This is a fascinating essay in Al Jazeera which every academic ought to read- it is the most forthright and honest assessment of the situation I have yet read. Below are snippets interspersed with commentary- but do read the whole for yourself.
The thesis: Academic publishing is structured on exclusivity, and to read them people must shell out an average of $19 per article.
The meat: On July 19, 2011, Aaron Swartz, a computer programmer and activist, was arrested for downloading 4.8 million academic articles. The articles constituted nearly the entire catalogue of JSTOR, a scholarly research database. Universities that want to use JSTOR are charged as much as $50,000 in annual subscription fees. Individuals who want to use JSTOR must shell out an average of $19 per article. The academics who write the articles are not paid for their work, nor are the academics who review it. The only people who profit are the 211 employees of JSTOR. Swartz thought this was wrong. The paywall, he argued, constituted “private theft of public culture”. It hurt not only the greater public, but also academics who must “pay money to read the work of their colleagues”. For attempting to make scholarship accessible to people who cannot afford it, Swartz is facing a $1 million fine and up to 35 years in prison. The severity of the charges shocked activists fighting for open access publication. But it shocked academics too, for different reasons. “Can you imagine if JSTOR was public?” one of my friends in academia wondered. “That means someone might actually read my article.”
The problem: Academic publishing is structured on exclusivity. Originally, this exclusivity had to do with competition within journals. Acceptance rates at top journals are low, in some disciplines under 5 per cent, and publishing in prestigious venues was once an indication of one’s value as a scholar. Today, it all but ensures that your writing will go unread. “The more difficult it is to get an article into a journal, the higher the perceived value of having done so,” notes Katheen Fitzpatrick, the Director of Scholarly Communication at the Modern Language Association. “But this sense of prestige too easily shades over into a sense that the more exclusively a publication is distributed, the higher its value.”
All of which is of course PURE RUBBISH! The Harvard Theological Review probably rejects loads of good stuff and instead favors the nonsense of unprovenanced useless fragments of forged ‘ancient’ documents because the author is on staff. Let’s stop fooling ourselves. Academic publishing has perished. It’s no longer about academics, it’s about profits. When schools and publishers ‘hook up’ with JSTOR they hook up with the devil- of greed.
Don’t believe me? Then you just don’t know what’s going on, do you.
The Facts: When do scholars become part of “the public”? One answer may be when they cannot afford to access their own work. If I wanted to download my articles, I would have to pay $183. That is the total cost of the six academic articles I published between 2006 and 2012, the most expensive of which goes for 32£, or $51, and the cheapest of which is sold for $12, albeit with a mere 24 hours of access.
THAT’S both absurd and evil.
The Real Reason: Since I receive no money from the sale of my work, I have no idea whether anyone purchased it. I suspect not, as the reason for the high price has nothing to do with making money. JSTOR, for example, makes only 0.35 per cent of its profits from individual article sales. The high price is designed to maintain the barrier between academia and the outside world. Paywalls codify and commodify tacit elitism. In academia, publishing is a strategic enterprise. It is less about the production of knowledge than where that knowledge will be held (or withheld) and what effect that has on the author’s career. New professors are awarded tenure based on their publication output, but not on the impact of their research on the world – perhaps because, due to paywalls, it is usually minimal. “Publish or perish” has long been an academic maxim. In the digital economy, “publish and perish” may be a more apt summation [my emphasis]. What academics gain in professional security, they lose in public relevance, a sad fate for those who want their research appreciated and understood.
Friends here’s the conclusion of the matter: if you want people to read your work, publish it in venues where it can be accessed. If you want to imagine yourself super-important and extra special and ‘oh so learned’ go ahead and publish with academic publications. No one will read you, but you can feel puffed up that your irrelevant ‘scholarship’ has appeared in the Journal of Ripoff High prices ensconced behind the paywall of JSTOR Thievery.