Case Study in the Problems Caused by Academic Paywalls


I've recently been thinking a lot about innovation in IT and specifically how innovation in academic computing research is exchanged (or isn't) with other communities of innovators. Today, while reading Steve Holden's blog, I ran across a perfect example of the problems academic innovators face. Steve says:

If you listened to Tech Rag Tear Out Podcast #9 and thought the part about Internet user motivations was interesting,  I got email back from one of the authors - Thomas Stafford - that additional reports have been written by himself/colleagues:
  • Stafford, Thomas F. (2003), "Differentiating between Innovators and Laggards in the Uses and Gratifications for Internet Services."  IEEE Transactions on Engineering Management, 50(4), 427- 435.
  • Stafford, Thomas F., Marla Royne Stafford, and Lawrence L. Schkade  (2004), "Determining Uses and Gratifications for the Internet," Decision Sciences, 35(2), 259-288.
Like most "academic" computer science publications it is very hard to find "free" reference URLs, so my best recommendation is to go to a major university's computer science library and do a photocopy of these there.  Sometimes they can be ordered online for $5-10 each.
From Steve Holden's Weblog
Referenced Sat Nov 13 2004 10:38:53 GMT-0700

So, if I read this right, here's essentially what happened, Steve finds something from Stafford that is interesting and mentions it, but can't provide links to it because its not available online, at least not without going through a paywall.

Anyone who might be interested in Stafford's ideas is going to have to go to a LOT of work to get to the publications (relative to the work they have to go to to get to other things on the net). Consequently, not many will ever really see the details of what Stafford thinks. Stafford loses relative to innovators who don't publish in academic journals and simply make their work available online. We lose because Stafford may have some good ideas, but most will never know because the potential benefit is exceeded by the short term cost of getting to the ideas.

The net has changed how information is exchanged and the power of linking cannot be ignored. Ideas that flow freely are more competitive than those that are restricted in some way. Ironically, academics has always prided itself on the free flow of information, but the net has turned that on its head to the point that now academic researchers are the ones who find themselves in the most restricted space of any innovators in the IT space.