Academic publishers make Murdoch look like a socialist

The Guardian has a short opinion piece on academic publishers, calling them “the most ruthless capitalists in the western world”.  The author, George Monbiot, compares spending £1 for 24 hours of access to the Times with a per article cost ranging from $31.50 for an individual Elsevier article to $42 for a Wiley-Blackwell article. He notes that journals are now 65% of library budgets (we spend a similar percentage at The University of Iowa). Elsevier’s profit margin was 36% in 2010, the same as in 1998, demonstrating that this is not a new phenomenon. Elsevier, Springer and Wiley have bought smaller publishers, so they now account for 42% of journal articles, including many with the highest impact factors.

The author states:

“Academic papers are published in only one place, and they have to be read by researchers trying to keep up with their subject. Demand is inelastic and competition non-existent, because different journals can’t publish the same material. . . . Far from assisting the dissemination of research, the big publishers impede it, as their long turnaround times can delay the release of findings by a year or more.”

While this issue is bad for researchers at universities, it is even worse for independent researchers who would need to purchase each article separately.

“This is a tax on education, a stifling of the public mind. It appears to contravene the universal declaration of human rights, which says that ‘everyone has the right freely to … share in scientific advancement and its benefits’.”

Monobiot concludes with the suggestion that all publicly funded research be made openly accessible (as is current practice with NIH funded research) and that there would be a single global archive of academic literature and data funded by library budgets with money diverted from the private publishers.