From the ABTABL list I learn that the Journal of Theological Studies this year is demanding £277.80 for two issues. This seems rather excessive. In consequence smaller libraries are now considering cancelling their subscription.
In the pre-internet days, the academic journal was the only sensible means to disseminate research. Containing a range of articles written by academics, and edited by one or more academics — all these paid by the taxpayer — the journal article was the only practicable way to circulate this material. The issues were bought almost exclusively by major libraries at universities — also tax funded. The publisher made a profit, of course, but also provided a necessary service. This was, in truth, the only way to circulate the material.
But today? Just why do we need the publisher? Surely the articles could be disseminated in PDF form by the editors, and printed (by those libraries that need them) using services like Lulu? Most academics would probably rather have the articles in JSTOR anyway.
Well we all know why that won’t happen — because everyone is used to the current system. There is tremendous inertia in the system. Libraries might feel that they serve no purposes, without rows of bound volumes. Academics will feel that PDF publication is less real, and might be less useful in the key and necessary role of establishing or maintaining their reputation as professional academics.
The current situation seems to be in no-one’s interest, other than a handful of publishers. It isn’t in the interest of academics to restrict the circulation of their work! It isn’t in the interest of the poor bloody taxpayer to have what he pays for made inaccessible.
In a way, I welcome the new, very high charges. I can hear a sound in the distance, indeed.
It is the sound of a monopolist sawing off the branch he is sitting on.