Higher education institutions need to recognise the changing world of publishing, says Rupert Gatti – it’s time for academics to take matters into their own hands
While academia is in the midst of a general funding crisis, multinational publishing houses are making vast profits from disseminating publicly funded research. New open access publishing models provide cost-efficient methods for disseminating research findings, eradicate excess profits by publishers and massively widen the readership of scholarly works. The government recognises this but their current reform agenda is nowhere near bold enough.
Academics as a rule do not write their books to make money – in fact most receive only token royalties for their work. They do it to satisfy research assessments, to get hired and promoted and, most of all, to inform readers, spark debate, and contribute to the intellectual richness of their discipline.
Commercial publishers reap high profits while putting up several barriers to dissemination of research results. First by imposing restrictions on copyright; second by deciding which areas of research reach publication — a decision often based on marketing considerations which penalises cutting-edge and niche subjects. Third by imposing high prices to readers and libraries in order to maintain high profits and an obsolete infrastructure.
What’s more, publishers increasingly bundle their numerous services into single large dissemination packages (so called ‘big deals’), extracting large profits from libraries and universities while further restricting access to research by readers outside the academic community. The average prices for an academic book is now around £50, with total sales running at around only 200 or 300 per title globally, predominantly to libraries in the US.
We have reached a point where university libraries cannot afford to buy access to the research done by scholars in their own institutions as journal costs are now too expensive even for the wealthiest universities.
The recent Finch report and subsequent new policies announced by the Research Councils UK (RCUK) fully support open access publication for all UK publicly-funded research. While these are important steps in the right direction, the Finch recommendations and the RCUK policies fall well short of pushing through the wholesale reforms required to make open access publishing the prime outlet for research results.
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