Monbiot has a nice article in the Guardian today about academic publishing. It’s a pretty dry subject but he does a good job of highlighting the issues.
Monbiot misses out one of the steps where publishers rake in money – page charges – so I thought I’d have a go at making a timeline of paper publishing to show what the publishers get for free.
- Do some research, usually directly funded by a research council grant or indirectly via a permanent academic appointment.
- Write a paper and submit it to a journal. The publishers pay nothing for the article.
- An editor or associate editor (usually an academic who is not paid by the publishers) makes an initial assessment of the paper and sends it out to reviewers.
- Reviewers (usually 2 or more academics who are not paid by the publishers) spend as long as they like assessing the paper, suggesting revisions and recommending publication or otherwise.
- Editor makes a decision. Not many papers are published as submitted at this stage.
- Author revises the paper in light of reviews and sends back to the editor.
- The paper may be reviewed again (and again!)
- Paper accepted! Author generally signs away copyright and, in some cases, pays the publisher page charges (sometimes £1000s) to get the paper published.
- Other people want to read the paper and have to pay the journal subscription costs for the pleasure.
It is quite a parasitic relationship as, apart from type setting and copy editing, publishers get the “product” for free and then usually charge to publish it and/or to distribute it. Many journal don’t even bother with a printed version anymore!
It feels like something needs to change.