30 August 2011

Academic publishers the most ruthless capitalists...

...so says George Monbiot in a major article in today's Guardian newspaper tears into the academic publishers with no holds barred, and it will be interesting to see what their response may be.  He kicks off with:
Who are the most ruthless capitalists in the western world? Whose monopolistic practices make Walmart look like a corner shop and Rupert Murdoch a socialist? You won't guess the answer in a month of Sundays. While there are plenty of candidates, my vote goes not to the banks, the oil companies or the health insurers, but – wait for it – to academic publishers. Theirs might sound like a fusty and insignificant sector. It is anything but. Of all corporate scams, the racket they run is most urgently in need of referral to the competition authorities.
and, in passing, notes that a Deutsche Bank (surely no socialist concern) report said, in examining the publishers' claim of adding value:
We believe the publisher adds relatively little value to the publishing process … if the process really were as complex, costly and value-added as the publishers protest that it is, 40% margins wouldn't be available.
Monbiot summarizes the situation by commenting:
What we see here is pure rentier capitalism: monopolising a public resource then charging exorbitant fees to use it. Another term for it is economic parasitism. To obtain the knowledge for which we have already paid, we must surrender our feu to the lairds of learning.
None of this will be new to readers of this blog and to proponents of open access in general, but the fact it is given centre page status in a major newspaper and is simultaneously available (by open access!) to the world outside the UK is a major step in revealing to the world at large the crazy business model of academic publishing and the cost to the community at large of restricting access to the products of research.

Monbiot calls for the situation to be referred to the UK's Competition Commission, but I suspect the likelihood of this is remote: after all, Parliament's Science and Technology Committee did nothing to promote open access when it reviewed the situation some years ago and the Research Councils in the UK have been following the lily-livered politicos in their refusal to demand open access publishing of work they fund.  The publishing lobby is a very powerful one and academics by comparison are lambs to the slaughter.  However, they are lambs to another slaughter in their pandering to the demands of university bosses that they should publish only in certain "top-ranked" journals - the only people who can bring about change are those currently burrowing their heads in the sand and hoping that the next research evaluation exercise will not bury them altogether.

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