The End of Aaaarg.org?

Update: please note this post dates from 2010. I am not sure that links or information below is accurate.

Aaaarg doesn’t exist – so says their webpage. The academic fileshare site was starting to get ‘cease and desist’ letters from publishers, and then apparently Mark Taylor of Macmillan went for them. His experience in the music industry apparently helped in the task. Fuller report here.

I heard this news on the Immanence site, which has some commentary and links…

The site has had this before – and then pops up again with a slightly different address. Go here, for instance, to see the last redirect.

I have mixed feelings about aaarg. I first came across it when Jeremy Crampton, the co-editor of Space, Knowledge and Power: Foucault and Geography told me that the book had been uploaded. Given that the book was only just out, and that we’d fought quite hard to get it as paperback immediately, we were pretty annoyed by this. It was also no amateurish scan, but the file of the e-book that Ashgate themselves were selling. I wrote to aaaarg, and got a letter back saying that they would take the book down immediately if we, as authors/editors, asked for it. They said that this hadn’t happened before (I found that a little hard to believe). We decided not to request that, in part to see what happened.

Then a little while later someone told me that there was a ‘Stuart Elden essay collection’ up there. This was a zip file of 20+ pieces – mainly journal articles – of my work. This didn’t bother me at all – journal articles as pdfs are pretty easily available if you have access to an institutional library; if you don’t have such access there should be a way to get hold of stuff, perhaps after an embargo period; and I’ve always sent copies of pdfs of my work to anyone who has asked for them.

And then someone uploaded a file of Speaking Against Number. I was actually quite pleased about this. The book was originally intended to come out in paperback as well as hardback, but EUP changed their mind when it was in production. It wasn’t in the contract so I had no leg to stand on – lesson learned for future books. EUP priced the book very high – originally £55 and now it’s £65. It’s not a long book – 80,000 words, although it’s pretty dense stuff. They then said it needed to sell 450 copies before they could consider a paperback. It was never going to reach that level – library sales in north America might help to push it to c.200, and when I last asked it was approaching 300. So the book is pretty much inaccessible to most people; the royalties were always small and have now completely dried up; and like most authors – academic ones at least – I want my work to be read. So a means of having the book available to a wider audience seemed a good thing to me.

Clearly the pdf market is increasing, with the rise of interest in things like Kindles and books on i-pods and i-phones and now this new i-pad, so instead of this being a small, word of mouth operation that provided access to texts for an audience that surely comprised mainly graduate students and possibly people outside of the Western academic mainstream, it is now in danger of taking away some of the market of big business.

I’m sure it will pop up again somewhere else soon.

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9 Responses to The End of Aaaarg.org?

  1. Pingback: You Will Suffer My Love » Archive » AAAARG and Google Books

  2. Pingback: The return of Aaaarg | Progressive Geographies

  3. Anonymous says:

    I sent more than 200 e-mails to publishers about the books on there. I’m thrilled that it may have helped to shut them down. If they ever show up again, I guess I’ll have to start writing more emails.

  4. http://libgen.info/view.php?id=621660

    your book is here too, the site is based in Russia, jurisdiction counts! so anonymous good luck in your letter-writing campaign.

    http://en.bookfi.org/ is pretty good too, also no need for log in or registration like with aaaaarg

  5. baezanat says:

    I actually find the fight against this type of sites awful, and sad. The author of this blog that the fact that people read pdf’s in things like Kindles and i-pads entails that file-sharing sites are not a way to provide “access to texts for an audience that surely comprised mainly graduate students and possibly people outside of the Western academic mainstream” but a scheme that “is now in danger of taking away some of the market of big business” (and why, again, is this such a danger?) As a recent Ph.D. graduate, I give you this news: Most grad students and people outside of the Western academic mainstream use things like kindles and i-pads in order to access books and articles that would otherwise be financially prohibitive. I have benefited enormously from sites like aaaaarg.org in my research, as have many of my friends, and I find this a reason to rejoice. When I started my Ph.D., I actually went into debt for the sake of buying the many books I needed – because library books are not ideal, the time-limits and inability to highlight or make marks make them limiting for research. With the advent of sites like aaaaarg.org, I was able to access many books that were essential for my research and intellectual growth for free. And this doesn’t only help the person who is doing research. It also makes authors more widely known, and more widely cited. I learned about excellent books by finding them on the site – books that I wouldn’t have bought because they were not clearly central to my research. The problem with sites like aaaaarg.org is not that they provide access to books for free, but that our society has an outmoded and pernicious way of thinking about “intellectual property” and “copyrights” – a way of thinking that in fact benefits mostly the presses, not the authors. Intellectual exchange should not be based on economic exchange or economic capacity; it should be based on the wonder of sharing knowledge. Otherwise it’s already utterly tainted by a despicable reduction of the products of human thought to commodities.

    • stuartelden says:

      I think you’re slightly misreading my characterisation of this. I was saying that while in the past this was something many publishers were willing to turn a blind eye towards, some of the bigger sites are (to their mind, not mine) damaging business interests. I too would like to see things circulate as much as possible, and, as the post said, to be read. I do continue to worry that publishers are less likely to invest the money in producing books if things are so widely pirated, and if not stop publishing books, increase the price quite dramatically, which then produces the state-of-affairs that causes people to look for free-to-access versions. I don’t think it’s completely black and white, but more complicated. And authors too – do they not deserve to gain from writing? Leave aside their time, most authors spend a lot of money to produce a book – image rights, indexes, research trips, computer and other consumables, etc. Most of us don’t break even, and definitely not if time in included, but we use the royalties perhaps to help make possible the cost of producing the next book. I accept most of your points, and I think I share the overall sentiment, but it’s not as clear as you’re suggesting.

      (Also, bear in mind, the post you are commenting on is quite old – from almost four years ago. Things have also changed in that time period – iPads and Kindles are much more common today.)

      • baezanat says:

        Thanks for replying. I agree that authors should gain something from writing. Given new technologies, I wonder if it wouldn’t be possible to bypass the presses altogether and have a more direct exchange between authors and readers. Since presses take a much bigger share from sales than authors anyway, having a direct sale from authors to readers might allow for lower prices and bigger – or at least equal – revenues for authors. It is free to self-publish an e-book, and, though I don’t know what the costs are for publishing hard copies, I’m sure it could be made less costly with a system that is not dependent on large for-profit presses. One might think this could be a problem for academic publishing, since one might consider it necessary to publish with a well established press that has peer-review and lends legitimacy to the manuscripts it publishes. Even so, this “legitimating process” could take place in other ways. For instance, it could be conducted in a manner internal to academic contexts, without need of big presses. To me, it seems that what’s key in this discussion is that the technology of publishing has changed in a way that makes current publishing practices already obsolete, and that requires new organizational arrangements. Happily, the changes at issue have the exciting potential to make books available to an unprecedentedly large audience. Electronic publishing and the internet may be no less revolutionary than the printing press – especially for social contexts with less purchasing power.
        I agree with your comment that the situation is not clear cut. I just think it is full of potential, and what we are called to do is to think in imaginative new ways about the future of publishing (in particular, of academic publishing). The only party that will almost necessarily be hurt in the process are the big presses, but I will shed no tears for them…

  6. Robert says:

    aaaaarg.org seems to have been working just fine and thriving up until about a month ago. Does anyone know if this is “it” for the site, now?

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