Posted tagged ‘publishing’

Academic publishing: escaping the stranglehold?

April 1, 2014

Elsevier BV is a Netherlands company which, according to its website, is a ‘world-leading provider of information solutions’; in other words, it is a publisher. Its main focus is on science and medicine. It publishes 2,900 journals in one format or another, including such well known periodicals as Acta Anaesthesiologica Taiwanica, or the American Journal of Otolaryngology, or the unputdownable Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes & Essential Fatty Acids. It has published more than 24,000 academic books. So one thing you already know about Elsevier is that it holds the key to publication for many academics, and to access to scholarship for university libraries and their readers.

And it is not cheap. So for example, the seminal book Dacie and Lewis Practical Haematology will, should you decide to buy it, set you back €93. And if you think your library should subscribe to Prostaglandins, you may want to let them know that the electronic version (only) will cost €3,743.33; if you need it in print, that’ll be €4,524.

It would not be fair to single out Elsevier; it is merely doing what companies do in an inadequately competitive market. Academic publishing  is full of such examples; th0ugh not that full, because the number of really significant publishers is not a large one. And as universities across the worlds try to prioritise their expenditure, library subscriptions and purchases have become more and more unaffordable.

And yet, universities have not seriously resisted the exploitation by publishers, beyond agitated discussions. However, now a German university, the University of Konstanz, has told Elsevier that the university ‘will no longer keep up with this aggressive pricing policy and will not support such an approach’. More precisely, it has decided to discontinue the existing licensing arrangement, and to tell academics that they will instead support them when they need individual access.

Perhaps this bold step will prompt a wider and more decisive response by the global academy. Perhaps it will create more debate about how open access publishing can be developed in such a way that scholarly output is not pulled behind an excessively high paywall. Perhaps the abuse of trade in knowledge in a very imperfect market can be fought after all.


From writer to reader, directly

June 26, 2011

Until recently one of the most basic pieces of advice given to any author was to avoid vanity publishing. In other words, if you have a book, make sure you publish it via the normal routes, usually with an agent and a publisher, and for money. The book will be printed and distributed to bookshops, and every so often you’ll get a royalty statement which will tell you how remarkably little you have earned.

Is that all about to change? J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books, has announced that her next book will be self-published in ebook form. For someone of Rowling’s fame this should be a commercial success easily enough, but it is possible that even people with far more modest reputations will in future be able to make some money by offering electronic versions of their work without the intervention of the traditional publishing industry. Perhaps even hard copy printed versions can in future be much more easily sold directly online.

It is to be hoped that this is exactly what will happen. An ever smaller number of ever more powerful publishers have been holding both readers and writers to ransom. It is time to break free.