We should think carefully about where we publish. Not only should we ask ourselves if the journal is appropriate (right audience) and well-respected (who else publishes there and who is on the Editorial Board), but who profits from our work. Apparently, the big science publishers make larger profits than most industries, in the order of 20-40% profit. Maybe we should be investing our pension money in such companies. They are subsidized by their authors who provide content for free, referees who review papers for free, and most editors who work for free (occasionally small “honoraria”).

Publishing in journals owned by scientific societies is not necessarily any better. Most scientific societies have outsourced their publication to for-profit publishers. Thus their journal needs to make a profit for both the society and publisher. The authors’ universities and research institutions buy their work back again, now peer-reviewed, professionally presented, abstracted and with a DOI. Universities are catching on and calling for a better deal.

‘Open access’ is not a solution. By charging at least three times the actual cost for open-access publishing, the publishers seem likely to continue to profit from the open-access movement. Now they get paid upfront by the authors, even better for them. Looking across the prices charged by for-profit journals, it seems that a fair price (allows publisher some profit) is about $1,000 per paper.

Some large universities may spend $20 million a year on subscriptions to publishers, mostly for journals. Could this money be better spent elsewhere? Part of the problem is each publisher has a monopoly on its journals, so libraries cannot decide to buy the same publications from another source. While the big publishers deliver and get paid most, and they may be criticized for their profits, it is also important to know what is the cost per paper downloaded – this may be much less for the bigger publishers than smaller ones, so larger may provide a lower fee per paper. The Open APC website provides lists of how much publishers earned from APC, including the average cost per paper, and how much individual universities and other institutions paid to what publishers.

There are other options, see Journals free to authors and readers, and An open database of over 25 million scholarly articles.

And tips on how to access articles behind paywalls here.

Another legal option is to add the Open Access Button to your browser. “When you use the Button, it’ll either take you straight to a free copy of the research article or help you ask the author to freely share the article with you.”

Retain the rights you may need

Some publishers, especially of books, can try to claim all rights and limit the author’s rights. Most journals acknowledge this in their copyright licences and agreements. For academics, their university usually retains the right to use their publications for internal use without permission or payment to the publisher; for sample in teaching. Thus, the academic cannot sign away this right because they do not have it. So it pays to read the agreement carefully. If in doubt you should add a sentence to any agreement before signing it, such as “I [and my employer] reserve the royalty-free non-exclusive right to re-use the material provided, including all text, figures, tables and images”. For further information see here from universities: from New York University, Yale, Berkeley, Missouri S&T,  and a librarian. I and others I know have qualified publisher agreements like this and never had a publisher question it.

SPARC (the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition), provide guidance on how to manage your rights regarding your publication.  Including this addendum form for you to use.

Further reading

The war to free science: How librarians, pirates, and funders are liberating the world’s academic research from paywalls. By 

It’s time to stand up to the academic publishing industry and here’s how we can do it. By Adriane MacDonald & Nicole Eva (2018)

Universities spend millions on accessing results of publicly funded research by Mark C. Wilson (2017)

Below from The Guardian (which seems to highlight the issue at least once a year)

2019 The Guardian view on academic publishing: disastrous capitalism (A price to be paid for open-access academic publishing (letters from three publishers and a retired academic)

2018 Scientific publishing is a rip-off. We fund the research – it should be free by 

2017 It’s time for academics to take back control of research journals 

This is a great story of how scientific publishing evolved to make so much profit: Is the staggeringly profitable business of scientific publishing bad for science? By Stephen Buranyi

2016 It’s time to stand up to greedy academic publishers

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