“Taxpayers in the United States spend $139 billion a year on scientific research, yet much of this research is inaccessible not only to the public, but also to other scientists.(a) This is the consequence of an exploitative scientific journal system that rewards academic publishers while punishing taxpayers, scientists, and universities. Fortunately, cheap open-access alternatives are not only possible, but already beginning to take root, suggesting a way forward to a more open and equitable system for sharing research.
Like many scientists, I provide access to my research papers on my website. I view this as a commonsense way to disseminate knowledge, but not everyone shares this view. A few months ago, I received an email from an official at Princeton University, where I attended graduate school, informing me that a lawyer representing the publishing giant Elsevier had demanded the removal of these papers from my website.(b) When I published these papers in Elsevier journals, I was required to hand over the copyrights. Therefore, I had no choice but to remove the papers.
The vast majority of academic papers are published by corporations like Elsevier, and these corporations are thriving: In 2011, Elsevier made $1.1 billion in profit, at a profit margin of 36% (by comparison, Apple’s 2012 profit margin was 35%). This impressive profitability is due in large part to the fact that the content sold by Elsevier is produced, reviewed, and edited on a volunteer basis by academics like me. We consent to this system because our careers depend on publishing in prestigious journals, almost all of which are owned by Elsevier and a small number of other publishers.
What value is added by academic publishers? In my opinion: very little. Elsevier claims that they add value as they “coordinate the review, consideration, addition of text and references, and other production and distribution mechanisms.” In fact, all of these contributions are or could be obtained at almost no cost.(c) First, reviews are typically coordinated by a combination of volunteer editors (academics) and an automated email system. The cost of setting up and maintaining such an automated system is negligible (a point I will return to later). Elsevier does not add text and references to research papers – academics do. In my experience, corroborated by anecdotes from other scientists, publisher-employed copy editors are mostly superfluous and in some cases even introduce errors into papers or cause substantial publication delays” (read more).
(Source: Footnote 1 via @edgaraltamirano on Twitter; image: Cacophony)
An interesting stance. In my experience, most journal editors are open to placing copies of a pre-published, accepted manuscript on personal websites or public databases, provided one get written permission from the editor. Everything is negotiable.