Is “free” the answer?

Free content. Sounds great!

Then again, like with any other attractive deal, scepticism kicks in.


Question 1: How free is it?


Source: The Strait Times

Free access doesn’t guarantee permission to modify and edit the content. It’s like a digital newspaper. You can read it, without any costs, but you can’t re-use it. Basically, only absorbing the information. 


Question 2: What if, it’s really free to read and free to re-use?

Now, that’s really ‘open access’. A term that should only be used when the license permits both free access and unrestricted derivative use (MacCallum, 2007). And, with appropriate attribution. Open access is not a call for unethical behaviours. 


Question 3: Why is ‘open access’ good?

Besides the blatant fact that all free things are loved. It means more useful resources. For a content producer himself, and everyone else.

We can build new theses on published journals, generate new graphics, create better music and more. It’s goes beyond learning for all to innovation by all. These children learnt how to use the computer, simply with the presence of one. If you have never drank coffee, would you know how to make even better coffee? In the first place, would you want to make good coffee?   


Question 4: Is everything ‘open access’ good?

As the saying goes, it’s not about quantity, but quality. Which, in this case, refers to the relevance of the content to your field of interest. ‘There’s so much to talk about, and I have no idea where to start from.’ Sounds familiar? It does to me. With open access, we anticipate the collapse of pay wallsOpening gates to unlimited research and multimedia materials. The question then becomes, if you really need all these information? A history student probably wouldn’t require in-depth scientific statistics.

The idea of open access envisions creativity and development of meaningful products. For a greater cause. So, what will you really do with a piece of irrelevant article? I presume I won’t invent a human robot just by watching a video on electronic engineering. As a marketing student. There is “no price in the world” that will make this “intelligible, relevant or meaningful to me” (Anderson, 2011).


Now, my turn to ask. What do you want?

Have you noticed the words I’ve highlighted? I think those are the factors that truly matter.


Image Designed by Freepik

According to Bell (2012), a research writing acts as a space for researchers of the specific discipline, where they do not need to stop and explain themselves. The writing is targeted at fellow members of the expertise. Hence, even when it’s ‘open access’ space, it doesn’t simply evolve into a platform for public communication of professional knowledge because that is not the purpose (Allington, 2013).

If that’s your purpose, then ‘open access’ is probably not the best option. So, what do you want?



Allington, D., 2013. On open access, and why it’s not the answer. Available at: Accessed 15 November 2016.

Erin C., M. ‘Why open research’ Website. Available at: Accessed 15 November 2016.

Hole-in-the-Wall Education Limited, 2015. ‘Hole-in-the-Wall’ Website. Available at: Accessed 15 November 2016.

MacCallum C.J., 2007. When Is Open Access Not Open Access? PLoS Biol 5(10): e285. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0050285

Suber, P., 2013. Open access: Six myths to put to rest. Available at: Accessed 15 November 2016.

Wiley Online Library, 2016. Open access. Available at: Accessed 15 November 2016.


11 thoughts on “Is “free” the answer?

  1. Hi Wanni!

    I love the questions you use as a structure to your blog post! The questions really got me thinking and it is clear that you evaluate and understand each aspect of free materials and open access. Thank you for giving me a clearer insight on this topic!

    I agree with you on the portion where you mentioned “Open access is not a call for unethical behaviours.” Unethical behaviours such as plagiarism is on the rise and thus, content researchers are on the fence about putting their work for free on the internet. As users, at the very least we should learn to give the due respect to them by doing referencing and citing when their work is being used.

    While researching, I came across this reading from that mentioned this: “The most common type of education-related use of the Internet was to research information for project assignments or for solving academic problems.” In your opinion, how much do you think it will affect the students who uses internet for education usage if there is limitation to the amount of access online? Would love to hear your thoughts on it!

    With regards,

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Beatrice.

      I’m glad that I changed my post layout!
      I think most of our classmates stand for ethical usage when it comes to other people’s work too. That’s good 😀

      Indeed, students (like ourselves) need to do our research on the web for assignments. Hence, I initially agreed that open access is an initiative beneficial for students. However, I read this article by Robin Osborne and he said open access “has become a matter of there being no charge, not a matter of making oneself widely understood”. It made sense to me, as the words ‘free content’ itself, seems to already set the limitation.

      Furthermore, in order to cite references from our research, we need to understand the content. Or quoting from Osborne, capable to correctly interpret “the language used”. So, if you’re not offered access at this stage (e.g. Bachelor’s degree), it’s possibly more appropriate to obtain the readings when you’ve gained deeper insights into that scope of study (e.g. Master’s degree).

      Nevertheless, it is important that we are able to access and use information online for school assignments and research projects. I think right now, our universities do subscribe to sufficient journals for our readings.

      I considered the children who have a harder time getting access to information. But, I believe in that case, it’s not so much of whether ‘open access’ or not. Instead, it’s more of access to technological sources and substantial information?


  2. Hi Wanni,

    I would kindly disagree with your statement “The question then becomes, if you really need all these information? A history student probably wouldn’t require in-depth scientific statistics.”

    Carbon dating is science, and by using it “historians can tell what cultures thrived in different regions and when they disintegrated” ( I don’t believe that one can dismiss the application of an information because he/she perceives it to be “useless”. As a marketing student yourself, you dismissed electronic engineering information as irrelevant. However, if you were a marketer in the electronics industry would that information be relevant now?

    Academic disciplinary groups are correlated in one way or another, and every information an individual possess is an advantage within this competitive society. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure; an information you find useless might be useful for others. I’d say the more the merrier when it comes to the sharing of information. I hope that changes your perspective a little.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Norman. Thanks for giving me feedback!

      Yes, I definitely agree with you that “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”. I have no intention to brush off any information (hard work of people) as ‘useless’. Because, like what you’ve said, many times, different schools of research are interlinked.

      However, what I’d like to propose is that too much content may not necessarily be helpful. I have to admit that I may have illustrated a narrow concept. Despite so, I feel that the phrase ‘information overload’ resonates with many people. Studies have also shown that analysis paralysis may interfere with creativity.

      So, what I’m thinking is that, open access offers us unlimited readings of various genres, but right at this very moment, how many of those do you actually need to be effective? In such scenario, don’t you think relevance is of considerable importance?

      I picked up some new information while replying you. Hope I did for you too. Thanks!


  3. Hi Wanni!
    Thank you for the extremely clear dissection of the topic in your post! I agree that whether you should make your content freely available online is dependent on the goal of your production. Most of our discussion is based on the current state of open access where plenty of online content are still freely available. However, it was found that 90% of online content will mostly likely be held behind a paywall in coming years(Lepitak, 2013). Considering this finding, what do you think will be the effect on content producers? For example, digital newspaper publisher The Telegraph announced that they will be introducing online paywalls(Lepitak, 2013). However, paying for online news is not high on Millennials’ list(Edmonds,2015). This means that many of the articles written by these journalists will not reach a large audience. Though they may still get paid from the publisher, do you think it will have other negative impacts on them?

    (154 words excluding references)

    Rick Edmonds, 2015,

    Stephen Lepitak, 2013,

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Teresa. Thank you for your comment

    And yes! I agree with you that most of our discussion is built on the current state where there’s still plenty of freely available content online. I’ve also read the articles about implementation of paywalls. Personally, I recognise the advantages of sharing knowledge and content. So, it’s quite scary to imagine that we may lose this privilege. In the case of news, pay walls may result a drop in readership.

    In order for journalists to establish a firm foothold in the industry, I think the reputation of the newspaper has to be a recognised one. For example, a writer mentioned that The Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal (whether expense-accounted or not) are purchased by people who have money and need these publications and their information to make more money. Perhaps the way to secure a profitable business model, be it pay-for-subscription or free access, the journalists have to produce quality content. That way, they gain loyal readership and recognition, with or without pay walls.

    The article mentioned that paying for digital news is not a popular option for Millennials. I’m thinking though, if this is because we can still ‘freeload’ off other mediums of communication as of now. Quite a number of my friends read up on news through Facebook shares. When the circumstances have really changed such that we can no longer access news freely, maybe we’ll consider paying?

    View story at


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