Apologies for following up the last post so quickly particularly as the theme is a little away from the biomechanics of walking but Jon’s comment to my last entry has prompted some web surfing that leaves me feeling really angry. I remain suspicious of producer pays publishing but realise that the open/closed debate is all a bit of a diversion when you look at the role of the commercial publishers in all this.
I now know that academic publishing is dominated by three companies Elsevier, Springer and John Wiley who between them handle 42% of all papers published. Elsevier publish Gait and Posture and the Journal of Biomechanics which are two of the most influential journals in gait biomechanics so I’ll focus the rest of this post on them but I suspect the others are not much better. Elsevier is part of Reed Elsevier. The academic publishing arm (which includes journals and text books is listed as “scientific, technical and medical” within the company accounts and reports) publishes a third of a million research articles each year in 2,00o journals with 700 million downloads last year.
All well and good but if you look at their financial statement you’ll see that over the last two years (2011 and 2012) they had an annual turnover of just over £2 billion (yes billion) and an operating profit of around £700 million. That’s a profit of about 35% of turnover (click here for similar figures for other publishers).
This is a business that publishes other peoples products. They don’t pay the authors anything for the content they publish (indeed the gold open access deal is that authors will pay them about £3,000 per article) and they don’t pay reviewers anything for peer review. I’m not sure what the Editor of Gait and Posture get’s paid but I’m an Associate Editor and receive about £1,500 per year (half the open access fee for just one article – and will probably handle about 100 papers this year). The £700 million that Elsevier’s shareholder receive each year is thus essentially a product of the academic community’s good will.
Like any responsible multinational Elsevier are engaged in political lobbying to protect their profits. They have been strong supporters of three bills (Stop on line piracy [SOPA], Protect intellectual property [PIPA] and the Research Works Acts) presented to the US government. Whilst all have positive sounding names and objectives they are essentially bills that protect the vested interests of holders of copyright. In Elsevier’s case this is particularly outrageous as the copyright they hold stems from other people’s intellectual endeavour.
I’m not the only one to feel unsettled by this. George Monobiot is a campaigning journalist who put’s the case against the publishing cartel very strongly. In January 2012 mathematician Sir Tim Gowers called for a boycott of Elsevier which has given rise to the Cost of Knowledge movement that now lists over 14,000 academics who have chosen to boycott Elsevier’s activities in one way or another.
I find this really challenging. I probably regard Gait and Posture and Journal of Biomechanics as the two premier journals in my field but I feel really angry about the size of the profits that someone is generating from my labour. Any suggestions?