Publishing Panic

| June 28, 2010

OK, so my last post about DRM briefly touched upon Academic Publishing.  I attended the Bloomsbury Conference and Academic Publishing Course offered by my school at UCL last summer and we talked about the current issues at length.   Basically, publishing is broke.  Under the old, print model, a small journal, like “Impacted Molars Quarterly” could survive just fine on the payments of the small community of dentists to whom they were relevant.  The same way that larger publications like “Nature” could meet their much larger market (and make quite a bit of money).

This model did not translate well once this content was converted to digital.  Suddenly on top of printing costs (because people still want the print version), they now have to host the server on which their search platform and content is stored.  They also have to provide the search platform itself, this is an area where more and more big publishers (Wiley-Blackwell, Elsevier) are trying to keep themselves relevant.  If they can provide superior search and access interfaces, they will be worth subscribing too.  The content is no longer the driving force, because we’ve entered a phase of extreme access to information and the reaction, often is that people will stop with the “good enough”, and not necessarily make it to the “good”.

That said, the often awesome advances being made in Information Retrieval and management is sparked by a somewhat unjustified fear.  Academic publishing will not be irrelevant until academia is. (academia, also stop panicking).  Academics need to publish to keep their jobs, and get new jobs.  They need to build their reputation by publishing in peer reviewed journals with good reputations.  Journals then gain a good reputation by publishing reputable academics.  It’s a branding cycle.  On the back of this is bibliographic instruction.  At Universities and Colleges, students are taught to evaluate resources based loosely around this publication system.

{as a side note: I think that resource evaluation in this “new frontier of information” is going to be a vital part of the librarians profession.  I mentioned this once to a Media Studies professor who quoted Derrida and the death of Truth at me.  To follow up, I think we gave up on Truth’s big T a long time ago, and now are exclusively “little t” truth.  Also, resource evaluation, and academic publishing isn’t in pursuit of truth, it’s about establishing a sort of Chain of Custody for an idea pattern. As in, my new idea came from all of these other ideas, and those ideas, came from all of these ideas. and so on.  This is still relevant in academia whether or not publishing and peer review survives in its current state.}

OK, back to what we were talking about.  Basically, the digital publishing packages don’t pull in enough money to support themselves anymore, BECAUSE, libraries don’t have enough money to buy them, and are constantly haggling the price down.

This is COMPLETELY understandable.  Libraries don’t have a lot of money to begin with, even the big budget guys have a budget, and it’s only “big” by comparison.  From the library’s perspective, it’s kind of a scam.  They are going to pay aaall of this money for a package of journals, when they may only need a handful of them.  They will potentially (and likely) will have the number of simultaneous users limited (unless they are willing to pay more).  If they unsubscribe, they do not get to keep the copies they have purchased (as you would with the print copy).  In face, often they would have to subscribe to the archive.