The Australian on “Scholarly licence to print money”

A correspondent draws my attention to an article in the Australian on the academic publishing business by Colin Steele (Jan. 25, 2012).  It’s sitting behind a paywall, but if you search in Google for “scholarly licence to print money” you can click through to it.

WHO pays the piper in scholarly publishing is a very hot global topic.

If scholarly publishing were to be established de novo in the digital era, the economics would surely be very different from the current model and taxpayers would get a better deal from their funding of university research.

Scholarly publishing, especially for the six or seven huge multi-national journal publishers, is one of the most lucrative global businesses. …

Steele then backs this up by some solid statistics.  The article continues:

The big publishers clearly manage the current peer review system and provide efficient electronic platforms for access but as the UK Office of Fair Trading reported in 2002, “the overall profitability of commercial STM publishing is high . . . by comparison to other commercial journal publishing”.  …

The academic community, supported through the salaries and infrastructure of the institutions, gives away its scholarly content to commercial publishers.

Peer reviewing of millions of articles is then undertaken, almost totally without charge, by that same academic community.

The publishers then impose restrictive copyright regulations on the scholarly content, which they then sell back at ever increasing profit margins to universities which originally created the material. Logical?

Not really.

I wish I could quote the whole article.  It’s very well thought out, and calls for Australian institutions to take back control of the research that they do, that they manage, and which the taxpayer pays for.  It concludes with the following:

Ultimately, the prime issue is surely to disseminate university knowledge, which has been funded by taxpayers, as effectively and openly as possible, rather than for that knowledge simply to continue to be a source for large publisher profits and for manipulable metrics for research assessment exercises.

And who, outside of the academic publishing industry, could disagree with that?

If you can read it, do so.

3 Responses to “The Australian on “Scholarly licence to print money””


  1. Matthew

    Hmm there was an effort to move in this direction in the US recently – died in committee, as the Congressmen were afraid it would kill academic publishing.

    What’s bothersome is that academic writing becomes walled off, since access to these journals on paper is very impractical, and electronically, very expensive.

    So not only is it unfair to the taxpayer who funded the research, but it insulates the research community intellectually from those outside of academia.

  2. Roger Pearse

    It will come, tho. There just is no justification for it any more.

  3. scot mcphee

    Already in the sciences you’ve things like ArXiv