But hopefully a considered rant. Starting with the obvious, I like to think of myself as a writer who writes about poetry that is tricky to get hold of. This sometimes because it makes use of words that I don’t understand or the secondary definitions of ordinary words that I’m not aware of.
In order to par sustained attention to this kind of non-drive by work, I need access to the same dictionary used by those poets. this also applies to the sixteenth and seventeenth century poets that I’m particular fond of and occasionally write about.
This dictionary is the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) published by the Oxford University Press. In the not too distant past digital access was free via local authority library membership which is free. I was thus a member of the Hampshire library service until about three years ago when, quite suddenly, my access was denied. Further investigation revealed that the price of library affiliation had gone up to such a level that Hampshire were no longer prepared to pay it. This also proved to be the case amongst local authorities along the South Coast.
I don’t think I need to demonstrate the centrality of the OED but would gently point to the pic of Sir Geoffrey Hill sitting in front of a full set of volumes of the rear cover of The Orchards of Sion and both his and J H Prynne’s many complaints about the inferiority of the second edition when compared (in detail) with the first.
I couldn’t/wouldn’t afford the £215 annual subscription so I reluctantly had to devise a way of jumping over the paywall, for obvious reasons I’m not going into further details but it took me about five minutes and didn’t involve any kind of technical expertise.
The rant is that the OED is the definitive reference point for English speakers across the globe and millions of us are effectively locked out of both our heritage and the language we use.
I’ve just checked the OED site and came across this;
We are pleased to offer annual individual OED subscriptions at a reduced rate of £90 (usually £215) or $90 (usually $295) until March 31 2021.
As an ex-retailer, I can only surmise that this reduction is due to the fact that people have decided that they can’t afford the full amount and it’s been decided to reduce it to a more manageable amount. It is very unlikely that the OUP have had a sudden flurry of conscience.
I simply can’t write without this resource, I don’t and won’t charge for access to what I produce. I can’t afford spending either £450 or £1075 for five years’ use. I know that many others are in the same position and have to use Other Means to get access.
This brings me on to the pricing regimes of University presses which makes books about many subjects beyond the reach of the interested reader who doesn’t have access to a university library. I present examples from the OUP’s current poetry list;
American Experimental Poetry and Democratic Thought which currently sells for £98.00.
A History of European Versification at a breathtaking £212.50
Andrew Marvell, Orphan of the Hurricane which is priced at £79
Once again, as a reader. I have an interest in all of these, especially the Marvell, a major point that is becoming increasingly contested. I’m also guessing that like minded souls across the English speaking world would have a similar interest and would buy the book if it was reasonably affordable.
I readily accept that this is in part due to the funding crisis facing many of our universities which is compounded by the imposition of fees by the vile George Osborne and his posh boy chums. This kind of exclusionary practice may be a product of discredit economic models but it’s a double edged sword in that we, more than ever, need our workforce to be both knowledgeable and reflective to be able to survive in a global market, especially now.
I’ve just checked and, within three clicks, have discovered that I can download a complete pdf of the History tome for free. This again involves a small amount of technical knowledge that most poetry readers don’t have. I hope this demonstrates the futility of such a pricing regime and the inability of academic publishers to recognise the Writing on the Wall.
This particular Writing relates to the redundancy of charging for books and may other kinds of knowledge simply because there are and will continue to be ways to access these for free. I’m not talking about torrenting from pirate sites but via bodies that will remain nameless specifically set up to provide this service. I would use the open circulation of research into all aspects of Covid-19 as a prime example of how the scientific community is inching towards such a model and will continue to do so. Sadly I also recognise that lit crit and poetry journals will take more than a few years to catch up.
In conclusion, I hope I’ve demonstrated the extreme injustice of the current systems.