Monday, July 15, 2013

It should be "information wants to be valued"--not that information wants to be free

I've been thinking of the "information wants to be free" phrase lately.  I am not sure that that is quite right.  Most people by now know that the phrase was coined by Stewart Brand back in the 1960's, and many librarians know about Meredith's blog of the same name.  The full quote by Stewart is:
On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it's so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other.
However, just because nformation can be valuable does not mean that it has to be expensive.  Information can be valuable and free at the same time, so that is why I say that information wants to be valued.  People who are open access advocates know that information is valuable, and they know that it isn't free.  But, it can be free for the end user.  There is a cost to providing high quality information, but there are different models for paying for the dissemination.

For example, I know of a report that is published by Outsell, Inc.  They are trying to sell a 32 page report "Open Access: Market Size, Share, Forecast, and Trends" for $895.  But, if one is a savvy searcher on the Internet, one can find the report that had been posted on the web somewhere.  I am sure that Outsell is not that happy about that, but I would rather not pay $895 to learn about their views of the Open Access Market.

The value of information that is available in open access channels has also been discussed in a couple of other recent blog posts.  Joe Esposito had noted at the Scholarly Kitchen that:
This basic economic formulation has given rise to the world of the Internet as we know it today with a plethora of free services, some of astonishing value, of which Google is simply the most prominent.  But it wasn’t always this way and it may not be that way forever.
It is true that it may not last forever, but content producers need to make content that people value and find worth paying for.  People can get free television over the airwaves, but lots of people pay for entertainment content over cable, dish, or through services like Hulu or Netflix.

Scholarly content is a different kind of market, where this information has a different kind of value.  Scholars are learning about the value to providing their content using green or gold open access means.

In a section of a blogpost concerning past scholarly communication behavior, Cameron Neylon said:
We work on the assumption that, even if we accept the idea that there are people out there who could use our work or could help, that we can never reach them. That there is no value in expending effort to even try. And we do this for a very good reason; because for the majority of people, for the majority of history it was true.
Now, people are seeing that it is easy to reach an audience of Billions over the Internet.  There is value in expending a small effort to try to reach them.  The scholar can either publish in a gold open access journal, or he or she can post the preprint or the postprint manuscript to a green open access repository.

As an aside, here are some good articles and reports that discuss the value libraries provide. 

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