Just about everyone who reads what I post (both of you) also reads and may occasionally write papers for publication in “learned” journals. Some do it because it’s required for the advancement in their professional careers, others like me do it for κλέος. Either way, there is often something that stands between the writer and the reader. I’m not talking about the necessary peer reviewers and editors. I’m talking about the for-profit academic publishers.
Yesterday, the Guardian published an abnormally interesting article, “Academic publishers make Murdoch look like a socialist” by George Monbiot. You can also find Monbioit’s piece, more fully referenced, on his website. Here’s a sample,
The publishers claim that they have to charge these fees as a result of the costs of production and distribution, and that they add value (in Springer’s words) because they “develop journal brands and maintain and improve the digital infrastructure which has revolutionised scientific communication in the past 15 years”. But an analysis by Deutsche Bank reaches different conclusions. “We believe the publisher adds relatively little value to the publishing process … if the process really were as complex, costly and value-added as the publishers protest that it is, 40% margins wouldn’t be available.” Far from assisting the dissemination of research, the big publishers impede it, as their long turnaround times can delay the release of findings by a year or more.
In many ways this is old news and there are an increasing number of good quality open access journals and even books. Still the discussion remains pertinent. Read the whole piece.
Reflecting on Monbiot’s essay, John Hawks writes,
All of this money has gone into creating a publishing system that isn’t even usable or accessible to the volunteer laborers that create the content. People who have good journal access at research universities (and I’m fortunate to be one of these) still have to burn minutes every time we access an article to go through the ridiculous paywalls. Then there’s the crazy rigmarole of linking online discussion to these paywall-ridden papers.
These problems are only made worse for an
independent unaffiliated amateur scholar student like me.
Hawks goes on to suggest that Amazon should be told about this and that they might be well equipped to manage a peer reviewed publication system that, depending on several factors, could be free or at least of much lower cost to the reading public. I’m not so sure that Amazon is the right answer. But something like Amazon sure is. His suggests that authors might pay for “a prestigious editor” could make sense in the hard sciences where grants often include publication costs but it would not work as well in the humanities.
I do think that despite the increasing number of open access journals it is important to keep in mind that with few exceptions the most prestigious journals are for-profit journals whose profit depends on free labor in the form of authors and peer reviewers.