<CPOV> The costs of knowledge

Juliana Brunello juliana at networkcultures.org
Tue Mar 23 12:11:31 CET 2010

Hi all,
This is a two paragraph quote from a text published at firstmonday called
‘Signs of epistemic disruption: Transformations in the knowledge
system of the academic journal’ by William W. Cope and Mary


I find their questions not only interesting, but necessary.

“Everybody who writes for Wikipedia has to have another source of
income. What would happen to the global scholarly publishing industry if
academics assumed collective and universal responsibility for self
publishing, an industry supporting in 2004 a reported 250,000 employees
worldwide with a US$65 billion turnover (Peters, 2007)? What would happen
to scholarly associations and research institutes that have historically
gained revenue from the sale of periodicals and books? An ironical
consequence of a move to social production would, in the
much–trumpeted era of the knowledge or creative economy, be to value
knowledge making and creativity at zero when coal. How do knowledge
workers eat and where do they live? Without doing away with the market
entirely, we are consigning a good deal of knowledge work to involuntary
volunteerism, unaccountable cross–subsidy, charity or penury. We
know from experience the fate of workers in other domains of unpaid labor,
such as the unpaid domestic work of women and carers. Making it free means
that it is exploited. In the case of the knowledge economy, the exploiters
are the likes of Google who take the unpaid work of social producers and
make a fortune from it.


In this perspective, in this era of the new, digital media we might be
witnessing no more than one of the old marvels of industrial capitalism
— a technology that improves productivity. In the case of knowledge
making, the efficiencies are so great — print encyclopedias vs.
Wikipedia, celluloid movies vs. digital movies posted to YouTube, PDF
journal articles vs. print journals — that we get the impression
that the costs have reduced to nothing. But they have not. They have only
been lowered. We have become too dazzled by the reduction in costs to
notice the costs we are now paying. So low are these costs in fact that we
are can even afford to make these cultural products in our spare time, and
not worry too much about giving away the fruits of our labors to companies
who have found ways to exploit them in newly emerging information markets.
Knowledge is a product of human labor and it needs human labor to make it
available. There can never be zero costs of production and distribution of
knowledge and culture, theoretical or empirical. At most, there are
productivity improvements. Far from ushering in a new mode of production,
the driving force is more of the same engine that over the past few
centuries has made capitalism what it is.”

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