Academic publishers make Murdoch look like a socialist | George Monbiot | Comment is free | The Guardian

Academic publishers make Murdoch look like a socialist

Academic publishers charge vast fees to access research paid for by us. Down with the knowledge monopoly racketeers

Monday 29 August 2011 21.08 BST

College Students Library

‘Though academic libraries have been frantically cutting subscriptions to make ends meet, journals now consume 65% of their budgets.’ Photograph: Peter M Fisher/Corbis

Who are the most ruthless capitalists in the western world? Whose monopolistic practices make Walmart look like a corner shop and Rupert Murdoch a socialist? You won’t guess the answer in a month of Sundays. While there are plenty of candidates, my vote goes not to the banks, the oil companies or the health insurers, but – wait for it – to academic publishers. Theirs might sound like a fusty and insignificant sector. It is anything but. Of all corporate scams, the racket they run is most urgently in need of referral to the competition authorities.

I think Monbiot is pushing it quite a bit, but there is no doubt that academia can’t afford publishers anymore…at least not like they are now. It’s at the point now where I’d gladly pay $1,000/yr for access to a good database. I’d even consider paying nearly that amount to get access to a student’s VPN and login credentials at a top university. Now that I’m thinking of it, I bet I could swing something for $50/month. I’ll have to look into it.

Now, if I’m not prosecuted for “hacking” and tossed into a deep dark dungeon somewhere, I’ll try my hardest to push publication in open journals. It’s tough to do that as a young faculty member. The pressure to publish pushes us to many of the same journals (publishers) that we are railing against. Some of us skirt this by putting up manuscripts similar to those published on personal websites, but this isn’t a real solution.

I don’t go as far as Monbiot in this article, though. There certainly is a need to fund publication. These companies have gone a long way in promoting digital distribution and other innovations. Of course, much of that probably would have been done by Google if they hadn’t. The biggest problem is the terribly restrictive pricing models, as mentioned in the article.

In the end, they may push authors to open journals, which are likely to influence citation numbers in the future (they don’t yet). However, in the short and long run this result is people going to secondary resources, which is just bad research and leads to bad science. We will all suffer for this.

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