Tuesday, 30 January 2007

AAP PR campaign: opinion

The last week or so have seen an explosion of discussion over the hiring by the Americal Association of Publishers of a well known PR firm whose director is known as the 'pit bull' of the PR community. Others have done the details, so I won't go over them here. Instead check out the coverage at Peter Suber's blog.

It's already been pretty heavily commented, so I wasn't going to add anything, but I've not yet seen the words of warning that immediately sprung to my mind when I read about this. Most commentary has been of the "they know they're backed into the corner, and they're fooling nobody" line. While I agree that those of us on the other side of the fence are not fooled by this, it is not us that they are concerned with. If Microsoft want to outdoo Apple, they don't market to Apple employees, saying "we're better than you, so just give up". Whether we know or not that this is just FUD is irrelevant - it is the people who ultimately make the decisions that are the targets of a campaign like this, and those people are our practicing academics, and, to a degree, members of the public.

We are all aware that people will believe the most ridiculous things if they're told them the right way, and being a top academic does not change that (I've seen some "interesting" opinions on OA from very senior staff). The battle is between the links twixt us and the academics and the links twixt publishers and the academics. If the AAP can convince their authors that OA is bad/wrong/immoral/censorship then we have a serious problem on our hands.

An analagous situation might be the Linux vs Windows argument, which has been raging for some time in this PR zone. Linux might be in the right, but at ever step of the way Microsoft have yet more cards to play to maintain their stranglehold monopoly. I don't think we've seen the end of this; in fact, I would say that we are only just over the Fuseki, and the middle-game is now underway. We cannot allow ourselves to relax in the knowledge that the publisher's have admitted that we're right, and a threat, because we've always known that

How does a loose community (by necessity) such as the Open Access community combat a well directed organisation which is seriously motivated to see itself previal? If you know the answer to that, then it won't just be this dispute which we can solve.


Dorothea said...

Well, we're not entirely devoid of organization. SPARC is on top of this; Heather Joseph mentioned it at OR07 the day after it happened!

We also have a couple of good communications outlets in SOAN and Open Access News. In this I think we differ from the Linux community; there's no one obvious place to go to find out what's going on with Linux.

What we can best do right now -- and we are doing it -- is avoid PR fiascos of our own, and beat on this one as loudly and publicly as we can.

Richard said...

Hi Dorothea,

You are right, of course, we are not devoid of organisation, but unlike the AAP or other driven-by-paid-up-membership organisations, we don't have a unified decision making process or pot of money to spend on things. Could the OA community hire a PR firm to do the same sort of dirty work for us? I very much doubt it, because I can be a member of the OA community by just putting my research online, but I can't become a member of AAP without giving them my money and commitment (which is what I wanted "loose community" to mean). How can anyone else in the OA community presume to speak for me?

Within ourselves we are very good; we have great organisations working on this issue, but because we can't form a unified public face, activities like a PR campaign are difficult.

This is much the same as the situation with Linux, too, I believe. For example, we have organisations like the Free Software Foundation fulfilling a role not terribly unlike SPARC's.

It's going to be interesting to see it play out, and I hope that the EC takes notice of the Knowledge Exchange petition, because that will make our position much stronger.

Thanks for commenting,