Stop commercializing academic publishing

Dear academic publishers: your business model runs completely counter to the aims of the academic community, for this reason: academic publishing is not like commercial publishing. Stop conflating the two.

I know of nary an academic that is publishing for the bling. So, stop thinking of us as obscure niche counterparts to J. K. Rowling. Scholarly authors would be crazy to write books for the tiny (or often non-existent) monetary compensation. They do it to disseminate information as widely as possible. So, stop treating academic work as if it were commercial. You’re running completely off the rails.

Here’s an example. You put a $229 USD price-tag on an important textbook, Souriau’s (1970) Structure of Dynamical Systems. I’m sure you’ve done the calculation: how many people can be expected buy the textbook at that price? Not many. Not to mention that we could pick up two copies of J. K. Rowling’s “complete works” for this royal sum. This is not dissemination of information. This is you failing the academic community.

Because of your silliness, Souriau’s scholarship is not being widely shared in the way that the academic community needs. In this case, the author himself is taking steps to overcome your failing, by posting the French edition on his website. (Souriau’s stated motto, translated from French: “I wanted this site to distribute my work as widely as possible.”) Unfortunately, an English version of the book is not freely available. At least, not anymore.

It was freely available, on underground websites like Library.nu (rest in peace). Such websites came into existence because you did not meet the aims of the academic community. While we worked to share information, providing publishers with free content to put in their books and journals, you turned around and sold that content at commercially high prices. You actively prevented the dissemination of scholarly knowledge. On the other hand, by making half a million scholarly books publicly available, Library.nu actively enabled it. The end of this service amounted to a huge loss for the scholarly community.

Academics and publishers alike are beginning to recognize that we have a problem. Fortunately, there are many other publishing models on the table, many of which might go far to meet our aims. Take a long hard look in the mirror, academic publishers. It’s time for a major change.

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5 thoughts on “Stop commercializing academic publishing

  1. Jesús Zamora Bonilla

    Now there are several ways of selfpublishing which are very easy and accessible (I have just tried in an experimental way with my booklet “Liberal positivism”).
    I think that one good idea would be to organise academic groups or sites that could create something like a ‘certified collection’ or ‘knowldge brand’, that could include ex post a reference to selfpublished works that some members of the group consider respectable enough.

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