Daniel Lemire's blog

, 8 min read

Putting the evil academic publishers in perspective

7 thoughts on “Putting the evil academic publishers in perspective”

  1. luca says:

    There is one more issue often overlooked: publishers do not charge only for work done by authors, there is one more thing they do: select some papers from the rest to publish. the quality of their selection criteria can be questioned, but frankly, a completely random choice of a handful of papers every week would still be a far better option in terms of reader efficiency than trying to sail the vast sea of extremely bad quality papers (go check out a journal that no one reads and you will see).
    and high-impact journals are still doing a job better than random, and the publisher-free world did not come up with a viable solution for the selection problem so far. partial solutions exist, ideas exist about how to do this on the large scale, but no successful implementations so far. i hope to be proven wrong in this point as soon as possible.

  2. trylks says:

    I guess this puts things in a North-American perspective.

    I guess this is one of those days I wish I had found a way to move there. I should have focused on that when I was 20, but I was young and confused. Now I’m only confused.

    Anyway, there are many universities out of North-America that have to pay to publishers, Microsoft and many other American companies. Open publishing does not help much when the authors have to pay for it, as that basically prevents poorer countries from entering the system at a different level, a level at which they can observe, cite and make “suggestions” (in open places like arxiv.org) about what should be done next in the “1st world research”.

    In short, in a different perspective, these amounts of money that may be negligible in some cases may be significant in others, and due to this difference they may be one of the causes of a growing gap.

  3. @trylks

    I do not think that there is a growing gap between the universities in poor countries and the universities in rich countries. I believe that the opposite is true… if only because the wealth gap between rich and poor countries is closing.

  4. qznc says:

    This “expensive library is for prestige” idea sounds convincing. However, imho younger researchers tend to ignore this. Personally, my only interaction with my universities library/publisher is when I mail them a tech report. Of course, I use the ACM/Springer/IEEE digital libraries, which feature a little banner that my university pays. At least in computer science though, I could get all papers via Google or mail-to-author as well.

    So maybe it requires one or two generations, but then the rent-instead-of-buy generation takes over.

  5. Luis says:

    I would frame it differently. Most universities would love to avoid paying journal subscriptions (in our case 5M/year) and use that for something more useful. However, we academics have moved from using journals to communicate (which we could perfectly do with blog posts) to signalling for promotion/funding purposes.

    I don’t think Elsevier is any worse than the other big publishers (my current issue is with Springer, which was for a while selling one of my Open Access articles). At the same time, I look forward to the day that we make all articles freely available; people already payed for their production through taxes. Given that writing the articles, their selection and editorial process is already done by volunteers I do not see why we can’t just publish them for very close to free.

  6. I do not worry about Elsevier being evil.
    It is a corporation with a clear mission of maximizing its own profit: there is nothing inherently bad with that.

    On the other hand, scientists have a different mission: to extend human knowledge as much as possible.

    For a long time, those two missions were complementary, since the publishers crafted the publications from a raw (from a typographic point of view) version, and they provided the only feasible and reliable distribution channel, i.e. selling to libraries.

    Now that the authors can (and usually are required to) provide the final publishable version of a paper and that the Internet provides an alternative, cheaper, and more reliable distribution channel, the role of academic publisher has changed.

    In economic words, the utility of academic publishers has greatly decreased, but their cost is not.
    On the long run, this calls for some changes.

    Elsevier is not singled out because it is more evil than, say, Springer, but because it is the one for which the gap between cost and utility is increased the most.

  7. Greg Albizzati says:

    It is maybe worth pointing out that many colleges are themselves academic publishers (e.g., Oxford University Press). These college-based publishers are not shy about charging the full amount for their goods. Whenever I see a book priced upward of $40 on Amazon, it is almost always from an academic publisher. So, at a minimum, colleges are complicit in the business of overcharging for academic work.

    The only difference is that $40 is the price of a big thick book that goes into the depth of a topic. I think considering the amount of knowledge inside, it’s acceptable.
    However $40 for a single article of 4 pages sold by Elsevier, I think it’s unacceptable. If a page was really worth $10 an average academic book of 500 pages would be worth $5000.

    I agree that there is perspective to take in account, but even though it does attenuate the “evil” vision people have, it still stays beyond acceptable in my opinion.

    Nice article otherwise 🙂