Yesterday, I was catching up on some of my regular tech video podcasts. One of the shows I like to watch is Triangulation on Leo Laporte’s TWiT network. On this show, Leo Laporte interviews people who have been influential in technology, or who are currently doing interesting things in technology. On Episode #175, which aired on November 10, 2014, Laporte interviewed Damon Wayans, Sr. Wayans is a stand-up comedian, movie and television actor, writer, and producer who has also become involved in developing audio and video applications for iOS and Android.
Wayans told Laporte that his interest in app development stemmed from his desire to give young creative artists tools that will enable them to take greater control of their creative work in the digital space.
The light came on for Wayans when he realized what was happening in this space in relation to content. About 18 minutes in, Wayans makes this interesting comment:
Creating content has become a sucker’s game. The money’s in the distribution, right? I went to my first conference, Digital Hollywood, and I heard a panel where this guy said, “Yeah, we’re going to monetize digital content donations.” And I said, “What? You’re looking at what I do as a donation…that you make money off of?!” So I said, I’ve got to switch up.
The scholarly “switch up”
Wayans isn’t thinking about open access. He wants artists to be able to monetize their digital creative content if they want. But they shouldn’t have to enrich the profits of content distributors while giving their stuff away for the needed exposure, and the (very) slim chance of stardom. The situation Wayans describes—especially the “donation” part (and hopefully not the “sucker” part)—struck me as paralleling the relationship as it still too commonly exists between scholars and publishers in the digital space.
Scholars, especially in the Humanities, are not so much interested in literally monetizing their research content. But they do need venues to gain exposure—if not for stardom, then at least for the reputation that accrues from making a genuine contribution to human knowledge. In order to gain this exposure, scholars effectively donate their creative content to publishers, who then stuff it behind paywalls for their own profit.
Commercial publishers quickly exploited the digital space to perpetuate the control they exercised in the print world, when arguably there were limited options for scholarly exposure. But options are no longer limited. In the digital space scholars have the means and the tools to bring the products of their research directly to their audiences. It takes just a bit of an entrepreneurial spirit. Let’s call it the scholarly “switch up.”