Why Do You Write?

GC Sociology Prof. Jessie Daniels’ second book Cyber Racism appeared in 2009, published by a reputable academic publisher that sold books mostly to academic libraries in paper and ebook formats that were entirely closed, locked behind turnstiles and paywalls. Readers had to either buy a copy or be affiliated with a university to get one.

Jessie Daniels

Jessie Daniels

Then, Jessie discovered the world of “torrents” that allowed the practice that students call “ripping” but publishers call “illegal downloading.” She found her book posted on a website where anyone could download it freely. She notified her publisher about the unauthorized post, but the publisher, to her surprise, didn’t intervene. So, she scoured the torrent websites to find contacts herself, then emailed site owners to take down unauthorized copies of her book. One person in the UK had posted the book on his blog. Jessie contacted the administrator of the blog network to point to this violation of their terms of service and asked that the copy be taken down. It was. Time passed….

Eventually and happily, Jessie was invited to appear as a guest to discuss her book on the Black Talk Radio Network. All was comfortable until the guy from the UK who had posted her book on his blog, called the radio show during her interview. He challenged Jessie and gave her a proper hard time for demanding the take down of her book from his blog. She was embarrassed by his provocative attention to this, primarily by his question, “Why are you doing this work? Do you want to be read, or are you doing it to make money?”

For Jessie, the answer was simple: She wrote to be read and to make a difference. She wrote about what mattered to her, and she wanted her work to be read by anyone who wanted to read what she wrote. As anyone familiar with academic publishing knows well, money involved is not enough to be motivating. Her academic publisher, as is the going practice, shared only very modest royalties for her work.

So, moved by this caller, she started posting her work on Academia.edu. When CUNY launched the institutional repository, CUNY Academic Works, she posted her work there, too.

Jessie and I co-wrote Being a Scholar in the Digital Era to reach a wide audience. Making our writing available openly is the only way to reach all the readers we want to reach, particularly those not able to purchase our book or who are not affiliated with a well-endowed academic library. It is consistent with the values we both share to make our scholarly work open so it can make a difference in the world. This book is about how we can change the way scholarly work is distributed for the public good, and publishing work openly is key.

We are grateful to have found a collaborative publisher in Policy Press (@policypress) where we have previously blogged about the book and where chapters are available for free on a rotating basis. We forged an awesome contract with Policy Press that allows online access without compromising sales.


About the Author

Prof. Polly Thistlethwaite is CUNY's Interim University Dean for Library Services.