About commercial publishers

Julien Cornebise has [once again!] pointed out a recent Guardian article. It is about commercial publishers of academic journals, mainly Elsevier, Springer, and Wiley, with a clear stand from its title: “Academic publishers make Murdoch look like a socialist“! The valuable argument therein is that academic publishers make hefty profits (a 40% margin for Elsevier!) without contributing to the central value of the journals, namely the research itself that is mostly funded by public or semi-public bodies. The publishers of course distribute the journals to the subscribers, but the reported profits clearly show that, on average, they spend much less doing so than they charge… Here are some of the institutional rates (can you spot Elsevier journals? journals published by societies? free open access journals?!):

(apart from greed, there is no justification for the top four [Taylor and Francis/Elsevier] journals to ask for such prices! The Journal of Econometrics also charges $50 per submission! PNAS is another story given the volume of the [non-for-profit] publication: 22750 pages in 2010, meaning it is highly time to move to being fully electronic. The rate for Statistics and Computing is another disappointment, when compared with JCGS. )

The article reports the pressure to publish in such journals (vs. non-commercial journals) because of the tyranny of the impact factors. However, the reputation of those top-tier journals is not due to the action of the publishers, but rather to the excellence of their editorial boards; there is therefore no foreseeable long-term impact in moving from one editor to another for our favourite journals. Moreover, I think that the fact to publish in top journals is more relevant for the authors themselves than for the readers when the results are already circulating through a media like arXiv. Of course, having the papers evaluated by peers in a strict academic mode is of prime importance to distinguish major advances from pseudo-science; however the electronic availability of papers and of discussion forums and blogs implies that suspicious results should anyway be detected by the community. (I am not advocating the end of academic journals, far from it!, but an evolution towards a wider range of evaluations via Internet discussions, as for the DREAM paper recently.) The article also mentions that some funding organisms impose Open Access publishing. However, this is not the ideal solution as long as journals also make a profit on that line, by charging for open access (see, e.g., PNAS or JRSS)! Hence using another chunk of public (research) money towards their profits… My opinion is that everyone should make one’s papers available on-line or better via arXiv. And petition one’s societies for a tighter control of the subscription rates, or even a move to electronic editions when the rates get out of control.

PS-Here is a link to an Australian blog, the Conversation, where some publishers (Wiley and Elsevier) were interviewed on these points. I will not comment, but this interview is quite informative on the defense arguments of the publisher!

10 Responses to “About commercial publishers”

  1. […] the Elsevier tradition of charging absurd amounts for journals, this journal is “only” 475 euros / USD 662 for […]

  2. […] institutions and libraries!, Journal of Multivariate Analysis is 2,704 euros…] and, since I am completely in agreement with the position, I have signed the Cost of Knowledge pledge a few weeks ago [although I do not […]

  3. […] of Timothy Gower. He has now posted his extensive reaction to this email and, as it perfectly fits mine, I see no point in writing another post (esp. with very limited posting abilities this week in […]

  4. Tim Gowers has recently written a post where he pledges (and urges others to do so) not to publish in an Elsevier journal.

  5. […] One of my friends got the following email from Elsevier: […]

  6. […] survey we wrote with Jean-Michel Marin, Pierre Pudlo, and Robin Ryder is now published in [the expensive] Statistics and Computing (on-line). Beside recycling a lot of Og posts on ABC, this paper has the […]

  7. Where would you like comments to go? Here or at the Statistics Forum?

  8. As you say, these are institutional fees, but members of the American Statistical Association (ASA) get free online access to JASA, JBES, JCGS, SBR, and TAS (see amstat.org). The free access to JCGS was announced at the 2011 JSM.

    I’ll also mention that many journals issue “page charges” if an author wants to publish a graph in color, which seems soooo 20th century! To help with this, the ASA Section on Statistical Graphics has a program to provide grants to authors who want to publish in color. (But it’s still a racket.)

    • Thanks, Rick. It is true that society members get a preferential treatment for society journals, as e.g. ASA members. My primary complaint was about the unjustified rates charged to libraries, which took most of their budget. (As it is difficult to assume journals are only read by the members!) And commercial publishers for the non-societal journals topping my list (I could not type top journals!) do not even have this argument.

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