Whither Academic Publishing?
“Two weeks ago, we aired our monthly conversation with social media analysts Nathan Jurgenson and P.J. Rey. They’re Ph.D. students in sociology at the University of Maryland, and they talked about why they see the current model of academic publishing as outdated. It’s still dominated by expensive print journals, and they talked about researchers’ efforts to bring prestige to online, open-access journals, which would threaten the print model. We received the following intriguing letter from Dr. Bradley Alger of Baltimore. He’s a professor of physiology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. [The following text is excerpted from Dr.Bradley’s letter] ‘Along with many of my colleagues, I am strongly in favor of ‘open access’ publishing... and I publish with increasing regularity in open access journals... Regarding the ‘high costs of publishing’. It was mentioned that the editors of many journals are either unpaid or nominally paid and that the authors are completely unpaid. What was not noted was that the major labor in the scientific publishing business, after that of the authors themselves, is performed by the reviewers of the journal articles... and they are entirely unpaid... This brings us to the issue of the ‘high costs’: if the editors, the authors and reviewers are not paid, or paid little, what costs so much?... What I can do is to recommend an article that appeared in the British newspaper, The Guardian, some months ago... The author of the piece claims, and cites figures that show, that academic publishing is one of the most lucrative businesses on earth, with profit margins that are currently in excess of 35% per year, and have been for many years. It is essentially a recession proof endeavor... Your guests today seem to have a pretty good idea of the importance of the particular journals to the academic researcher... he stature of the journal is the shorthand for the (perceived) quality of our work and indeed of ourselves. Academic researchers are constantly being evaluated (for jobs, for promotions, for grant support, for awards, etc.) ... Credentialing by a big name journal could be supplanted, in principle, by an approach that tracked other measures of the ‘impact’ of the scientific work itself. For instance the numbers of citations it is given by other scientists, the recognition it wins...’”