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expensive academic journals

From the Globe (registration/fees required) comes an article by Elizabeth Church about the price of academic journals, and the emerging movement towards open access academic journals:

This year, the University of Toronto’s library system will spend $20-million on acquisitions. But less than one-third of that money will go to books. The majority will pay for the rising subscription costs of academic journals…

(Too bad, and nicely ironic, that the Globe stuck the article behind a subscription fee).

Anyway, good article, the main point being that U of T spends $13 million on journals every year. Leaving $7 million for books. Jesus.

I recently had a brief exchange about some of these issues with Alexandre in the comment thread of one of Austin’s posts… talking about just this issue, more or less: that anthropolists have much to tell us/much to research about the the evolution of online and real world communities. And yet: a) they are mostly not doing it and b) when they do do it, their findings are published in unavailable academic journals.

It’s very funny the way this is discussed though: peer review is expensive, academic reputations are based on publishing in prestigious journals etc. And yet, academics are not paid for their contributions (or are paid pennies), I don’t know (but I doubt) whether peer reviewers are paid either (can anyone confirm that?).

So journals get their content for free, and charge exorbitant fees for the providing:
a) a ranking/authority service
b) a distribution service

But they in fact are not legitimately charging for content, since they do not pay for the content.


  1. Alexandre Alexandre 2007-07-21

    Open Access (OA) is a very important issue, these days. Been blogging about it myself. The key reference about OA is Stevan Harnad who, as it so happens, resides in Montreal.

    You’re right, academic publishers do not pay peer-reviewers and academic authors rarely, if ever, make any money on their publications (including books). But the issue of Open Access is much deeper than costs. For instance, OA increases visibility which increases a text’s impact. Some of us radical enthusiasts (IOW, those who are crazy idealists like you and me) even think that OA may help bridge the gap between the Ivory Tower and the population at large.

    I’ll look for a copy of this Globe article on Lexis-Nexis but it’s in fact quite sad that the article isn’t freely available. It would make it easier for us to blog it, share it on Facebook, tell our colleagues about it, and potentially increase broader readership of The Globe and Mail.

  2. Hugh Hugh 2007-07-21

    “in fact quite sad that the article isn’t freely available. It would make it easier for us to blog it, share it on Facebook, tell our colleagues about it, and potentially increase broader readership of The Globe and Mail.”

    exactly the reason academic journals should be free online.

  3. Alexandre Alexandre 2007-07-21

    Yep, it’s one reason for OA, related to visibility and impact. There are many other reasons.
    My personal favourite, as an anthropologist, is that OA may mean that our work is available to some of the people with whom we work. Despite the digital divide, people will usually have ways to access online material if it’s valuable to them.
    The archival reason is that it’s much easier to store OA material for a longer time than material from proprietary databases. It’s actually a good argument for XML use as well as an argument for OA. Most academic articles are available as PDF files which may be an issue in the future.
    A more “engineering” approach to OA would have to do with the efficiency of sharing academic articles as opposed to relying on a single publisher’s site (a bit like distributed computing as opposed to supercomputers).
    Then there’s the ease of finding the academic articles themselves and keeping up with that material. Kind of the same effect as adopting standards for publication but taken from a completely different angle.
    Then there’s the control of ownership of the results. Not exactly like copyright, more to do about self-empowerment for the academic community as a whole.
    Many, many other reasons. But several scholars are reluctant. Academia is about as slow to react as Old Media, but for very different reasons.

  4. Hugh Hugh 2007-07-23

    i’ve left off idealism as a convincing motivating force … in favour of pragmatism. OA means: more data exchange, means: more innovative solutions. that is OA will result in “better” = “more useful” academia.

  5. Alexandre Alexandre 2007-07-23

    I would still call your position idealism.

  6. hugh hugh 2007-07-24

    christine says: medical journals make most of their money from pharmaceutical companies that pay the journal to make official reprints of articles favourable to their drugs.

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