Blind Mellendrama

Mellendrama is a hashtag on Twitter to describe what can only be termed as the ongoing saga of Edwin Mellen Press (EMP) versus, well, anyone who has anything remotely unkind to say online, protections of free speech or well established case law supporting opinion articles be damned. The other post title I came up with was “John Cougar Mellendrama”, but in Blind Melon’s only hit song, “No Rain” (a staple of my generation’s high school music and famous for its dancing Bee Girl video), there’s a lyric I can’t resist for this post.

All I can say is that my life is pretty plain,
Ya don’t like my point of view,
Ya think that I’m insane.
It’s not sane, it’s not sane.

I’ll just leave it at that.

If you want the short version of what has happened, avail yourself of this Canadian Broadcasting article that briefly outlines the lawsuit by Edwin Mellon Press against McMaster University and librarian Dale Askey over a less-than-kind blog entry Askey wrote in 2010. (They dropped the suit against the university, but not against Askey.) If you like a detailed timeline loaded with links, check out John Dupuis’s rapidly expanding post which chronicles the whole affair. And if you want to see someone have a field day with this situation, then TechDirt is the place to go. Really, they dissected it and it’s a joy to read.

The latest salvo is a ‘cease and desist’ letter sent to Scholarly Kitchen, the blog of the Society for Scholarly Publishing. EMP actually sent two letters; one for a blog post and another for a comment to that blog post. Scholarly Kitchen posted the letters they received; here’s the one for the blog post itself.



(I did not ask permission to repost these images, so SK give a yell if you want me to take them down. My apologies in advance if that’s the case.)

In case you’re wondering what kind of horrible things were written, the magic of the internet allows you to go back in time and see it for yourself thanks to the Internet Archive. Furthermore, the comment in question is #5. Go on, give it a read. Meanwhile, the trackbacks to the current Scholarly Kitchen post continue to grow as the word gets out regarding EMP’s latest move.

This activity comes in sharp relief to a statement within the press release in which EMP drops their suit against McMaster University on March 4th.

“The financial pressure of the social media campaign and pressure on authors is severe. EMP is a small company. Therefore must choose to focus its resources on its business and serving its authors.”

Pair this with a statement given to The Chronicle of Higher Education on the week of March 29th, three weeks later.

Mr. Richardson could not be reached for comment on Friday, but in an interview this week he told The Chronicle that his lawsuit against Mr. Askey would not be the last in his fight to protect his reputation as well as the reputation of the press and its authors.

“It’s going to develop and develop,” Mr. Richardson said. “It’s a little bit of a cyclone, and it isn’t quite clear where the eye of the cyclone is going to form. But the eye could be over the practice of people using the social media to anonymously bully other people.”

This would suggest to me that this is just the tip of the cease & desist/ libel/defamatory legal action iceberg. While you might be thinking about how non-anonymous the blog authors have been so far in this saga, their first (and thus far, only) newsletter dated October 2012 suggests that where they are headed. (You can read their newsletter from their website by mousing over the surprisingly named Newsletter tab and clicking on Current Newsletter link.) This bit was at the bottom of the publication.


The first link goes to a 2007 post with four comments on it. My guess is the “anonymous bullies” are the posters being referenced to with the second link that takes you to The Chronicle’s forum pages. (I found it much faster to find the forums they were referencing by Googling “mellen press reputation”. Seriously, it’s the top two results. But you can search for “Edwin Mellen Press” in The Chronicle’s forum search box and get the same results.)

There are multiple threads on the press, some of which date back to 2007. Posters on the forums have usernames, which is the next thing to anonymous when it comes to message boards. Is this where the next series of letters and lawsuits is headed? I would guess yes on the basis of the information available right now.

This story isn’t without a twist, however. Roy Tennant posted the discovery of Edwin Mellen Press by way of a pseudonym registering,,, and back between October 2011 and May 2012. A Google Document put together by Dave Pattern also shows that the Press had registered “” addresses as well back in March 2012. I can’t even fathom a guess as to why either was done. Nope, can’t think of anything.

Overall, it’s been commented that this whole story reads like a case study of the Streisand Effect. In trying to squash the negative press, Edwin Mellen Press has elevated it to a front and center issue that can’t be ignored by librarians, academics, and other publishing entities. To me, the most logical series of events on where it goes from here is this: less reviewers will be interested in evaluating their titles for fear of any kind of reprisal. Less reviews means less opportunities for publicity and exposure in journals and magazines that people use for collection or curriculum development. Less opportunities mean less sales as people never hear or read about the book. Eventually, it’s the end of the business.

I have to admit that this is the kind of drama that I like to watch unfold on the public stage. First, it doesn’t involve me (although since I linked to the offending posts, who knows if there is a letter that will fly my way. I doubt it but that way this case is shaping up it is not out of the realm of possibility.) Second, it can only get weirder from here on out unless they drop their lawsuits and tactics. The academic librarian community is only so large and they work with faculty all the time when it comes to adding titles to the collection. Wayne Bivens-Tatum gives the best spin on this possibly:

I wonder what damages a publisher the most: someone writing a critical blog post, or a series of lawsuits and threatened lawsuits that target a number of academic librarians, which then go public and anger the very librarians who buy (or now maybe won’t buy) so many of the publisher’s books? I guess we’ll find out.

There is a undeniable ripple effect that is emanating out of this and only Edwin Mellen Press can control how large the waves get. At the rate these waves are increasing and intensifying, the only thing I can say is, “Surf’s up.”

Jenica Vs. The ACS Volcano

If you work in an academic library and you haven’t been following the Jenica Rogers/American Chemical Society (ACS) story, you really need to clear some time to sit down and work your way through the whole thing. Hell, if you are the person who works with your library’s vendors, you will want to pay attention. There’s a couple of lessons to be learned here, especially in the public relations department. For an overall summary, it went down like this:

On September 12th, Jenica posted an entry in her blog, “Walking Away from the American Chemical Society”. The post details the circumstances and events that surrounded the decision to drop their ACS journal package for 2013. This is a big deal since the ACS provides accreditations to higher education chemistry programs and some of those accreditation requirements include subscribing to journals published by the ACS. (Just let that conflict of interest thought go for the moment, you can always come back to it.)

The short version is that it would have eaten too much of her acquisitions budget (10%) to cover one department at her university, an unacceptable expense. Jenica made the case to the chemistry faculty and worked with them to find a solution that could accommodate their research and classwork. While not a perfect solution, it was an acceptable one that sustains the academic pursuits of the university. Not all ACS publications were eliminated, but it was cut down to the essential ones along with resources coming from other chemistry publishers and providers.

This, of course, elicits a good amount of discussion since no one has done this before or at least written about it in such an open manner.

Skip ahead two weeks to September 26th to an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “As Chemistry Journals’ Prices Rise, a Librarian Just Says No”. The writer reaches out to the ACS for a comment and receives this statement from Glenn Ruskin, Director of Public Affairs.

A spokesman for the American Chemical Society said that the group would not offer a response to Ms. Rogers’s blog post or the conversation that’s sprung up around it. "We find little constructive dialogue can be had on blogs and other listservs where logic, balance, and common courtesy are not practiced and observed," Glenn S. Ruskin, the group’s director of public affairs, said in an e-mail message. "As a matter of practice, ACS finds that direct engagement via telephone or face-to-face with individuals expressing concern over pricing or other related matters is the most productive means to finding common ground and resolution." [Emphasis mine.]

And so the descent begins. I’m not wholly familiar with the “We have no comment but here is a comment about why we have no comment” strategy, but it doesn’t seem to really play out very well. It does set the stage for future dismissal of grievances posted online as they can be called illogical, unbalanced, and/or discourteous. But it certainly begs the question as to how Jenica’s blog post (or her overall blog): at which part or parts was her post illogical? How was what she wrote unbalanced? Where was common courtesy not observed?

On the Chemical Information Sources Discussion List (a listserv), Glenn provided a clarification of his statement:

Many thanks for sharing this with me.  Let me assure you that it was not my intention, nor the intention of ACS, to denigrate blogs or users/contributors of blogs or listservs. 

My comment was directed toward the blog that was the subject of the Chronicle of Higher Education (CHE) story.  Unfortunately, CHE did not use the totality of my comment as I think it would have been clear that I was speaking specifically to the blog that was the point of the story.  Here is the totality of my statement (bolded section was omitted by CHE):

“We find little constructive dialogue can be had on blogs and other listservs where logic, balance and common courtesy are not practiced and observed.  As a matter of practice, ACS finds that direct engagement via telephone or face-to-face with individuals expressing concern over pricing or other related matters is the most productive means to finding common ground and resolution.  Therefore, we will not be offering any response  to this blog posting or the conversation that has ensued.

I respect and appreciate responsible bloggers, those that thoughtfully engage on those blogs as well as those that utilize listservs.  No insult was intended, and apologies to those that interpreted the comment that way.  These outlets provide important avenues to further dialogue and collaboration and are valuable assets in the ever evolving digital age.

The individual responsible for the above cited blog certainly has the right to her opinion, but that does not excuse rude behavior or her use of profanity and vulgarity in addressing ACS or its employees. While not evident in the most recent postings, I won’t repeat what she has posted in the past.  But I think you would agree that vulgarity and profanity postings do not lend themselves to meaningful, productive and civil discourse, thus our decision not to engage any further with her on this topic. [Emphasis his]

And thus the character assassination begins. Jenica is portrayed as someone who is rude, profane, and vulgar(1); but, oddly enough, not wrong. Instead, the blog post is presented as “her opinion” which, given the content, seems a bit silly. Pricing tiers could be argued as being fair or not till the end of time, but having something cost 10% of your budget is a fact. Unless the budget numbers go up or the price goes down, it will remain at that fixed point.

Jenica posted a very long response to this email which I’ll just link to; it really is too much to grab for a quote and it is quite comprehensive in rebutting Glenn’s clarification. It details the frustrations she has experienced with the ACS and its staff members that preceded this blowup.

John Dupuis has a great “here be all the links to everything” post up right now if you want to delve into the nitty-gritty. I’d recommend reading posts on the subject by Walt Crawford, Iris Jastram, Jacob Berg, and Chembark as well as Jenica’s followup post.

Ultimately, I see this as a “how not to handle public relations” moment. If you’re not going to comment, then don’t. Providing an explanation as to why you are not commenting that takes a shot at someone is, well, commenting. It’s not letting the story burn out on its own so much as it is now putting gasoline on the fire. Even if I wasn’t Jenica’s friend, this story may make her look bad, but it certainly makes the ACS seem worse. It would seem that there cannot be a public dialogue, even without the bad feelings exhibited.

It is yet another cautionary tale for librarians and library vendors and the relationships they seek to build… or break. I admire Jenica standing tall and (to use her phrase) own her words and back them up. As she states in the post that started this, no one generally wants to be the first out of the gate. But, quite frankly, I can’t think of a better person to lead on this topic. Whether ACS likes it or not, the discussion will continue. It’s simply a matter of time to see what results.



(1) Full disclosure: By Jenica’s own admission she has used profanity to describe how she felt after different encounters with ACS staffers on her personal Friendfeed account, but not found in her blog about the dropping the ACS journal package or other blogs posts. The first two accusations of her posts being illogical or unbalanced still remain unanswered or unexplained.

The Textbook is Dead, Long Live the Etextbook!

Picture by goXunuReviews/Flickr

Via Chronicle of Higher Education:

For years observers have predicted a coming wave of e-textbooks. But so far it just hasn’t happened. One explanation for the delay is that while music fans were eager to try a new, more portable form of entertainment, students tend to be more conservative when choosing required materials for their studies. For a real disruption in the textbook market, students may have to be forced to change.

That’s exactly what some companies and college leaders are now proposing. They’re saying that e-textbooks should be required reading and that colleges should be the ones charging for them. It is the best way to control skyrocketing costs and may actually save the textbook industry from digital piracy, they claim. Major players like the McGraw-Hill Companies, Pearson, and John Wiley & Sons are getting involved.

To understand what a radical shift that would be, think about the current textbook model. Every professor expects students to have ready access to required texts, but technically, purchasing them is optional. So over the years students have improvised a range of ways to dodge buying a new copy—picking up a used textbook, borrowing a copy from the library, sharing with a roommate, renting one, downloading an illegal version, or simply going without. Publishers collect a fee only when students buy new books, giving the companies a financial impetus to crank out updated editions whether the content needs refreshing or not.

It’s that last sentence that really grabbed me and was the underlying rationale for writing this post. To me, it totally screams “We need you to sustain our business models!” They can’t make students buy their textbooks, so they are going to roll them into a fee instead. I realize that it solves a legitimate problem (students who cannot afford textbooks) while thwarting a industry concern (pirated copies of textbooks), but I’m having a hard time weighing those aspects against a blanket fee that could not be avoided. I’m wondering if students would be allowed to keep their textbooks from semester to semester, since some can act as a resource for advanced topcis.

(For the efforts of full disclosure, I did borrow a textbook rather than buy it for a class one semester.)

The questions I have are whether college and university libraries would be given the option of adding either the electronic copy and/or the physical book to their collections. That idea may seem rather inane under this model, but I’m looking at it from the angle of historical progression; as in, how people’s thoughts and theories on subjects changed over time through different textbooks and editions. It’s the preservation of the logical progression of the thinking of a subject. I expect to be controverted on this point; I can see academic librarians reading this and saying to themselves, “We have enough old crap as it is, we certainly don’t need old textbooks as it is.” So, I’m sure someone will be happy to set me straight.

Moreover, I would be curious to hear reactions from academic librarians. Is this a good thing? A bad thing? Or just a thing? How does it impact you?