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elsevier and value added services

On finally catching up and reading about the latest clash between academics and academic publishers, it finally motivated me to write about an idea that has been rolling around in my head for a little while.

Here”s one instance of the perennial reason given by academic publishers why they can”t use open access models:

Elsevier gave this as one reason: “Elsevier cannot agree to this as we have invested considerable amount of time, money and other resources into making it a respected journal in its field.”

These extra editorial ‘value added” services is generally the reason given by publishers for why they ought to be allowed to make giant profits from a bunch of uncompensated labour. The claim is that things like editing, type setting, etc and whatever, all add enough value that they should be allowed to make profits from writing they don”t pay for, nor pay to have reviewed, nor pay the ppl on the editorial board.

Okay. Let”s pretend, for a moment, that we actually buy this argument. Maybe what academic publishers do actually does add enough value to the free content they receive to warrant charging $40/article or hundreds-thousands of dollars for journal subscriptions.

What recently occurred to me is that academic publishing is not the first industry to be having this problem. I”m sure others have pointed out the parallels to the music industry. The above has basically been the argument behind why the music industry ought to be allowed to charge whatever high prices they want while not really giving a lot back to artists in the form of royalties.

But then online sharing and pirating happened. And then iTunes. And now we have a vastly different industry where we went from paying $15+ for an album to paying $1 for a song. And the industry is said to be going through yet another structural shift in terms of how they distribute content, from downloads to streaming.

However, the point is that the music industry survived this structural change and so will academic publishing. But just as the music industry had to be dragged kicking and screaming into this change, so will academic publishers. Mainly bc they”re both disgusting capitalists with limited imaginations.

One of the things that academic publishing seems determined to resist is switching from their current model to one of scale. I can see why, I”m guessing they think that their audience is much more limited than with music and so they must charge a small group of people high prices in order to make profits. Rather than trying to charge a larger group of people lower prices to make their profits. Essentially economies of scale.

But are they right? I”m not sure. Has any journal actually tried, instead of open access, charging a fairly small amount of money for each article and for subscriptions? I”m talking like $5 or less per article and maybe $25 or something per issue and $80 for a yearly subscription. Not free but also not necessarily all that expensive. And I”m talking this as the high price for first tier journals (like Nature or whatever). They might be surprised at how much larger the market suddenly is when it becomes more accessible.

Bc I”d really like to know if they actually think that whatever value they add to the content is more than what the music industry adds to their content. Especially considering that they don”t pay for two of the key elements to journal publishing (writing and review). However unfair music industry royalties are, at least they pay their creators. Elsevier et al cannot claim the same.

Instead, they keep raising prices and as a way to appease open access people have started making content creators pay to have their work openly available. It”s pretty fucking ridiculous, when you really think that whatever their publishing model is, that they should be paying academics and not the other way around.1

  1. Which is something I don"t really get about the OA movement in general. Because beyond the high minded ideals, they rarely seem to even mention how exploitative it is that people aren"t compensated for this labour. Yes, sure, in academia the compensation is thought to be cultural capital. But. What if all intellectuals aren"t scholars? What if a scholar is at the beginning of their career and getting $100 for their article could feed them that month? In a different way, its hard not to see this reliance on uncompensated labour as a means for publishing and academics to ensure that only academics are involved in scholarly/intellectual discourse.</p>

    I mean, as a non-academic who regularly engages in research and writing, I have no motivation to try and publish in a journal. It won"t help my 'career" bc I"m not an academic and, thus, I don"t care about tenure. It doesn"t pay anything, so why bother going through the hassle? Of course, in general, academics have little to no desire to engage the unwashed masses in their rarified research. Which is amusing bc I know a lot of ppl who are outside of academia who also engage in research that would be valuable contributions to the overall 'discourse". But I"m poor. I can"t afford to spend hours and hours researching and writing an article that I won"t get paid for and has little cultural cachet amongst my peers.  </li> </ol> </div>