Hi Everyone - Because the issues and challenges of Open Access publishing is sometimes discussed in our communities, I wanted to share an impressive article that just came out in
The Guardian. It has some important background, history and insights. For example, they cite a 2005 Deutsche Bank report that refers to the scientific publishing industry as a “bizarre” “triple-pay” system, in which “the
state funds most research, pays the salaries of most of those checking the quality of research, and then buys most of the published product”. Below I've cut-and-pasted that quote
in the full context. I think the text below captures what is the fundamental, and frustrating, problem. But the entire article is worth the read. Frankly,
until those of us who write/review the scholarly articles collectively agree to stand up to the publishers, and boycott, not just submitting to them, but also reviewing/editing for them, no real change will happen. That's
sad given that they need us more than we need them. The collective "academy" is just to complacent to do anything about it.
"In 2010, Elsevier’s scientific publishing arm reported profits of £724m on just over £2bn in revenue. It was a 36% margin – higher than Apple, Google, or Amazon posted that year. But
Elsevier’s business model seemed a truly puzzling thing. In order to make money, a traditional publisher – say, a magazine – first has to cover a multitude of costs: it pays writers for the articles; it employs editors to commission, shape and check the articles;
and it pays to distribute the finished product to subscribers and retailers. All of this is expensive, and successful magazines typically make profits of around 12-15%. The way to make
money from a scientific article looks very similar, except that scientific publishers manage to duck most of the actual costs. Scientists create work under their own direction – funded largely by governments – and give it to publishers for free; the publisher
pays scientific editors who judge whether the work is worth publishing and check its grammar, but the bulk of the editorial burden – checking the scientific validity and evaluating the experiments, a process known as peer review – is done by working scientists
on a volunteer basis. The publishers then sell the product back to government-funded institutional and university libraries, to be read by scientists – who, in a collective sense, created the product in the first place. It
is as if the New Yorker or the Economist demanded that journalists write and edit each other’s work for free, and asked the government to foot the bill. Outside observers tend to fall into a sort of stunned disbelief when
describing this setup. A 2004 parliamentary science and technology committee report on the industry drily observed that “in a traditional market suppliers are paid for the goods they provide”. A 2005 Deutsche Bank report referred to it as a “bizarre” “triple-pay”
system, in which “the state funds most research, pays the salaries of most of those checking the quality of research, and then buys most of the published product”. Scientists are well aware that they seem to be getting
a bad deal. The publishing business is “perverse and needless”, the Berkeley biologist Michael Eisen wrote in a 2003 article for the Guardian, declaring that it “should be a public scandal”. Adrian
Sutton, a physicist at Imperial College, told me that scientists “are all slaves to publishers. What other industry receives its raw materials from its customers, gets those same customers to carry out the quality control of those materials, and then sells
the same materials back to the customers at a vastly inflated price?” (A representative of RELX Group, the official name of Elsevier since 2015, told me that it and other publishers “serve the research community by doing
things that they need that they either cannot, or do not do on their own, and charge a fair price for that service”.)"
Is the staggeringly profitable business of scientific publishing bad for science?
It is an industry like no other, with profit margins to rival Google – and it was created by one of Britain’s most notorious tycoons: Robert Maxwell.
By Stephen Buranyi
Stephen M. Fiore, Ph.D.
Director, Cognitive Sciences Laboratory, Institute for Simulation & Training (http://csl.ist.ucf.edu/)
University of Central Florida