Monbiot on academic publishing

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.

  1. Do some research, usually directly funded by a research council grant or indirectly via a permanent academic appointment.
  2. Write a paper and submit it to a journal. The publishers pay nothing for the article.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Editor makes a decision. Not many papers are published as submitted at this stage.
  6. Author revises the paper in light of reviews and sends back to the editor.
  7. The paper may be reviewed again (and again!)
  8. Paper accepted! Author generally signs away copyright and, in some cases, pays the publisher page charges (sometimes £1000s) to get the paper published.
  9. 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.

4 Responses to “Monbiot on academic publishing”

  1. James Allan Says:

    One thing worth pointing out is that 8 and 9 don’t necessarily both apply. For instance, Atmospheric Environment (along with many other Elsevier Journals) doesn’t incur page charges (unless you want it printed in colour) but sting the libraries. ACP on the other hand is a free, open access journal that rapes you financially on the page charges. Of course, there are some that hit you both ways such as JGR.

    Myself, I don’t think shifting to an altruistic not-for-profit model would work because without the profit motive, standards would inevitably slip. However, I would be definitely be in favour of the open access business model with page charges being budgeted for in grant applications rather than the prevailing subscription model. This is because it would get disseminated to a wider audience and would also mean the researchers would be less insulated from the true cost of publication. I also think some kind of regulation wouldn’t go amiss, because with choices of journal being primarily based on by impact factors rather than value-for-money, the industry is effectively immune to the conventional market forces that promote healthy competition.

    Oh yeah, and start paying reviewers. 🙂

  2. Tellus moves to open access « Our Clouded Hills Says:

    […] A few months ago Monbiot attacked the academic publishing model, which I largely agreed with. […]

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