Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Harvard Challenges Academic Publishing Cartel

The Guardian -- "Exasperated by rising subscription costs charged by academic publishers, Harvard University has encouraged its faculty members to make their research freely available through open access journals and to resign from publications that keep articles behind paywalls. A memo from Harvard Library to 2,100 teaching and research staff called for action after warning it could no longer afford the price hikes imposed by many large journal publishers, which bill the library $3.75m a year.

The extraordinary move thrusts one of the world's wealthiest and most prestigious institutions into the center of an increasingly fraught debate over access to the results of academic research, much of which is funded by the taxpayer. The outcome of Harvard's decision to take on the publishers will be watched closely by major universities around the world and is likely to prompt others to follow suit.

The memo from Harvard's faculty advisory council said major publishers had created an "untenable situation" at the university by making scholarly interaction "fiscally unsustainable" and "academically restrictive", while drawing profits of 35% or more. Prices for online access to articles from two major publishers have increased 145% over the past six years, with some journals costing as much as $40,000, the memo said.

More than 10,000 academics have already joined a boycott of Elsevier, the huge Dutch publisher, in protest at its journal pricing and access policies. Many university libraries pay more than half of their journal budgets to the publishers Elsevier, Springer and Wiley."


At 4/26/2012 8:59 AM, Blogger Moe said...

3.75 million a year? even for Harvard, that seems high.

We fund the research and then pay through the nose again...really?

At 4/26/2012 10:41 AM, Blogger Buddy R Pacifico said...

I am not in academia (duh,) but it seems that the one thing missing in self publishing is rigourous peer review.

MIT Libraries publishes campus papers but they are not peer reviewed.

Other open publishing sites offer comments sections, but these can go off the rails via personal agendas. Also, constant revisions of the original papers can take place on-line by the authors. The original article should be up to open scrutiny by peers-heavy and peers-lite.

At 4/26/2012 10:53 AM, Blogger Larry G said...

I agree. It's not the physical paper per se - it's the process of vetting and peer reviewing that probably adds to the costs.

It's certainly very possible to conduct online reviews.

I know some are not particularly enamored of WikiPedia in terms of how they work through comments and disagreements but I think the core of their process is on the right track.

Academicians of course are a lot more particular about all manner of content and details.

In offline often might end up with separate folders of comments, rather than online interaction where there might actually be direct communication between different reviewers.

What Wiki seems to try to do on direct interaction in areas of disagreement is to find the areas of agreement - and then note the areas of disagreement with "pro" and "con" narratives.

I've heard others say that the Wiki process is not all milk and honey and that some arbitrary editorial actions take place.

At 4/26/2012 12:41 PM, Blogger Benjamin Cole said...

The glacial speed with which universities are migrating to free online publishing...makes me wonder what sorts of people are in academia. These are high IQ people?

Maybe the conservatives are right---universities are full of tweed-jackered pinheads.

At 4/26/2012 12:54 PM, Blogger CS said...

Harvard University, with total revenues of over $3 billion, cannot afford 3.75 million for journal subscriptions.


What a miserable bunch of pikers.

The reason scholars at top universities publish in top (subscription based) journals is that everyone in a particular field reads the top (subscription based) journals in that field.

Open access journals are not free. There is a publication charge paid by the author.

So what Harvard University Library wants is for its top researchers to publish in second tier open access journals at their own expense so the librarians have more cash to spend on whatever it is that librarians, not scholars, want.

At 4/26/2012 2:59 PM, Blogger Ed R said...

If the article writers are free to publish in whatever journals will accept them how are the publishers acting as a cartel??

Is there restricted entry or something else going on??

At 4/27/2012 10:42 AM, Blogger CS said...

Re: How are publishers acting as a cartel?

The answer is they are not. They operate in a competitive market, where libraries with limited budgets have to decide among ten thousand or so significant scholarly journals which ones they will subscribe to.

A competent librarian will make decisions on the basis of some measure of value for money. Where journal use is mainly online, downloads per subscription dollar provide one measure of value for money. Some libraries do use measures of this kind, thereby restricting the ability of publishers to raise prices.

However librarians are often reluctant to acknowledge sunk costs in journals that receive little use. Thus journal series going back decades are maintained in a collection, while potentially more useful journals are not taken even on a trial basis.

If library budgets become so restricted that even important subscription-financed journals cease to be widely distributed, then author paid open access journals will flourish. So perhaps that is the way forward: to cut the Harvard University Library budget by $3.75 million.


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