HBR’s pricing and access to knowledge

(Image: clker)
(Image: clker)

An interesting discussion is brewing on FT with a Rotman School academic – Prof Joshua Gans suggesting that FT should knock-off Harvard Business Review (HBR) from its research component in FT45 ranking of global MBA and EMBA programs. While he acknowledges the quality of papers from the journal, he is clear that the publication is restricting access to knowledge which should be free in the interest of learning. It is okay to charge for research papers but the use of other content in the journal for instructional use should not be charged. I like the clarity of Prof Gans’ argument

A mere mention of an HBR article that some students may want to delve deeper into would cost the same as a case assigned as the basis for a three-hour class. Thus, the knowledge created by that journal will be less accessible for the students than knowledge elsewhere. How can it be, therefore, that the FT can consider HBR as a journal that connects students to knowledge creators? HBSP has relegated HBR to second-tier status and so should the FT.

To this, HBR’s Das Narayandas responds that –

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

This paradox is familiar to us at our small company. We offer data analysis and advisory services to non-profits. And many of the potential clients negotiate our pricing by assuming that information services for a ‘good cause’ should be given for a lower price or in some interesting cases as a pro-Bono service. We have always felt strongly against this practice and of course, gravitate towards Naraynadas’ comment that ‘ideas that achieve maximum impact come at a cost’.

The cost in this case appear to be monetary, but could as well be in other forms. If the information desired is potential enough in improving the processes or outcome in an organization then such an information is a product of substantial investment in terms of time, effort and professional expertise. How does one expect it to be free or cheaper in the interest of whatever!

The idea is not to be insensitive to requirements of those who cannot afford it, but to see that people know and appreciate what it costs to generate such knowledge. After this recognition one can sure explore ways of how can access be facilitated without undercutting the costs of producing it.

And until such time, it could be difficult for businesses to help such situations but rest assured that they have also faced such situations and empathize with others in need.


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