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Academic Journal Cartel Begins to Crack March 8, 2008

Posted by federalist in Markets.

WSJ reports that the cartel for academic journal publishing (led by Elsevier) seems to have pushed its market too far:

In 2006, the editorial board of the venerable mathematics journal Topology resigned en masse over the high subscription price charged by publisher Elsevier, a dominant player in the industry.

Congress has mandated that by April 7 papers arising from NIH-sponsored research — roughly 80,000 of them a year — be made freely available in the federal PubMed database, which can be read by anyone with an Internet connection.

Another blow for open access to scholarly research was struck recently by Harvard’s arts and sciences faculty, whose members voted to publish on the Internet for all to see — gratis. These professors will give Harvard world-wide nonexclusive license to their work, and the university will exercise it by posting their papers. The journals won’t have much choice if they want the work of Harvard professors. The faculty members will still publish in expensive journals, but the move to put the same materials on the Internet is a stake poised at the heart of a vampire that has been sucking dollars out of academic institutions for years through the ever-sharper bite of subscription prices.

It’s about time: It was a strange market that allowed a private company to control and profit from the copyright for academic research that is almost always funded with public money. A non-profit has stepped in to meet the need for refereed papers:

The nonprofit Public Library of Science has been in the vanguard, petitioning for change and launching scholarly publications of its own. Its journals in such fields as biology, genetics and tropical diseases are published electronically after peer review, and the contents are promptly made available at PubMed for all to see. Instead of charging subscribers, PLoS covers its costs by charging authors from $1,250 to $2,750 per article (usually paid by their institutions and reduced or waived for authors who can’t pay). One virtue of this business model is that it might discourage, however slightly, the résumé-padding practice of slicing and dicing the same findings for publication in different journals.



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