Why academic publishing is doomed

You may recall that a while ago I said I would only review for open access journals. Whenever I get asked to review for a journal now, I send back a polite reply saying telling them this, as I figure if they hear it enough it may encourage them to take an open access approach. After sending one such response to an editor, they forwarded it to the commercial publisher, to try and raise their awareness. The reply from the publisher set out a number of things they try to do, but this one caught my eye:

"Sponsored articles: Over 350 [publisher's name] journals offer authors the option to pay a $3,000 contribution fee to sponsor unlimited online access at publication to their respective articles via ScienceDirect."

I had to re-read this several times. So, not only do we provide the content, editing, and reviewing services for free, they now want us (or 'offer' us) to pay for open publication. And that's your open access model – the authors pay for it? I suppose one consolation is that it is surely not sustainable – when free alternatives exist the market will move towards them. It persists for historic reasons currently. Can you imagine taking this to a venture capitalist as a business model now?

I've used it before but Itzhak Stern's line in Schindler's list comes to mind: 'Let me understand. They put up all the money. I do all the work. What, if you don't mind my asking, would you do?'


  • AndyP

    ‘Author pays’ is one of the business models adopted by open access journals – the, so-called, gold route to open access – but it isn’t the only model. There’s quite a nice summary of the various models and terminology at
    That said, overall, I concur with your view.
    What is interesting is the length of time it is taking for the web to kick in and change scholarly practice, particularly around peer-review. Consider yourself on a little Greenpeace speedboat confronting a large whaler – we need more speedboats!

  • AJ Cann

    Most reputable publishers have waivers for their author pays model if the author(s) can demonstrate lack of funding. Alternatively, I’m finding Google Scholar more and more useful for surfacing copies of manuscripts hidden away in institutional OA repositries. What a mess.

  • Richard Hall

    Where this sits as activity in a broader debate about the Open Web [and its enclosure through apps/paywalls etc], Open Education, OERs, is important. AndyP is right in his insistance that more people need to say no/take an active stance.
    For me this is linked to your view on expert-led/started/informed critique, and open access, to publically-funded R&D. It is also part of a resistance to the privatisation of the public.
    Be good.

  • John Kirriemuir

    The thing is – and publishers must surely be aware of this and s*****ng themselves – there are a variety of methods of getting peer-reviewed articles. Some, such using are obvious. Others, perhaps less so, but they don’t require obviously illegal activities like account hacking or impersonation; perhaps more legally grey areas.
    And then there’s the informal paper/article distribution that goes on anyway. I’ve sent copies of my peer-reviewed articles to chums. They’ve sent theirs to me. It’s a fair trade, and means we don’t have to bother the publishers and make things stressful for them over, what is essentially, content we made.
    While publishers have so far had it damned lucky with academic content – compare to the music and film industries where paying for your content is more the exception than the norm – I feel they are living on borrowed time. Publisher incomes are mainly an indirect result of the metrics required and provided by a system such as peer-review in the higher echelons of global education.
    This will change – it has to change – especially as they continue to price themselves out of the game. As it’s got to the stage where some publishers charge more for the digital access to journals than the print access (WTF?) it’s all getting very silly now. A Pirate Bay for peer-reviewed academic content, running on a Cayman Islands hosted server, should do it if any teccies have a few spare weekends…

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