Inequality in Knowledge Production: The Integration of Academic Infrastructure by Big Publishers
peter.suber's bookmarks 2019-04-04
Abstract: As major academic publishers’ have redirected their business strategies to open access and alternative paying structures, it could be argued that this represents a move towards more democratic access to knowledge. However, this paper problematizes this claim by documenting and examining what has been a simultaneous redirection of big publishers’ business strategy towards the acquisition and integration of scholarly infrastructure, the tools and services that underpin the scholarly research life cycle, many of which are geared towards data analytics. We argue that moves toward openness and increased control of scholarly infrastructure are simultaneous processes of rent-seeking which could further entrench publishers’ power and exacerbate the vulnerability of already marginalized researchers and institutions.
This paper’s primary objective is to systematically document economic concentration in the academic publishing industry in order to situate recent shifts towards the acquisition of scholarly infrastructures and evaluate its implications for inequality in knowledge production. We hypothesize that recent shifts have been possible because of an already disproportionate publisher ownership of academic content and that the implications include increased dependence by researchers and institutions as well as the construction of an unequal scholarly communications landscape making it harder for alternative services and products to succeed in the industry. The paper proposes to examine this claim by undertaking an empirical case study of the mergers and acquisitions of three of the five major academic publishing companies (RELX–Elsevier, John Wiley & Sons–Wiley Blackwell, Informa–Taylor Francis). The study focuses primarily on the case of Elsevier and Wiley as the companies present a longer history of transitioning towards infrastructure and data analytics.