The gift economy

by Alexis Calvé-Genest & Heather Morrison (Français)

Are there other modes of exchange besides the market? Are we overestimating the place of market exchange when we look at the nature of human transactions? If so, are there lessons to be learned concerning possible approaches to sustaining the knowledge commons?

It has been almost a hundred years since this question has been considered and reconsidered by anthropologists and others since the publication of Mauss’ seminal work The Gift (free version at Internet Archive here: The focus of this work is a much bigger question about human nature than we can address in this post. However, let’s consider the possibility that human exchange includes the possibility of a quality that lasts long after the exchange is concluded, whether the exchange is between groups or individuals. Let’s consider the principle of reciprocity and in contrast with the one-time market exchange.

The gift economy as conceived by Mauss nearly a century ago, based on empirical anthropological studies of actual human societies, contemporary and ancient, involves moral and social obligations that creates a bond between groups and individuals without necessarily being obligatory obligations.

Without denying the importance of market exchange, Mauss presents this as superficial in comparison with the gift economy that has pervaded human societies since ancient times. We argue that the gift economy is every bit as relevant today. At the heart of the gift economy are the obligations to give, receive, and give again. Rivalries in giving both create and reinforce social bonds. Remember that in most societies, hoarding is not well received; redistribution, often through ceremonies such as the potlatch, is the norm. Perhaps by studying the gift economy we can work towards both scholarship and societies that are more sustainable, reciprocal, and just.

Can the theory of the gift economy be applied to scholarship? Consider the worldwide network of institutional and disciplinary repositories, the over 2,600 repositories listed in OpenDOAR, the more than 72 million documents scholars have gifted to the world through the repositories indexed by the Bielefeld Academic Search Engine

Each scholar gifts their own work – an article, a book, a dataset – with no expectation of immediate rewards in return, rather the hope of having an impact, having their work built upon by others and recognized as a contribution to the collective knowledge of humankind. This fulfills the obligation to give. Others read and use these gifts, which may be met with applause and appreciation, or derision and critique. No matter; either one fulfills the obligation to receive. The receipt of a gift carries with it a social and moral obligation to build on the gift and share one’s own work, not with the original gift-giver but rather with the whole world; this is the downstream obligation to give (or re-give). Like the potlatch, prestige accrues to the giver of the best gifts. This is not one-time barter, rather a worldwide network of givers and receivers that looks a lot like the basis of an emerging global gift economy in scholarship.


Mauss, M. (1924, 1966 english ed.). The gift. London: Cohen & West. Available via Internet Archive at

Cite as:

Calvé-Genest, A., & Morrison, H. (2015). The gift economy. Sustaining the Knowledge Commons / Soutenir Les Savoirs Communs. Retrieved from

Who is served by for-profit gold open access publishing? A case study of Hindawi and Egypt

by: Jihane Salhab and Heather Morrison


The highly successful Egypt-based open access publisher Hindawi is presented as a model of quality publishing and commercial success. However, this success is not accompanied by obvious benefits to Egypt’s own research and researchers. Even in the best-case scenario for academics in Egypt’s public university system, it would take three month’s salary for a full professor to pay the $1,500 USD OA APC of Hindawi’s high-end Disease Markers. Egypt’s largest public university, Cairo University, has no institutional repository. Fortunately for Egyptian researchers, there are open access journals that do not charge APCs, and not all open access repositories are institutional repositories. Open access may not be the most salient issue for Egyptian researchers at any rate. It is not clear that the pre-revolutionary state interference with research detailed in a 2005 Human Rights Watch report has been resolved, and the need to take on other work due to low salaries leaves many academics with little to no time to do research. In this instance, commercial success is not correlated with social benefit.


Hindawi is an open access commercial publishing success story and an Egyptian business success story. Hindawi Publishing Corporation was founded by Ahmed Hindawi who, in an interview with Richard Poynder conducted in September 2012, confirmed a revenue of millions of dollars from APCs alone – a $3.3 net profit on $12 million in revenue, a 28% profit rate (Poynder, 2012). Hindawi is highly respected in open access publishing circles, and was an early leader in establishing the Open Access Scholarly Publishers’ Association (OASPA), an organization that takes quality in publishing seriously.

However, it seems highly unlikely that Egyptian researchers could afford to publish in the larger Hindawi journals. It would take three months’ salary for a full professor in today’s public university system to pay the $1,500 USD APC of Hindawi’s Disease Markers; this would take six months’ salary for a lecturer. This is the best-case scenario, assuming a university that has been able to implement the raise for academics decreed by Morsi in July 2012 to 3500 EGY monthly for a full professor ($579 USD) (1).

In addition to the financial factor, years of the pre-revolution regime’s interference with research subjects and methods formed a stagnant nature of contemporary scholarship where “the state restricts who can research what and severely punishes those who overstep their bounds” (Human Rights Watch, 46). Though there is a slight improvement after the revolution, still “economic, political, and physical insecurity in the country make it very difficult for serious changes to be made” (El-Awady, 2013).

There are other options for Egyptian researchers: the vast majority of open access journals do not charge article processing fees (Morrison et. al., 2015), there are subject as well as institutional open access repositories, and Egyptian researchers can read open access works of others. Still it might be reasonable to ask whether the most appropriate route to “open” in the short-term for researchers in Egypt involves opening up time to do the research through adequate salaries and opening up freedom to conduct and share research by building support for intellectual and academic freedom.


1. In July 2012, more than a year after the revolution that ousted the Mubarak regime, elected president Morsi issued decree 84, amending the wages for academics that had not been changed since 1972. Published on July 14th in the Egyptian Official Journal (issue 28), Decree 84 (translated from Arabic by Jihane Salhab). lists the amendments of academics’ monthly wages as follows: 3500 EGY ($579 US) for professors, 3000 EGY ($497 US) for associate professors, 2500 EGY ($414 US) for lecturers, 1500 EGY ($248 US) for assistant lecturers and 1000EGY ($165 US) for teaching assistants respectively (using XE currency converter for that same date at a rate of $1=6.045 EGY). That raise was supposed to be only the first phase, but in February 2013 Egyptian minister of higher education Mas’ad confirmed in a statement that no other phases would follow (Bedewi, 2013).


Bedewi, M. (24 February 2013). Higher education: the country cannot endure the second phase of ‘academic wages.’ Al-Youm Al-Sabe’ [In Arabic]. Retrieved on 10 April 2015.

El-Awady, Nadia. (8 June 2013). Higher education still suffering after the revolution. University World News. Retrieved March 28, 2015 from

Human Rights Watch (2005). Reading between the “Red Lines”: the repression of academic freedom in Egyptian universities. Human Rights Watch, 17(6): 1-109. Retrieved February 17, 2015 from

Morrison H, Salhab J, Calvé-Genest A, Horava T (2015). Open Access Article Processing Charges: DOAJ Survey May 2014. Publications 3(1):1-16. Retrieved April 10, 2015 from

Poynder, R. (2012).The OA interviews: Ahmed Hindawi, founder of Hindawi Publishing Corporation. Retrieved March 10, 2015 from

This post is the first in a series analyzing the actual or potential impact of APCs.

Cite as:

Salhab, J., & Morrison, H. (2015). Who is served by for-profit gold open access publishing? A case study of Hindawi and Egypt. Sustaining the Knowledge Commons / Soutenir Les Savoirs Communs. Retrieved from


Publishers using open access article processing charges are either big or small (skewed distribution)

Of the minority of journals in DOAJ that have article processing charges (26 – 30%) , most (80%) are published either by publishers that have 50 or more journals that use APCs, or 1 – 9 journals that use APCs, with not much in the middle.


Of the publishers with 1 – 9 journals using APCs, by far the largest category of this group (83%) are one-off journals, i.e. the publisher has only one journal using APCs. This is a skewed distribution.


This finding supports the distribution found by Frantsvåg (2010), although unlike Frantsvåg I do not see the large number of small publishers as a problem, but rather, as suggested by Edgar and Willinsky (2010), a possible indication of a renaissance of scholar-led publishing.  This distribution also fits the pattern for scholarly journal publishers overall described by Crow (2006).

This is very similar to the findings of Thompson (2005, p. 63),who found through a major study of scholarly monograph publishers in several English-speaking countries, a tendency towards concentration and larger publishers combined with a healthy system of very small publishers, but not much in the middle.

We hear a lot about the big publishers using APCs, like BioMedCentral and Hindawi, but not as much about the many small publishers. For this reason, it is the smaller  journals and publishers that I most want to highlight.


Crow, R. (2006). Publishing cooperatives: An alternative for not-for-profit publishers. First Monday, 11(9) Retrieved 2011 from

Edgar, B. D., & Willinsky, J. (2010). A survey of the scholarly journals using open journal systems. Scholarly and Research Communication 1:2 Retrieved July 21, 2014 from

Frantsvåg, J. E. (2010). The size distribution of open access publishers: A problem for open access? First Monday 15:2. Retrieved November 28, 2010 from

Thompson, J. B. (2005). Books in the digital age : The transformation of academic and higher education publishing in Britain and the United States. Cambridge: Polity.


Cite as: Morrison, H. (2014). Publishers using open access article processing charges are either big or small (skewed distribution). Sustaining the Knowledge Commons / Soutenir Les Savoirs Communs. Retrieved from