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The economic case for open access in academic publishing

As the founder and editor of Libertarian Papers, an open access journal, I agree. From Arstechnica:

The economic case for open access in academic publishing

By Adam Stevenson | Last updated about 6 hours ago

As hyperbolic as it may sound, academic publishing is the curator and guardian of the accumulated scientific knowledge of the human race, 1600 to present. It is also a cornerstone of modern science, preferentially selecting well-executed research through the peer review process. However, academic libraries are facing decreasing budgets, and even highly ranked universities are having to cut back on journal subscriptions. Since these subscriptions account for up to 75 percent of publishers’ revenues, the entire system is feeling the pressure of the economic crisis.

But that’s not the only source of strain. As content migrates to the Web and becomes increasingly difficult to control, the “walled garden” subscription business model used by the publishing industry is facing the same issues as other major content providers. This article examines the academic publishing industry and looks at the impacts of business models from both an academic and economic standpoint.

Academic publishing is big business. Yearly revenue estimates for the industry top $12 billion worldwide. If you account for the time that researchers spend preparing and reading journal articles, the total cost tops $100 billion per year. Academic publishing is also spectacularly profitable; 2009 earnings reports from two of the largest publishing houses, Elsevier and Wiley, show that the profit margin for scientific journals is 30-45 percent and profits from scholarly journal business units have increased every year since 2005.

When many people see these numbers, they naturally ask whether it would be better to adopt online-only publishing and cut commercial publishers out of the process. After all, it’s the scientists who perform the research, write the articles, edit the journals, and perform peer review. Article authors also usually pay “page charges” of $600-$2,000 to either the publisher or the academic society that owns the journal. Ultimately, it’s these same scientists who pay the subscription fees to academic publishing houses to access others’ work.

Surely there is no need for a publisher when researchers do the vast majority of the work and pay for the results. Further, articles can be archived online, eliminating physical “dead tree” editions and the costs of printing them.

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To the extent possible under law, Stephan Kinsella has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to C4SIF. This work is published from: United States. In the event the CC0 license is unenforceable a  Creative Commons License Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License is hereby granted.