Monday, January 26, 2009

Access Econ - Big Step for Open Access in Economics

The first thing a student learns in a microeconomics class is that "There ain't no such thing as a free lunch."

This lesson is emblematic of the deep skepticism that economists trained in liberal democracies harbor about any business model that relies on providing goods or services for "free".

So when economists decide to go open access and build a service business on the basis of free content, pay close attention. That's what economists John Conley and Myrna Wooders at Vanderbilt University have done with Access Econ.

Not only are they willing to host new open access journals in economics, they also are willing to provide the journal management software they've written to do the job. This creates some competition for Open Journal Systems, which is currently the dominant open source solution for open access journals. I think OJS is a great project, and I salute all the developers who worked on it and who maintain it. But, we're too early in the evolution of open access publishing to lock in on a standard. So the competition from Access Econ should be welcome as it should spur further innovation in this field.

There are plenty of proprietary packages for journal management software, so why did these smart economists pass up the opportunity to charge and offer their services for "free"? Here's their explanation to their skeptical colleagues:
Why “Free” is a good business model

As economists, you should be asking: why is “ free” a sensible business model? There are several reasons. First, our purpose in writing this software to begin with was to support JPET, APET, and EB. Thus, we would have incurred the fixed cost of creating this software in any event. There are very few additional fixed costs to recover. Second, the marginal cost of allowing others to use the system is very close to zero. We are good enough public economists to know that the efficient price is zero in this case. The only marginal costs to us are the time it takes to help get others started on the system. This is the reason for the “ mutual support” condition. Third, after careful reflection, we realized that we simply are not business people. The cost in terms of time away from research of shilling, billing and advertising is just not worth the potential financial benefit. To mangle the old joke about arbitrage: if there are five dollar bills lying on the ground it must cost ten dollars to pick them up. Finally, because of our experience at JPET and EB, we sincerely want open-access to spread as rapidly and widely as possible, especially in economics. To nickel and dime people who share this vision seems completely self-defeating.
Well said!

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