burlington, Vermont office did close on Nov. 25, while plans for the UK office are still up in the air. In addition, it has been announced that the list price of most existing Ashgate titles will increase on Jan. 1, 2016 to $149.95 / £95.00 per title. The company INFORMA Group, that purchased and is now closing Ashgate, has also purchased Maney (which publishes EXEMPLARIA) and Pickering & Chatto (and also already owns Routledge + Taylor & Francis).
PLEASE take a minute to consider, not WHY is it terrible for early modern/medieval studies to lose this publisher (which, yes, is terrible), but more important, why would a company spend $20MILLION to purchase Ashgate in August 2015 and then shut it down (or at the very least, seriously curtail its editorial activities)? If there is that much money lying around for acquisitions&mergers + shutdowns in academic publishing, then the profit margins for commercial academic publishing must be quite healthy. (INDEED, they are 35%-50% at many large-scale corporate houses within academic publishing, in stark contrast to the lower profit margins in trade publishing: does that make ANY sense? NO it does NOT.)
Ask yourself why that should be troubling, especially at a time when, in the US context especially, there is supposedly less and less money to support university presses, such that University of California Press would launch a new open-access monograph platform (Luminos) that depends on private foundation money + an author/institution-pay model?
It takes MORE than petitions to address this state of affairs, but for those of you who have signed the petition at Change.org (initiated by Rabia Gregory), THANK YOU.
At the same time, what is needed now (for those who still want to #saveashgate) is a more concerted letter-writing campaign and also a concerted op-ed campaign (on your blogs, in pieces for the Chronicle, Inside HigherEd, etc. — paging [x] etc.). I am writing a piece myself that will address the Ashgate situation in addition to some other issues circulating around open-access repositories here in the US (relative to Academia.edu and MLA Commons), but what I am also asking everyone here to do is to also please read Rabia Gregory’s update to the Change.org petition [copy-pasted for readers’ convenience at the end of this post], and to consider other ways you can help draw attention to the situation and to the larger problems with these acquisitions & mergers within academic publishing.
This is not some bothersome thing happening “over there” somewhere, away from the work you do in your study and the articles and books that you may have published (happily) with various presses. What is happening right now in the world of commercial academic publishing, especially vis-a-vis various (and varied) open access publishing initiatives, is OBSCENE. We should be MAD AS HELL, sure, but we can’t just make this the “cause of the minute,” mainly circulating our angry energy on closed-loop social media. We need to DO something about this, construct alternatives and take leadership roles, etc. (such as what Martin Eve &co have done with Open Library of Humanities — taking the modes of the production of our work back from the commercial interests and reinventing the university and university library as the primary hub, not just for knowledge production and exchange, but for dissemination as well).
We demonstrate daily, and on a massive scale, that the system is broken. We share our writing secretly behind the backs of our publishers, circumvent paywalls to access articles and publications, digitize and upload books to libraries. This is the other side of 37% profit margins: our knowledge commons grows in the fault lines of a broken system. We are all custodians of knowledge, custodians of the same infrastructures that we depend on for producing knowledge, custodians of our fertile but fragile commons. To be a custodian is, de facto, to download, to share, to read, to write, to review, to edit, to digitize, to archive, to maintain libraries, to make them accessible. It is to be of use to, not to make property of, our knowledge commons.
More than seven years ago Aaron Swartz, who spared no risk in standing up for what we here urge you to stand up for too, wrote: “We need to take information, wherever it is stored, make our copies and share them with the world. We need to take stuff that’s out of copyright and add it to the archive. We need to buy secret databases and put them on the Web. We need to download scientific journals and upload them to file sharing networks. We need to fight for Guerilla Open Access. With enough of us, around the world, we’ll not just send a strong message opposing the privatization of knowledge — we’ll make it a thing of the past. Will you join us?”
AND PLEASE REPOST THIS on your own pages!
The Rabia Gregory update:
Petition updates and Writing letters of Protest
Nov 29, 2015
— Dear colleagues:
Thank you all for this strong show of support on behalf of the talented editors at Ashgate! Already 6722 of you have signed. Your statements of support over the last week has been absolutely amazing! I know that your messages have been read with great interest by those at Ashgate and others in the publishing world.
Unfortunately, this petition was created far too late to prevent the closure of Ashgate’s North American office in Burlington, Vermont on November 25th and the future of the UK office remains uncertain. Additionally, the price of most Ashgate books will increase to $149.95/ £95.00 on January 1st, 2016. As authors, reviewers, and purchasers of Ashgate books our labor creates both the content and the market Informa needs. Collectively we may perhaps be able to influence the plans currently being made for the future of Ashgate Publishing. But it is easy to ignore an online petition.
I ask that any of you who feel safe and secure doing so begin mailing letters directly to the managing team of Informa. I shall send a printed copy of this petition on to the directors of Informa no later than December 7th. I believe our letters will have more collective force if they are not pasted from a template, but here are a few recommended guidelines for those who want them:
- Address your letters to:
Roger Horton – Chief Executive, Academic Publishing
Stephen Carter – Group Chief Executive
Derek Mapp – Non-Executive Chairman of the Board of Directors
Richard Menzies-Gow – Director of Investor Relations, Corporate Communications & BrandAll at: email@example.com
Informa Group PLC
5 Howick Place
- Begin by stating your relationship with Ashgate (for instance, as a reviewer, book review editor, author, series editor, reader) and explain how you first encountered the press.
- Restate the message you left on the petition
- Give specific examples of what exactly has made Ashgate an important publisher in your subfield (for instance, quality of images, maintaining the rigors of peer review, support for interdisciplinarity)
- Ask pointed questions about the future of the press (for instance: quality of production, commitment to publishing edited volumes, publishing in fields like musicology, art history, author discounts, editorial staff) . State explicitly what elements of Ashgate must be maintained for you to consider continuing your professional relationship with the press under new ownership.
- Ask specifically about the North American office (how can they market books or secure new authors at major NA conferences without the US office?)
- For those of you who have a longer historical view, statements about how the editorial staff you know have helped build the press’s brand and international reputation would be helpful.
- If you are a librarian, involved in book sales/distribution, or have some influence over library purchasing budgets, explain clearly whether or not you could recommend the purchase of Ashgate books at this new higher price/from Informa. (most academic libraries now spend 80% of their budget on subscriptions to online journal bundles and databases, leaving very little left for book acquisitions)
- If your research is supported by public funding, address under what terms your grants or your employer would permit you to continue publishing with Ashgate.
- You may wish to point out that the late July announcement of Informa’s purchase of Ashgate stressed that Ashgate’s “experienced team and strong brands will be highly complementary to our other major HSS [humanities and social sciences] brand, Routledge, the world’s largest English language publisher of academic content in HSS disciplines.”—one might rightly wonder how complimentary this relationship will be when Informa has already closed the Burlington office and may soon close the UK office too.
If you are willing, please send me a copy of your letter (gregoryra(at)missouri(dot)edu) and I will post it to the Save Ashgate Publishing Facebook page. If any series editors are seeking new presses, please send me the information once you’ve finalized the contract details and I will begin compiling a public list for this as well.
Related Meta-meta-medieval posts:
- Academia dot edu (2015-10-28)
- On writing and the future of the book / bookishness (2015-10-06)