The Academic Journal Economy

I’m still fascinated by the academic journal economy. The recent Berkman Buzz had this interesting excerpt by Fellow Danah Boyd

“The economy around academic journals is crumbling. Libraries are running out of space to put the physical copies and money to subscribe to journals that are read by few. No academic can afford to buy the journal articles, either in print or as single copies. The underground economy of articles is making another dent into the picture as scholars swap articles on the black market. “I’ll give you Jenkins if you give me Ito.”

I hadn’t even thought about the physical space issue but I suppose when you pay $20,000 for a set of magazines you can’t really throw it out at the end of the year like that $1 copy of Wired. And despite working on this issue a bit last year it didn’t really hit me how bound academics were until I recently asked one for a copy of her article. It had an interesting title, which I still haven’t read due to course load, and the striking part is the hushed tones of the reply with a time stamp and conspicious watermark along the side of the paper. She felt guilt and fear over sending an interested reader a copy of her own work. And rightfully so. She isn’t entitled to distribute a copy of her own work because of the contractual obligations to her publisher. The copy I was sent is meant for her eyes only.

There is something inherently wrong with this. For every one academic who can afford $30 for a single print of an article are 3,999 more who would like to read the work but can’t afford to. Another 3,999 who would read the work but not find it interesting enough to include in their citations. While these numbers have absolutely no backing I can’t help but feel there are significant amounts of readers who would like to read but can’t afford to. So that one affluent researcher is in fact helping to deprive thousands of others of knowledge or simply a good night of reading.

If the economy around these journals is indeed crumbling I’d like to help. Some may point to the music industry argument that without these over priced publications quality peer reviewed articles would disappear from the world. I find both arguments equally flawed. Copying is so effortless that publication does not require a publisher. And unlike the music industry aggregation is not a problem within the academic community. Peer review will happen without intervention by large scale publication firms. The cream of human knowledge will rise to the top based on the merits of the articles. None of these things neccessitate publishers.

Like many reformists before me I realize the abrasiveness of my words. There is nothing more biting then to hear that you are simply unneeded, unwanted, and that everyone would be better off with out you. But simply put, academics do not need publishers who use artificial scaracity to inhibit the flow of knowledge they have worked so hard to produce. Academics do want their works to be read by as many people as would take the time to appreciate it. And academia would be better off without the publishers who dominate the journal industry.

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