Turning around the profits

The absurdity of academic publishing is starting to get attention from the mainstream press. From The Economist: “Open sesame”.

PUBLISHING obscure academic journals is that rare thing in the media industry: a licence to print money. An annual subscription to Tetrahedron, a chemistry journal, will cost your university library $20,269; a year of the Journal of Mathematical Sciences will set you back $20,100. In 2011 Elsevier, the biggest academic-journal publisher, made a profit of 768m ($1.2 billion) on revenues of 2.1 billion. Such margins (37%, up from 36% in 2010) are possible because the journals content is largely provided free by researchers, and the academics who peer-review their papers are usually unpaid volunteers. The journals are then sold to the very universities that provide the free content and labour. For publicly funded research, the result is that the academics and taxpayers who were responsible for its creation have to pay to read it. This is not merely absurd and unjust; it also hampers education and research.

I expect that universities will begin to compete for prestige as the publishers of top open access journals, instead of as subscribers to expensive pay-for-access journals.