Where your money and your articles meet

Continuing the spate of renewed enthusiasm for diagnosing the mess we are in, here is a fantastic article by David Rosenthal, currently at Stanford library. It’s part of a workshop on “The Future of Research Communication” for which he was asked to diagnose what’s wrong. It’s cogent and complete in the form it currently takes, I look forward to the report.

Just a few nuggets to get your outrage on:

  • Rosenthal clearly diagnoses one of the problems with the “bundling” strategy (i.e. giving deep discounts for buying multiple titles, instead of choosing what is needed by a given institutions) that large and small publishers have aggressively pursued. His suggestion is that it is responsible for the dilution of quality, and the proliferation of outlets that might otherwise starve for lack of interest.

  • In terms of peer review, which is done primarily by the same conscientious people over and over again (you’re welcome): “In 2008, a Research Information Network report estimated that the unpaid non-cash costs of peer review, undertaken in the main by academics, is £1.9 billion globally each year.”

  • Wiley-Blackwell’s 2010 results show their academic publishing division had revenues of $987M and pre-tax profit of $405M, a gross margin of 41%. The parent company’s tax rate is 31%. On the same assumption the net profit is $280M; 28 cents of every dollar of subscription goes directly to Wiley’s shareholders.

There is much more to make you weep…


Christopher M. Kelty is a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. He has a joint appointment in the Institute for Society and Genetics, the department of Information Studies and the Department of Anthropology. His research focuses on the cultural significance of information technology, especially in science and engineering. He is the author most recently of Two Bits: The Cultural Significance of Free Software (Duke University Press, 2008), as well as numerous articles on open source and free software, including its impact on education, nanotechnology, the life sciences, and issues of peer review and research process in the sciences and in the humanities.

3 thoughts on “Where your money and your articles meet

  1. Forgive the rushed nature of this post and that I’m putting it on a couple different blogs (Jason Baird Jackson’s, and Savage Minds, and maybe a couple others too).

    Excellent points all. I’ve been sending around the George Monbiot piece; it and the other pieces going up recently are right on. Less than a year until I’m done with my term as Editor-in-Chief of American Anthropologist, but I’m already motivated to try and help with all this in any way I can. Just speaking about AAA journals for a moment: the individual Wiley-Blackwell staff are great people, and I know the publishing world is complex, but the current system is fundamentally wrong in terms of many things, including (1) nonprofit academic labor supporting corporate profits (particularly when the universities are hurting so badly), and (2) the issues of access. There may be multiple paths out of this and some will not involve the AAA, but I think taking a close look at other models for funding the AAA portfolio is important. For those coming to the AAAs, I encourage you to come to the event mentioned below – I’m going to raise as many of these issues as I can and I know other presenters will as well.

    Friday, November 18, 2011: 13:45-17:30

    Deborah L Nichols (Dartmouth College) and T J Ferguson (University of Arizona and Anthropological Research LLC)

    T J Ferguson (Anthropological Research LLC), Donald Brenneis (University of California – Santa Cruz), Cathy L Costin (California State University Northridge), Sally Engle Merry (New York University), Oona Schmid (American Anthropological Association), Rebecca Storey (University of Houston), Mitchell Allen (Alta Mira Press), Tom Boellstorff (University of California – Irvine), Michael F Brown (Williams College), Alessandro Duranti (University of California Los Angeles), Kim Fortun (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute), Roy R Grinker (George Washington University), Jason B Jackson (Indiana University) and Edward Liebow (Battelle)

  2. Yes, excellent points. I’ve also been sending round the Monboit piece both from the Guardian and from his blog because the article on the blog has the references. (The Guardian article doesn’t have references but people have made some interesting comments.)

    What must be remembered is that the real reason that the academic publishers are charging such huge prices is that they far more concerned with big profits and large dividends for their shareholders…but not the authors of the articles that they publish.

    This session sounds really interesting and thanks for providing more information.

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