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Scholarly Publishing: The Issues

The Issues

Journal prices have increased significantly

Journal prices have increased significantly for more than two decades, and library acquisitions budgets have not enjoyed similar increases. As a result, academic libraries are purchasing fewer books and journals. Complicating the issue further, some large journal publishers are aggregating or "bundling" electronic content, offering libraries packages of journals with strong economic inducements to buy the package over selecting individual titles. Libraries lose the ability to deliver titles of most value to the local community and must commit larger and larger portions of their budgets to fewer publishers. In FY2011 28% of Iowa’s acquisitions budget went to five commercial publishers (Elsevier, Nature, Sage, Springer and Wiley).  Mergers among and acquisitions by commercial publishers are increasing, usually resulting in higher journal costs. 

Alternative models have emerged for disseminating scholarship

In response, new ways of disseminating scholarly information are emerging that employ Internet technologies and alternative business models. Open Access (OA) refers to scholarly literature that is freely available on the Internet and offers generous rights for educational use. OA publishing includes peer-reviewed literature, as well as author pre- and post-prints and other materials placed in digital repositories The NIH Public Access Policy is a well-known mandate that requires open access publishing of NIH funded research. Several universities (HarvardMIT, Duke, Princeton and Kansas among others) have passed institutional open access mandates that require all faculty journal articles to be deposited in their institutional repository unless a waiver is sought.

Faculty members are concerned about tenure and promotion

Rewards in the academic environment are often based on the prestige and impact of a faculty member’s publication record. Newer faculty seeking tenure and promotion must publish in journals known for their quality. More and more journals, however, are issued by profit-making entities, charging several times the price charged by non-profit publishers. Publishing in journals owned by commercial publishers perpetuates high prices, restrictive access and often undesirable licensing terms. On the other hand, scholars may be reluctant to submit their work to open access publishers due to reputational concerns. Will publication in an open access journal be valued less by tenure review boards than publication in a traditional print journal? ISI, publisher of Journal Citation Reports and Web of Knowledge now includes many open access titles in their indexes and several open access journals have impact factors at the top of their field (e.g., PLoS Biology).

Scholars have lost control of the process

Publishing in peer-reviewed academic journals should foster shared scholarship, establish priority in making discoveries, and initiate conversations among scholars. Such publication has also become a tenure requirement for faculty in most disciplines, especially at institutions focused on research. Publishing represents one of the most effective paths to getting recognized and building a professional reputation. Because of the pressures to publish, coupled with long-standing traditions, faculty often sign away all rights to their scholarly work to publishers in exchange for publication. Scholars who sign away rights can find themselves needing to request permission from publishers to place their own articles on a personal web site, in a course pack or institutional repository, or to distribute copies to colleagues.

A Definition

Scholarly publishing includes the process of creating and evaluating scholarly content, disseminating it to the scholarly community, and preserving it for future use. One of the fundamental purposes of scholarly publishing is to facilitate inquiry and the creation of new knowledge. The majority of scholars pursue their research and disseminate the results with little or no expectation of direct financial reward.

Stack of books; credit to Tom Herman

[image by Tom Herman via Unsplash, May 22, 2017]