For a long while now I have felt that the business model from the Academic Journal Publishers is wrong. It cheaply exploits the work of academics and then sells it back to them. With the growing Open Access movement I have been waiting to see when many Academics wake up and realise the power they have.
This morning a number of reports have come out that indicate that a tipping point may have been reached. Elsevier will be watching this with extreme worry, and so they should!
Academic publishing is a very good game indeed if you can manage to get into it. As the publisher the work is created at the expense of others, for free to you. There are no advances, no royalties, to pay. The editing, the checking, the decisions about whether to publish, these are all also done for free to you. And the market, that’s every college library in the world and they’re very price insensitive indeed.
Back when physical, paper, copies of the journals were an essential part of any scientists’ life the cost structure could, perhaps, be justified. It is expensive to typeset, proofread, complex texts and then print them in numbers of hundreds or perhaps low thousands. However, now that everything is moving/has moved online then the amounts charged for access to the journals seems less defensible. More like the exploitation of a monopoly position in fact.
No, there isn’t a monopoly on scientific journal publishing: but there is on the last 50 to 60 years’ worth of papers that have been published and are now copyright of said publisher. This is leveraged into the power to make college libraries pay eyewatering amounts for subscriptions.
There’s not much new about this analysis and investors in Reed Elsevier, the owners of Elsevier, either do or should know all of this.
However, there’s something happening that might change this, for Reed Elsevier shareholders, quite delightful position. That is, a revolt of the academics who provide both the papers and the readership.
A start was made by British mathematician Tim Gowers, in a blog post here. That wasn’t the very start, but it looks like one of those pebbles that starts the avalanche rather than the one that just tumbles down the hillside. And there’s a great deal to be said for a scientific post which references Spike Milligan‘s superb book, Adolf Hitler, My Part in his Downfall.
And yes there is a great deal to be said about a post that references Spike…
The Dutch publisher Elsevier publishes many of the world’s best known mathematics journals, including Advances in Mathematics, Comptes Rendus, Discrete Mathematics, The European Journal of Combinatorics, Historia Mathematica, Journal of Algebra, Journal of Approximation Theory, Journal of Combinatorics Series A, Journal of Functional Analysis, Journal of Geometry and Physics, Journal of Mathematical Analysis and Applications, Journal of Number Theory, Topology, and Topology and its Applications. For many years, it has also been heavily criticized for its business practices. Let me briefly summarize these criticisms.