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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.


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

Björk, B.-C., & Solomon, D. (2014). Developing an effective market for open access article processing charges. Retrieved from

Bosch, S., & Henderson, K. (2015, April 23). Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On | Periodicals Price Survey 2015. Library Journal, 140(7), 35.

Gardner, C. C., & Gardner, G. J. (2016). Fast and Furious (at Publishers): The Motivations behind Crowdsourced Research Sharing. College & Research Libraries, crl16–840.

Gray, A. (2015). Considering Non-Open Access Publication Charges in the “Total Cost of Publication.” Publications, 3(4), 248–262.

The Journal of Clinical Dentistry – Information for Authors. (2015, May 28). Retrieved March 26, 2016, from

Larivière, V., Haustein, S., & Mongeon, P. (2015). The Oligopoly of Academic Publishers in the Digital Era. PLOS ONE, 10(6), e0127502.

Matthews, D. (2016, March 24). Wellcome criticises publishers over open access. Times Higher Education (THE). Retrieved from

Murphy, K. (2016, March 12). Should All Research Papers Be Free? The New York Times. Retrieved from

Odell, J. D. (2016). The Lewis Journals-to-Gas-Price Inflation Index, Chemistry and Physics 2015.

Taylor, M. (2012, January 13). The obscene profits of commercial scholarly publishers. Retrieved from

Written by Jere

March 26, 2016 at 11:34 am

Moving the Beast: Open Access and the Market

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With Open Access Week approaching, I have been flipping through articles and dreaming of solutions to the economic troubles facing academic libraries. Needless to say, I believe in the cause–information should be widely accessible; knowledge should be “free.” This assertion, however, does not help us answer the question of who is going to pay the bills.

Along these lines, at the end of an article reporting the results of a large survey of editors (n=998) using Open Journal Systems, Edgar and Willinsky make a rousing gesture toward a radical change in the market. After noting that “$8 billion [is] devoted annually for science, technology, and medicine journals alone,” the authors conclude:

Such an investment may appear better directed toward underwriting, for the benefit of humankind, universal access to the scholarly literature. Were the academic community willing, there is enough money on the table … to make this a reality in the years ahead (Edgar, B. D., & Willinsky, J. (2010). A Survey of Scholarly Journals Using Open Journal Systems. Scholarly and Research Communication, 1(2). p. 18. Retrieved from

Well then, let’s do it. Or, to be less to the point, what would it take for the academic community to be willing to make this change in how it pays for scholarly communication? Why do universities subscribe to over-priced titles from commercial publishers? I have always assumed (and I would be gladly corrected) it’s a matter of reputation–in large part, it’s keeping-up-with-the-Joneses at the research university level. True, expensive journals do (often?) publish important research and scholars do need access to this research, but why do we need an expensive journal for this job–why not an open access journal? When people stop using expensive titles (to read, to publish, to evaluate faculty productivity), universities will be free to spend their money elsewhere. This sounds like a long term, economic and cultural revolution–perhaps it’s coming, but I expect a lot of disgruntled faculty on the way. See, for example, how dropping an expensive point-of-need, clinical reference tool quickly produces outraged patrons in the medical library. Imagine this battle waged title by title or bundle by bundle!

If change is coming, and I hope it is, it’s time for libraries to get prepared. In my opinion, libraries have a long way to go if they want to compete a publishers. Institutional repositories and open-source journal software have come a long way in recent years and are now trusted tools. But imagine what we could do with a little more support! Perhaps small chunks of the subscription budget could be redirected (without too much screaming from faculty) to develop prototypes to compete with commercial publishing platforms. The money would support better marketing (if it makes you feel better, call it “advocacy” or “outreach”) and slicker interfaces. If reputation is a key driver of faculty adoption, we need scholarly communication services which fit the bill.

Written by Jere

October 10, 2012 at 5:57 pm

LIS: Writing About What Works?

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This little aside in a review from Judith Seiss caught my attention recently:

Tales of Technology Innovation Gone Wrong, by Mary Mallery. – It is very unusual for anyone to write about what didn’t work, but Mallery has put together a list of failures that we can learn from. She even says, “technology is not the best solution for every problem in a library”—what a concept! There are good sidebars on issues to consider before and after innovating. Well worth a read. – Computers in Libraries 28(4):22-25, April 2008

Is it true? Do LIS writers usually report what works? Without more than an occasional comment from a peer or two and my own sense of the literature to back me up, I think so. If true, why? Why does LIS literature (if Seiss is correct) lean toward to the positive? The how-we-done-it-right articles? Tenure? Job security? Some urge to prove to one’s budget minders that the librarian’s work is worth it? More importantly, if this assessment is accurate, is this a healthy paradigm for the discipline?

Written by Jere

April 24, 2008 at 11:52 pm