There is no agreement on how to fix the current problem of academic publishing, but surely there can be agreement on what the problem is. I am going to keep this post very simple, very direct, and very short, because the problem is very simple.

To put it plainly, academics whose positions are largely publicly funded, carry out publicly funded research. They send their research results to for profit commercial publishers for free, to be evaluated for free by other academics, editors and reviewers. If all these academics, with their free contributions, agree that the results are worth publishing, the commercial publisher locks them behind a paywall and sells access to them, in the form of journal subscriptions, to publicly funded university libraries, where the people who did the work of production and evaluation as part of their publicly funded positions, can have access to them and continue their work. Alternatively, the public, through the publicly funded researcher, pays the commercial publisher an author processing fee (APC), so that others can have access to the results that their taxes produced.

The contribution of the commercial publishers is to make the results of scholarly work available, for a profit, to those who have already paid to produce them. There are many different ideas out there for fixing this mess. I don’t know which one is right. I do know that we have to fix it. I also know that academics, their attitudes and practices, are the main reason our publicly funded research gets hijacked and held hostage by commercial entities. Only we can fix this.

3 thoughts on “The very simple, very messy problem of scholarly publishing, in a very few words

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