Soapbox

October 17, 2013 11:14 am

Harvard Business Review answers its critics

Many believe that information should be free, but ideas that achieve maximum impact come at a cost

In “Harvard Business Review should pay a price for its fees,” Joshua Gans asserts that Harvard Business School Publishing (HBSP) “wants to treat articles with its teaching case business model and, thereby, tax acknowledgments that point to and credit knowledge creators”. He calls this “an unprecedented move – to the best of my knowledge a course of action not pursued by any other scholarly publishers”.

In fact, the move to make HBR content available through the journal aggregator Ebsco, beginning in 2000, was largely regarded as a positive means of increasing accessibility for students, scholars and executives to content generated not just by Harvard Business School faculty members, but by many hundreds of practitioners and academics from around the world. This has been a core aspect of HBS’s mission, and its publishing arm by extension, for nearly a century: educating leaders who make a difference in the world, and extending the global reach and impact of important business ideas.

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We are not alone among publishers in trying to do this in a sustainable manner. Call it the innovator’s dilemma: On the one hand, we are in a moment in time where the learning environment is changing dramatically and increasing numbers of people believe all information should be free. But high-quality information – ideas that have been carefully crafted by authors and editors to make sense to managers and to achieve maximum impact – comes at a cost. Adding to our challenge is the fact that HBR is a unique publication, with multiple audiences that span research, teaching and practice. So how can we continue to develop outstanding content and broaden accessibility, all in a sustainable way?

Our aspiration is and always has been to maintain HBR’s availability for the classroom and via libraries and other research portals. In the classroom, the use of HBR articles (as well as articles from other management journals) in MBA programmes, as well as undergraduate business programmes and executive education, is decades-old, as are the norms around charging for such content when it is used for teaching rather than research purposes.

We discovered, though, that some institutions were using Ebsco access as a substitute for paying the normal course material fees. This summer, therefore, we designated 500 of the more than 13,000 HBR articles available in Ebsco – those most widely used in other schools’ curricula – as read-only and removed persistent linking to them. At the same time, we contacted schools and libraries to discuss institutional volume discounts. Any associated licence fees are not incremental or new; they simply shift the payment for these articles from the school to the library.

These articles remain available for researchers and research use – we simply limited the means by which they can be assigned and distributed as course materials. And, contrary to Prof Gans’ assertion, students can continue to gain access via libraries and other research portals to HBR articles faculty members would like to recommend.

We recognise that many faculty members, including some at HBS, are unaware of different distribution and pricing mechanisms for material that is used in different contexts. We clearly can do more to communicate this framework. We hope that as the information industry evolves and takes shape we collectively can determine the norms and practices that best will serve our multiple – and shared – objectives.

The author is senior associate dean of Executive Education and Publishing and the James J. Hill professor of business administration at Harvard Business School.

Harvard Business Review should pay a price for its fees: Joshua Gans, a professor in technical innovation and entrepreneurship at the Rotman School of Management, has argued that a change in business practice by Harvard Business School Publishing means that the Harvard Business Review should be excluded from those journals that count towards the FT MBA and EMBA rankings. Read the full article here.

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