Recent criticisms of the market power that major journal publishers have underestimate the disruptive potential of Open Access to change the power relations between university libraries and publishing houses, as putting a price tag on purportedly unpaid labor of authors and reviewers will likely reinforce the market positioning of the global players in the publishing market, while pushing journal subscription fees ever higher.
A Blog Article by Pablo Markin.
In their opinion piece for Canada’s University Affairs/Affaires Universitaires magazine published on February 26, 2018, Adriane MacDonald and Nicole Eva present a vision of the academic world where scholars, professors and researchers sell their services as scientific article reviewers as desirable. However, this market-driven vision overlooks that it is either the highest bidder or the lowest cost producers or service provider that is the most likely to be the winner across these transactions. Cash-strapped universities are likely to lose out to large publishing houses as purveyors of scientific knowledge, if article reviews become commercialized across the journal publishing industry, while making the positioning of the incumbent publishers ever stronger, since these may utilize the economies of scale across their supply chains to compete on reviewer fees with academic institutions that may be expected to be unable to match that.
Paid-for, double- or single-blind article reviews may also reduce the purview of the arm’s length principle in the journal publishing process, which can reduce manuscript processing times, but also raise the output volumes of scholarly journals, while raising their costs that their subscribers, e.g., universities and governments, are most likely to bear. In other words, the further commodification of the academic labor reinforces the cost- and profit-driven dynamics of the international publishing market that has contributed to the emergence of few winner-take-all global players with an oligopoly-like grip on the access to scientific knowledge that academic and research institutions used to exclusively have via journal subscriptions. By contrast, Open Access offers scientific organizations an alternative model that provides a viable long-term path to transforming the power relationships between the publishers as retailers and scholars as consumers of research findings.
Moreover, rather than being a marginal phenomenon, Open Access incrementally, but directly disrupts the status-quo in the publishing market. The recently launched Journal of Behavioral Public Administration is a case in point, since, based on the partnership between the Center for Experimental and Behavioral Public Administration at Rutgers School of Public Affairs and Administration and the Project for Equity, Representation, and Governance at Texas A&M University that cover its operational costs, this Open Access journal can be in a position not to demand article processing charges (APCs) from its authors, while making subscriptions for accessing its contents unnecessary worldwide. However, this may not necessarily the case if external reviewers were to be remunerated for their services, as this may outstrip the budgets allocated for this journal by Rutgers and Texas A&M Universities, while making it necessary to introduce author-facing APCs to offset these costs.
Especially since the APCs that publishing in subscription-based journals can require can in some, or even many, cases be higher than those of Open Access journals, launching Open Access journals in partnership with publishing houses and scholarly societies appears to be one of the more optimal transition avenues to changing the structure of the publishing market and controlling publication-related costs.
By Pablo Markin
Featured Image Credits: A Graduation Ceremony at Rutgers University, 2010, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, USA, May 17, 2010 | © Courtesy of llee_wu/Flickr.