Tuesday, March 17, 2009

What is the future of academic publishing?

I have been reading A LOT lately about the demise of the newspaper business. Particularly interesting is Clay Shirky's take on the whole system -- Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable. Thanks to 2009 M&S winner, Dorothea Salo, I found found history. This post has a good analysis that compares/contrasts the demise of the newspaper market with the academic publishing market. Tom Scheinfeldt said: "In our world, parallels to newspaper publishers can be made, for instance, with journal publishers or the purveyors of subscription research databases (indeed the three are often one and the same). I’m sure you can point to lots of others, and I’d be very happy to hear them in comments. But what interests me most in Shirky’s piece are his ideas about how the advent of the unthinkable divides a community of practitioners."Just what I have been thinking. The academic journal market is sinking like the Titanic. The established publishers do not want that cash cow ship to sink. The problem is that the cost of publishing truly has decreased, even though the big publishers say it costs $2,850 or $3,000 or somesuch figure to publish an article. The $3k is the cost with the existing broken journal system! They cannot image a future that does not have the "the brand of the journal which gives the imprimatur to the research article." To generalize a tad, older established researchers do indeed care about the name of the container of their articles, since that carries much of the weight for tenure purposes. They may ask -- "What is going to replace the newspaper industry/academic journal market? It can't go away because it is such a venerable institution." Therefore, it can't go away. But, as we have learned from Clay Shirky, newspapers are going away, and it may take some time for journalists to find another way to document the news and culture of the day. Journals and publishers (and societies) will start disappearing, and authors will find other channels to publish their thoughts, experimental results and ideas. Indeed, many physicists already have since 1991.

Many students (and some researchers) do not care about the name of the journal that houses the article. They care about the article itself. This viewpoint will continue to grow as they get older. More and more patrons will find articles through Google Scholar and other databases instead of browsing the current issues of Science, Nature, JACS or whatever.

Believe or not, my library is going through a cancellation discussion for the first time in 18 years. Our faculty and students have not had to worry about cancellations in quite some time. Thus, they have been shielded from the growing STM serials crisis. The faculty and the students are not the ones who pay the bill for the information. The library pays (well, the University actually) and the patrons are the ones who enjoy the benefits of the access to all of the subscriptions. This strange economic model has been well researched by Mark J. McCabe.

I wish I had time to read all of the 87+ books - and - reports that John Dupuis posted to his blog. I've already read a bunch, but there is so much great insight to be gleaned from all of these. (I wish I had more time to read...)

I imagine a future world where scholars post their work on websites/blogs -- it gets critiqued by a variety of scholars, and the articles get rated. The scholarly articles that get the highest ratings, citations and links get brought to the top of search results. As it stands now, articles do not HAVE to live within the imprimatur of a journal brand to have an impact. They can live on a website, in an IR, at a preprint server, etc. In the future, more and more and more scholarly articles will simply live on the net as stand-alone items without being housed in a journal. This is where the scholarly article market is headed.

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