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Dear Authors, Don’t Feed the Beast

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If you’re reading this, you probably already know that scholarly publishing is broken. Yes, it “works” for some people, some of the time. If you’re a for-profit publisher you’re probably raking in a 30-40% profit margin (Taylor). I doubt you think that’s a “broken” model. But if you’re an employee of a university, it’s broken and you’re broke … even if you don’t know it. Your university cannot afford to subscribe to the journal literature that your faculty and students want to read–in many cases, your university cannot afford to subscribe to the literature that your faculty and students write. You’re so broke that there’s really no way to crawl out of the hole you’re in–go ahead, raise tuition again, underpay a bunch of adjuncts, force your STM faculty to bring in their salaries in grants, and stop hiring people to teach classes in the humanities. Do it if you want to, but that’s not going to help. Why? Because:

  • Journal prices rise annually by 6-7%–a similar increase is expected for 2016 (Bosch & Henderson).
  • The average price to subscribe to a single journal will top $2,000 in this year.
  • The average price for journal subscriptions in the sciences is absurd. The average price for journals in Chemistry and Physics in 2015 was $4,276.00 USD.
  • What does that really mean? If our gasoline prices had increased over the years at the same rate, we’d now be paying more than $30.00 per gallon. Would you even bother to own a car in that world? (Odell).
  • For-profit publishers have increased their monopoly control on the journal literature you write and read. More than 50% of all articles published are owned by just five companies–70% if you’re in the Social Sciences. (Larivière, Haustein, & Mongeon)
  • Authors do not get royalties for journal articles & they generally do not own copyrights for their work published in journals–which explains, in part, that 40% profit margin.
  • Even so, some subscription journals charge authors page, color, and submission fees. The Journal for Clinical Dentistry, for example, charges authors $800.00 USD per page and then hides the article from all but subscribers. Perhaps that was the only way to publish a glossy print mag for dentists in the 1980s, but JCD is currently ignoring the existence of the Internet & living in a fantasy world where people still read print journals. (JCD)
  • Electronic distribution be-damned, page charges continue to burden university budgets. One institution found that they were paying another 15%-18% on top of the price of subscriptions for page charges in pay-walled journals (Gray).
  • Never missing an opportunity to double-bill and price-gouge their customers, many subscription journal publishers offer authors a choice to make their article open access … for a fee, of course. Libraries call these “Hybrid Open Access” journals, but it should be called predatory publishing.
  • The same big, for-profit publishers charge a typical fee of $3,000 per article if authors want to take advantage of the OA “option”–in 2014 the average Hybrid-OA fee was estimated to be $2,727 USD (Bjork & Solomon). That’s more than the university is probably paying for a subscription. Is it any wonder that the funders are threatening to turn off the tap? (Matthews).
  • Meanwhile, readers want access to your article. Information inequities are so bad that some researchers have a stark choice–starve (go without the literature they need to do research, make good public policy, and treat patients) or break the law (use a pirated copy they found with #icanhazpdf, ResearchGate, or SciHub) (Gardner & Gardner; Murphy)
  • Is it any wonder, then, that by one estimate, the average journal article has fewer than 10 readers? (Biswas & Kirchherr).

So, dear scholarly authors, why do you do it? Why do you give your labor away to publishers that make good profits on your work at the expense of your employers, tax payers, and students? Why do you give your articles to companies that hold your work for ransom? Why do you feed the beast?

You have options. They’re not as hard as you think. Look for best journal for your readers and for the future of your profession. Don’t believe the myths. Look for the evidence. P&T is not the problem you think it is. Self-archive your peer-reviewed manuscripts in an institutional repository, like IUPUI ScholarWorks, for free. Choose a trusted, affordable OA journal. Think before you submit.

Don’t feed the beast.

References

Biswas, A., & Kirchherr, J. (2015, April 9). Citations are not enough: Academic promotion panels must take into account a scholar’s presence in popular media. Retrieved from http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2015/04/09/academic-promotion-scholars-popular-media/

Björk, B.-C., & Solomon, D. (2014). Developing an effective market for open access article processing charges. Retrieved from http://www.fnr.lu/en/content/download/11999/65286/version/1/file/Open+Access+Final+Report_130314.pdf

Bosch, S., & Henderson, K. (2015, April 23). Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On | Periodicals Price Survey 2015. Library Journal, 140(7), 35. http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2015/04/publishing/whole-lotta-shakin-goin-on-periodicals-price-survey-2015/

Gardner, C. C., & Gardner, G. J. (2016). Fast and Furious (at Publishers): The Motivations behind Crowdsourced Research Sharing. College & Research Libraries, crl16–840. http://crl.acrl.org/content/early/2016/02/25/crl16-840.short

Gray, A. (2015). Considering Non-Open Access Publication Charges in the “Total Cost of Publication.” Publications, 3(4), 248–262. http://doi.org/10.3390/publications3040248

The Journal of Clinical Dentistry – Information for Authors. (2015, May 28). Retrieved March 26, 2016, from https://web.archive.org/web/20150528200811/http://www.jclindent.com/Information.html

Larivière, V., Haustein, S., & Mongeon, P. (2015). The Oligopoly of Academic Publishers in the Digital Era. PLOS ONE, 10(6), e0127502. http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0127502

Matthews, D. (2016, March 24). Wellcome criticises publishers over open access. Times Higher Education (THE). Retrieved from https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/wellcome-criticises-publishers-over-open-access

Murphy, K. (2016, March 12). Should All Research Papers Be Free? The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/13/opinion/sunday/should-all-research-papers-be-free.html

Odell, J. D. (2016). The Lewis Journals-to-Gas-Price Inflation Index, Chemistry and Physics 2015.https://dx.doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.3081787.v1

Taylor, M. (2012, January 13). The obscene profits of commercial scholarly publishers. Retrieved from http://svpow.com/2012/01/13/the-obscene-profits-of-commercial-scholarly-publishers/

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Written by Jere

March 26, 2016 at 11:34 am

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