Publishing/Writing: Insights, News, Intrigue


More Publishing Intrigue: A Monopoly-Like Stranglehold Has Invaded the Academic Publishing World

Academic Research Libraries

The world of academic journals, and their ever-increasing corrupt and predatory capitalistic publishing models, desperately needs a full house cleaning. A real deep gutting and restructuring, if you will, to return this vital publishing and research resource to its intended (and I might add pure) mission.  

A few big publishing houses have gained control of most of the prestigious journals and have been charging the very institutions’ libraries usury subscription rates for content that was provided by that institution in the first place!

One solution to these monopolistic journal publishers’ outrageous subscription rates is the ‘open access’ journal that has been growing in popularity lately — but, in the open access model, they charge the poor academic article writer/researcher several thousand dollars to publish the damn article — and, as I’ve said in previous posts, this is butt-ball-busting-poor as the writer/researcher should be getting paid for his work and writing in the first place. Some academics who publish (a requirement for tenure, recognition, promotion, etc.) use grant money — but, many can’t.

More details and a must-read is provided by Simon Owens  in U.S. News and World Report:

Is the Academic Publishing Industry on the Verge of Disruption?

As Harvard balks at subscription cost and others take a page from its book, open access publishers get a fresh look

But critics of this business model often sidestep the reality that many closed access journals charge processing fees as well. In fact, the entire publication structure of scholarly publishing would seem alien to those who work within the non-academic publishing world. Rather than paying the writer of the composition, he or she is often charged upward of a few thousand dollars to publish in the journal. The journals also don’t pay the peer reviewers who first read and then provide significant editorial feedback in order to strengthen a manuscript. These peer reviewers are often made up of experts within the field of the paper’s topic; many academics who publish are also called upon to read as a reviewer. “You devote your time to reviewing someone else’s article because you want them to spend the same time on your articles,” explained Fred Dylla, executive director at the American Institute of Physics, a scientific society that publishes several journals. Though the publishers say they bear the cost of managing the editorial process (polishing the final manuscript, formatting it for publication, and generating all the tables, charts, and graphics), these are all costs that are carried by any non-academic publisher–newspaper, magazine, or book–which also pays both the writers and editors of its products.

As for the accusations of a conflict of interest, this question was put toward Kristen Ratan, the chief product officer of the Public Library of Science, or PLoS, as it’s commonly referred to. PLoS is a nonprofit publishing project that launched one of the earliest experiments in open access when it produced its first journal, PLoS Biology, in 2003. Formed by several scientists, PLoS today publishes seven journals, each of which has amassed significant prestige and impact within its respective field. Over a two-week period, Ratan said, PLoS will see up to 1.2 million article page views across all its journals and its impact factor–the average number of citations per article, one of the key indicators of a journal’s prestige–is on par with most well-regarded closed access journals.

Ratan said the merit of an article submitted to PLoS is determined by those who have no financial interest in the publication. “I think it’s a problem that PLoS has been very good at solving by engaging academic editors and peer reviewers to be the mechanisms determining what gets published, as opposed to having internal staff making those decisions,” she explained. “So that removes the conflict of interest.” Some have suggested that PLoS and other open-access journal publishers should charge the researcher per round of editorial review, thereby removing some of the financial incentive to accept an article (since some revenue would then be extracted even if the piece is ultimately rejected). But Ratan asserted that “peer review is only one aspect of the cost factor of publishing,” and so charging for the peer review wouldn’t adequately address this issue.

Asked whether she thinks open access has reached a tipping point that will soon make it a major player in the industry, Ratan pointed to the rapid increase in articles published in PLoS over the last few years–it published 84 percent more articles in 2011 than in 2010. But what’s even more indicative of such a shift, she said, is how closed access journals have reacted to their open access counterparts. “What I’ve noticed is that publishers have responded by in some cases launching open access publications themselves. Some of the ones that have historically been closed are now experimenting in open access.” Indeed, nearly every society publisher interviewed has either published an open-access journal or plans to in the near future (that includes both Elsevier and Wiley).

When an established journal converts to open access, it addresses the prestige problem that has hindered the model for years. A researcher has an incentive to always first submit his paper to a journal with the highest impact, not just because it will therefore be seen by more of his colleagues and have a larger resonance, but also because his trajectory in the tenure track partly depends on it. A brand new open access journal has no proven track record, so it can have difficulty attracting serious, groundbreaking research.

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My past posts on academic publishing:


  1. Other models are certainly possible and likely viable. The evil of the handful of academic publishers who dominate the field is in the prodigious profit margins driven by owner and stock market demands rather than by any notion of reasonable return for a needed service. Both open and closed models are deeply flawed. Even the much-vaunted peer review process is largely a sham that often prevents truly innovative work from being published on a timely basis. I have a colleague whose daring and influential paper was awarded best-of-conference honors, but it was three years out-of-date because the numbskull reviewers at the academic journals and for the two previous year editions of the same conference were too intellectually challenged.

    My own early work in software engineering is now regarded as pioneering and is widely taught as fundamental, yet no academic journal would touch it. Forget Impact Factor. I published in all the wrong places, turning to commercial rags that actually paid me, which meant that it took a decade extra for the work to be recognized by academics.

    –Prof. Larry Constantine, AKA Lior Samson, novelist

    Comment by Larry Constantine — 07/24/2012 @ 6:25 am | Reply

    • Prof. Larry,

      Thanks for your comment and experience:)

      ‘Other models are certainly possible and likely viable.’ – This is true to the core and now needs action taken to clean out the present clustermuck and implement a more viable model that is more in line with true academia and the free flow of cutting edge information — Who should be at the center of this action? The academic institutions themselves, of course. They teach a good game, now they must actually play a good game.

      ‘Both open and closed models are deeply flawed.’ – True enough. As I alluded to in the post.

      I believe academic journals should be produced collegially in-house with any necessary letters of agreement etc. between cooperating institutions.

      Comment by gator1965 — 07/24/2012 @ 3:41 pm | Reply

  2. I can only speak as a scientist (chemist), but what I find is that in a country like New Zealand, the money for libraries is limited, and accordingly there are a large number of journals that are simply inaccessible. I suspect a number of other countries will find the problem worse. Despite working privately, I have published a hundred scientific papers, many sole-authored, I was on the Editorial Board of a journal for ten years, and I have done my share of peer reviewing. Accordingly, it really annoys me when I cannot get access to journal articles. Quite simply, nothing is given back to authors, without whom there would be no journal.

    Another problem is retrieval of information. Leaving aside the problem of access to the journal, it is extremely difficult to find whether key information exists, and if so, where it is. A very simple example lies in developing a theory on the origin of life. According to authority, ammonia could not have lasted more than decades, so ammonia was irrelevant as an initial chemical. Observation says that 10% of earth’s nitrogen was in the form of ammonia (assuming volatiles were degassed proportionately) 1.3 billion years after earth’s formation, which is better than decades. However, that information is effectively unknown to those in the field. How do I know it? Because the person who made the measurement and published it as an aside two thirds through a paper happened to work around the corner from where I was working, and I asked him the specific question. This has had an interesting outcome: I needed that information for a theory I was trying to publish, so-called peer reviewers said the premise was nonsense (without reading the reference, possibly because it was not in their library) so they rejected the paper. I am convinced that original theory from a relatively unknown and from a field outside the reviewers’ will not get published. There is no doubt that Einstein’s paper on the electrodynamics of bodies in motion (special relativity) would be rejected outright these day by a so-called peer reviewer who would point out that Einstein discussed motion of neutral bodies, and, of curse, it was nonsense.

    There is an answer. I self-published my theoretical work as an ebook on Amazon. You may argue that is not the place to do it, however unless the author has a huge reputation, most scientific journal papers get no more than three readers outside the author’s group so I am probably not losing. The physics community has the ArXiv, which is simply electronic and I believe the long-term future of scientific publishing should progress towards e-publishing. Unfortunately, there are powerful interests restricting this, and scientists, aiming for citation numbers and so on, are their own worst enemies.

    Comment by Ian Miller — 07/27/2012 @ 5:27 pm | Reply

    • Ian Miller – Great comment! And I agree with your sentiments fully. They need to replace the faux reviewers with true academics continually researching for knowledge in their fields.

      NO journal should be unaccessable. It’s like enforcing censorship, for Christ’s sake !

      I also think the move to digital may just open up the free and open flow of academic information and go a long way in cleaning up the, dare I say it?, corruptness that has permeated academic publishing.

      Comment by gator1965 — 07/29/2012 @ 5:36 pm | Reply

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