Economics of Publishing Category


Iowa Provost Barry Butler signs open statement supporting accessible scholarship and opposing RWA

University of Iowa Provost Barry Butler and ten other University Provosts from Big Ten institutions have issued a public statement opposing the Research Works Act and supporting taxpayer access to federally funded research results, such as that mandated by NIH.

“Because of our strong belief in open sharing of information, we were disturbed to see that recently introduced legislation (The Research Works Act, H.R. 3699) called for a rollback of the progress being made toward opening communication channels for sharing publicly funded research findings with the American people. Were this bill to pass, it would reverse a 2008 administrative mandate by the National Institutes of Health that grantees deposit the results of their funded research in a publicly accessible archive, and prohibit other agencies from issuing similar mandates going forward. We believe that this legislation would significantly undermine access to the new ideas that result from government-funded research, access that we encourage to the public at-large, to a worldwide network of leading scholars, and to future generations of scholars who are today’s undergraduate and graduate students. In our view, ratification of the proposed legislation would represent a step backward in the ongoing enlightenment of society through research and education”

The Provosts’ call for a “local agenda” on their respective campuses is especially encouraging for those long engaged with these issues:

“In addition to our concern about the impact external entities have in shaping the research and communication agenda of our universities, we are cognizant that senior campus administrators and faculty leaders could be working more effectively to ensure that their own campus policies are aligned with professed campus norms. Some examples of how we might do more to influence campus behaviors include:

  • Encouraging faculty members to retain enough rights in their published intellectual property that they can share it with colleagues and students, deposit it in open access repositories, and repurpose it for future research.
  • Ensuring that promotion and tenure review are flexible enough to recognize and reward new modes of communicating research outcomes.
  • Ensuring that our own university presses and scholarly societies are creating models of scholarly publishing that unequivocally serve the research and educational goals of our universities, and/or the social goals of our communities.
  • Encouraging libraries and faculty to work together to assess the value of purchased or licensed content, and the appropriate terms governing its use.”

Read more:
Inside Higher Ed


Local costs for journals

A boycott of Elsevier journals has been growing to show opposition to their support of the Research Works Act and their 36% profits (see Research Bought, Then Paid For – an Op-Ed in the New York Times, Elsevier boycott gains momentum, Elsevier responds to the boycott, and “Of goats and headaches”–The Economist on journal publishing for previous posts on these issues ).

There have also been prominent articles about the lack of public accessibility of academic research, such as “Locked in the Ivory Tower: Why JSTOR Imprisons Academic Research”  which appeared in The Atlantic on Jan 20, 2012. This particular article points to JSTOR as an example of the “broken economics of academic publishing”. Nancy Sims from University of Minnesota wrote “Academic publishing is full of problems; lets get them right” which is a good response to the Atlantic article, correcting some of the specifics.

Since that time, we have seen faculty taking note of the cost of some e-journal packages and collections of titles, most notably the $2.9 million figure from Purdue when that institution came close to cancelling their Elsevier package in December. (“Purdue re-signs contract for online scholastic access” )

In order to keep Iowa faculty informed about the cost of journals from a variety of sources, we offer these figures for University of Iowa costs from FY 2011:

 Publisher  Cost # of Titles
Elsevier  $       1,641,530


Wiley/Blackwell  $           868,031


Springer  $           607,540


Sage  $           243,647


JSTOR  $             97,602


Cambridge UP  $             43,940


Project Muse  $             33,210


Oxford UP  $             21,313


Please note that the JSTOR figure is for back content (the so-called moving wall), not current issues.

The following chart offers another way to view the relative size shares of the pie different publishers receive from our acquisitions budget (the denominator for these percentages is total spending on e-journals). The data is slightly older than that used above.


Open access, federally funded research and anthropology

An article by Steve Kolowich  in today’s Inside Higher Education discusses the results of the recent call from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy for comments on the government’s role in providing open access to the results of federally funded research. The second half of the article recounts reactions to the comments provided by the American Anthroplogical Association (which opposed requirements like that of the NIH).

“Much of the feedback came from two camps: libraries and universities, on the one hand; and scholarly associations and the companies that publish their peer-reviewed journals, on the other. A casual survey of the letters suggests that the feedback largely breaks along familiar lines — librarians arguing for quicker and easier access to research, and publishers offering suggestions for better access while discouraging measures that might threaten their subscription revenues.”

“A letter sent by the executive director of one such “learned society,” the American of Anthropological Association (AAA), generated some discontent from some of the more vocal open-access advocates in its rank-and-file.”

Read more:
Inside Higher Ed


Elsevier responds to the boycott

As the number of signers of the Elsevier boycott passed 2,400 (see yesterday’s blog post–the total this morning is over 2,600), an Elsevier spokesman responded, as reported in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

“Over the past 10 years, our prices have been in the lowest quartile in the publishing industry,” said Alicia Wise, Elsevier’s director of universal access. “Last year our prices were lower than our competitors’. I’m not sure why we are the focus of this boycott, but I’m very concerned about one dissatisfied scientist, and I’m concerned about 2,000.”

Boycotters dispute the claim:

Protesters disagree, and say Elsevier is emblematic of an abusive publishing industry. “The government pays me and other scientists to produce work, and we give it away to private entities,” says Brett S. Abrahams, an assistant professor of genetics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. “

Web site for the boycott is here:


Elsevier boycott gains momentum

A boycott aimed at the publisher Elsevier, initiated by Timothy Gowers, a prominent mathematician from the University of Cambridge, has picked up support in recent days, attracting as of Jan. 31 at 4 pm CST over 2350 signatures. One of the motivations for his call for a boycott was Elsevier’s support for the Research Works Act (RWA–see our blog post of January 11th).

Writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education Josh Fischman reports:

 “Timothy Gowers of the University of Cambridge, who won the Fields Medal for his research, has organized a boycott of Elsevier because, he says, its pricing and policies restrict access to work that should be much more easily available. . . The company has sinned in three areas, according to the boycotters: It charges too much for its journals; it bundles subscriptions to lesser journals together with valuable ones, forcing libraries to spend money to buy things they don’t want in order to get a few things they do want; and, most recently, it has supported a proposed federal law (called the Research Works Act) that would prevent agencies like the National Institutes of Health from making all articles written by its grant recipients freely available.

For the full Chronicle article see

The boycott’s web site (where you can sign of if you’re so minded) is


Open access might not be the real issue issue for the future of research communication

Dr. David Rosenthal, engineer and co-creater of LOCKSS (Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe) recently spoke on the topic of Open Access at the University of British Columbia.

He choseto look at five audiences where OA may have an effect: general public, researchers, libraries, publishers, and software developers.  He discusses his thoughts on peer-review or in his opinion bad peer-reviewing and whether or not open access increases or decreases bad research publishing; the creation of the big deal journal bundling by publishers to fight off the cost decrease due to the transition to Web publishing and lack of library initiative to fight off the big deals; and how the increase of OA data versus OA articles might be more beneficial for researchers.  Essentially, he believes a combination of reducing publication costs, finding new technology driven publishing models, less restrictions on intellectual property and publishing of better quality articles may be the issues that face the future of research and that OA may just be a way to work on those real issues.

The full transcript of this talk can be found on his blog:


OA week continues: Michael Eisen on PLoS One’s success

PLoS One, an author-pays open access journal, has achieved great success while offering a new model for peeer review and rapid publication. It is tied for second among journals in frequency of publication by Iowa authors, and comes in third for number of citations to articles published by Iowa researchers. Michael Eisen in this blog post comments on its success and the imitators it has spawned in its wake:

“So it has given me considerable pleasure to watch, over the past year or so, as one traditional publisher after another has responded to the smashing success of PLoS One by launching direct ripoffs that seek to capitalize on the business model we have established.”

See “PLoS Won” 

Clones mentioned by Eisen include:






Open Access Week begins today–take a quiz (courtesy of CUNY)

Today marks the beginning of Open Access Week. Open Access publishing is in part a response to the high cost of scholarly journals published by traditional means. To test your knowledge of journal publishing economics, try this quiz posted by CUNY:

When you get to question 4 you may not realize that the example cited there of a reasonably priced journal–Medieval Feminist Forum–is published for the Society that issues it by the University of Iowa Libraries.


Princeton joins Harvard, MIT with open access mandate

As widely reported online, Princeton’s faculty recently voted unanimously to adopt an open access policy for work by faculty published in scholarly journals. The faculty committee recommending the measure declared that  “[t]he principle of open access is consistent with the fundamental purposes of scholarship.”

Princeton joins Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Kansas and others who have approved and implemented policies that seek to have faculty and other researchers post copies of their articles in open digital repositories, usually institutional repositories such as Iowa Research Online. Like the other policies, Princeton’s allows authors to request a waiver, and does not cover unpublished drafts, books, lecture notes and the like.

See this Chronicle of Higher Education article for more details.


New York Times article on scholarly journals & open access publishing

An article in the New York Times of September 18th describes growing resistance to high-cost, commercially produced journals. It opens with the following: 

After decades of healthy profits, the scholarly publishing industry now finds itself in the throes of a revolt led by the most unlikely campus revolutionaries: the librarians.

Primary focus is the pushback in the UK to package deals with Elsevier and similar publishers, and the growth of open access publishing. The article quotes Sir John Daniel, president of the Commonwealth of Learning:

“I’ve seen it from both sides,” said Sir John, who was once briefly on the board of Blackwell. “I saw the vast industry built up from publicly funded research, and it was never clear to me what value was being added. But if you needed the material, they had you over a barrel.”

His view that open access scholarly publishing is a matter of international justice has become increasingly influential.

The UI Libraries plan to observe open access week, which this year begins on October 24th.