Webinar Event: “Technology and Publishing: The Work of Scholarship in the Age of its Digital Reproducibility”

By nfesta

“Mechanical reproduction of art changes the reaction of the masses toward art.”[1] Similarly, we can say the same about scholarly publications in the digital age. The Webinar event, “Technology and Publishing: The Work of Scholarship in the Age of its Digital Reproducibility,” presented by Dr. Martin Paul Eve and hosted by the Association for Information Science and Technology (ASIS&T) discussed the ways in which the digital age and the unlimited reproducibly of scholarship has changed the expectations of researchers toward scholarly communication. Our digital technology promises the notion of access to infinite resources. But as Eve identified, our social and economic processes do not compliment this idea of abundance. This lecture therefore considers a variety of challenges with open access as a way in which to identify solutions to this disconnect between infinite reproducibility and scholarly publications.


The lecture began by considering why academics publish as a way to refocus the objectives of scholarly communications systems. According to Eve, academics publish their research for two key reasons, dissemination and assessment. Scholars disseminate their work as a way to communicate their results to their academic communities as well as to put their ideas “on the record”. Publishing also ensures that their records will be preserved by institutions, colleagues and within the footnotes of future scholarship. Additionally, scholars publish their work so they can be assessed. Assessment allows for recognition and promotion. By having research published, especially by a renowned publishing house in the field, the work is recognized as a critical contribution to scholarship and results in salary promotion within Universities. While publishers will pay scholars a small salary of patronage, which enables academics to produce work that will contribute to their field, the majority of their salary depends on Universities, as their contract requires and incentivizes publishing research. Scholars are not dependent or affected by the royalties from the sale of their publications. Therefore, publishers can make a profit, often substantial, from the sale of these publications to library institutions. A major problem within libraries is that they have insufficient funding to provide academics and students sufficient access to these publications year after year. Moreover, since libraries purchase the publications rather than researchers, researchers are not cost sensitive to the publication ecosystem. This entire system results in researchers driven to produce ever more work, hyper-inflationary price increases, libraries unable to afford to purchase publications, and the micro-monopolies of scholarship.[2] However, as Eve argued, these issues also existed in the pre-digital age, beginning at the age of mechanical reproducibility. And, digital technology might help us with these conflicts.


Referencing Walter Benjamin’s, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” Eve asserts that the digital age and digital reproduction and dissemination, similar to the technical reproduction era of photography and film in the early 20th century, has caused a profound change in its effect upon the public.[3] But as discussed in class, the digital (computer) revolution, has affected a much larger and wider scale of people than that of the industrial/ print revolution. Similarly, as Moor theorized, “as computers permeate more and more of our society, I think we will see more and more of the transforming effect of computers on our basic institutions and practices.”[4] We have consequently seen this effect as our traditional work has transformed into instructing a computer to do a job.[5] Therefore, the job in which we now assign to a computer to complete has become an invisible operation.[6] And this notion of the invisibility factor in the computer revolution is directly applicable to Eve’s conceptions of the effects of digital scholarly publishing.


In the digital age, we don’t need multiple print copies. We can reproduce, disseminate, read and access information digitally. Moreover, we can have interactive scholarly communication. As the Internet is a system that provides us with information freely, it has become expected that free access be given to articles on the Internet. As a result, when a user is asked to pay for an article, it is believed that the fee is for the shareholder’s return and going towards the author and/or publisher. However, the fee for access to the article is actually for the invisible labor of the producing the article. As Eve clearly articulates, digital reproduction hides labor functions seen within the print age and the costs of labor have changed between print and digital. While labor functions, such as type setting, proofreading, editing, preservation, marketing, legal budgets, etc., are still included in digital labor costs of production, the cost of dissemination is lower in the digital age. This is why digital reproduction has invisible labor in comparison to print reproduction. These issues of labor invisibility within digital reproduction of scholarly communication are also reminiscent of our class discussion on computer invisibility. Computer invisibility of software and systems inhibit the public from evaluating where the information is coming from as well as prevents technology literacy. Digital labor invisibility and computer invisibility therefore, similarly impact and change the public’s perception of information provided and consumed through digital technology. Thus, systems such as open access and open software/free software are seen by many as a solution to several of the concerns of invisibility within digital technologies.


Open access systems provide free access to read and to refuse scholarly communications by enforcing a processing charge on library institutions. However, as Eve asserts, the current open access system is not economically sound. It costs more for institutions to pay the article processing charges for open access than it did for them to just subscribe to publications individually. Since our current scholarly publishing system enables publishers to have control over an authors work, they also determine how the work will be accessed within open access systems. As Eve points out, it makes no sense for scholars to produce their research to then hand it over to publishers for almost no cost, as it is then sold back to the university libraries for a high price. To combat digital publishing’s economic and labor systems within open access systems, Eve proposes that many small to moderate sized libraries should pay a small sum to companies like the one he helped found, Library Partner Subsidy (LPS), as LPS will conduct the labor of publishing so that the scholarly works can be available to everyone. By having many institutions participate in this system, they will be able to provide fully free access to their users to a wide range of publications for a fraction of the cost. While Eve’s analysis and solution lead us to support his own initiatives, his ideas are interesting to consider. By having a middle-man institution working with providing libraries with open access by removing the labor costs placed on the shoulders of publishing firms, institutions and their users can gain more access to information for less of cost.

[1] Walter Benjamin: “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,”(2005 [1936]).

[2] According to Eve, Micro-monopolies in this context refers to the concept that each scholarly published work is individual and cannot be supplemented by another scholar’s or publication’s work.

[3] Eve references Walter Benjamin’s theory of mechanical reproduction

[4] Moore: “What is Computer Ethics,” Pg 5.

[5] Moore: “What is Computer Ethics,” Pg 5.

[6] Moore: “What is Computer Ethics,” Pg 6.


Technology and Publishing: The Work of Scholarship in the Age of its Digital Reproducibility

Benjamin, W. (2005 [1936]). “The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction,” trans. Andy Blunden. https://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/ philosophy/works/ge/benjamin.htm

Moore: “What is Computer Ethics,” https://lms.pratt.edu/pluginfile.php/623278/mod_resource/content/1/moor-what%20is%20computer%20ethics.pdf


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