Once upon a time there was an inventor. She was brilliant. […] They all set to work. It was alternately glorious and tedious, fulfilling and demoralizing. […] at length the day arrived when they had a product ready to ship!
Relieved, the inventor began contacting shipping companies. But she could not believe what she heard. The truckers would deliver her goods, but only subject to the most unbelievable conditions:
- the inventor had to agree to ship her product via the one trucking company exclusively,
- this exclusive shipping deal had to be a perpetual deal, never subject to review or cancelation, and
- the truckers would be the ones who would sell her product to the public and the truckers would keep all the profits.
Every shipping company she contacted gave the same response. Dejected, but unwilling to see the fruits of all her labor go to waste, she eventually relented and signed a contract with one of the companies.
It is, of course, a story about academics and the journal publishing industry.
This is not a new complaint. My now-retired colleague (and prolific and widely-read author) Derek Rowntree campaigned at length against the madness that meant he had to apply for permission to use his own writings in his own teaching, which was sometimes denied.
But as I argued in my Scholarly Publishing 2.0 talk, the online world is having two effects. Firstly, the publishing industry are making the situation worse, e.g. by coming up with new ways to restrict what users of “content” can do with it (DRM), and charging double-digit inflation year on year on electronic journals when Moore’s Law is driving all other technology products (and content) in the opposite direction. And secondly, it opens up alternatives – it is possible to do things differently, and to organise a campaign about this. The whole Open Access movement is a great example of this.
If I gave investment advice – which I don’t, and it would almost certainly not be worth what you are paying for it – I wouldn’t be suggesting Reed Elsevier stock as a great bet for your retirement savings.
Update: Blimey. Apparently Merck paid Elsevier to publish a fake peer-reviewed medical journal. “Truckers” is perhaps not a rude enough word.