Open access is just one part of a much bigger and more complex picture. I am very optimistic that open access will find its way into the book market (or what we call books today), but again, it’s not like that will cut off the flow of revenues. Quite the contrary. It just makes it possible for a lot more people to benefit from the work of authors while authors and those who help them ready their works for public consumption still reap sufficient financial rewards to make creating worthwhile. Maybe the biggest stumbling block is understanding that as a copyright owner, you don’t have to appropriate every cent of public benefit from your work. There’s viability in skimming off the top and letting some of the benefit go to those who never would have been able to buy your book anyway. That concept seems really counter-intuitive to many authors and publishers, but I think it’s what makes open access a successful competitor — authors and publishers can still get paid (if that’s what they want) but people who would not have had access also derive benefit.
So, back to copyright law: we make and distribute copies of others’ works; we license others’ works; we buy others’ works. We (educators) are very big consumers of and producers of educational, research and scholarly materials. This is big, big business. And it’s got copyright as a major component of its engine. But a bundle of copyrights, no matter how big, becomes worth less and less over time. New works get created every single day. And every single new author has choices today about how to distribute, market and benefit from his or her work that were simply not available even a decade ago. That’s what makes authoring and creating so exciting today: the chance to reach an audience of any size is within reach for many more of us than in the past. How will you handle your copyrights? Open access has an awful lot to recommend it. Look into it! Creative Commons licensing is a good example of how you can make your work widely and freely available while still maintaining the degree of control that fits with your overall goals in writing or creating in the first place.
Hat-tip: Gavin Baker