The Status Quo

Even though the university and scholarly publishers have long been close partners, the relationship between the two have soured over recent years. Let’s look at a typical run of the publishing cycle as it stands now…

1. Researchers/faculty at the university are given grants by the government to do their research. They are also probably on the university’s payroll for their time.

Costs to University: $$$. Costs to Publishers: 0

2. If results are found, the faculty member writes up an article for publication.

Costs to University: $$$. Costs to Publisher: 0

3. The faculty member sends the finished article (the pre-print) to a publisher, hoping to land a spot in a prestigious journal.

Costs to University: 0 — maybe. Some publishers have adopted fees for article submission to be paid by the author and, indirectly, the university or the funding agency. Costs to Publisher: 0.

4. The publisher sends the article to the author’s peers for peer-review.

Costs to Publisher: 0 — peer reviewers are almost never paid for their services.

5. If the article passes peer review, it is sent back to the author for edits, then back to the editorial board for final touchups. If all is well, the editted version (the post-print) gets published!

Costs to Publisher: A bit. Costs money to prepare the article for publication, and then to actually print out all of the journals and send them out. Much of these costs, however, could be alleviated if the publisher just distributed the text online…

6. Universities (including the researcher’s!) pays subscription fees to get a copy of this journal so that other researchers can access the article and build upon the existing results.

Cost to the university: $$$. The most expensive journals cost about $20,000 a year to subscribe to–that’s for ONE volume! Of course, most of the journals cost far less than that, but the costs add up when you think about how many different journals an university like Harvard *has* to subscribe to just to keep its students and faculty up-to-date. And every year, the prices keep going up at a rate far faster than inflation! Harvard spends $27 MILLION dollars on new acquisitions a year, and journal costs are a significant chunk of that.

So, a summary:

The university pays the researchers to do their work. The researcher MAYBE has to pay the publisher to send the article in. The publisher spends no money in the peer-review process and a small amount that is highly reducible in the editting process, then turns around and charges the university exorbitant prices for the journal. Granted, some publishers are better than others about this, but that doesn’t change the fact that there are too many bottlenecks, financially and time-wise, in the process that could use some smoothing out.

In the case of Harvard, all of this just means less money for other things that we would all appreciate, like longer library hours, higher wages, or other parts of university life that could use improvement. But what about other schools that don’t have as much money as Harvard? They just have to deal with fewer subscriptions every year, which means less research materials for their faculty and students to work with. Doesn’t everyone have a right to knowledge?

Shouldn’t there be a better way?

Log in