WSJ Opinion Piece Mischaracterizes Scholarly Publishers
The Wall Street Journal hosted an opinion piece on March 30 by Richard Aslin. AAP submitted a Letter to the Editor to address the numerous misrepresentations that were presented about academic publishing. Below is the letter that was submitted by John Tagler, Vice President & Executive Director, Professional & Scholarly Publishing at AAP:
Richard Aslin’s opinion piece, “The Science of the Tax-Dollar Double Dip,” overlooks several critical points about scholarly journal publishing.
With the ever-increasing complexity of today’s scholarly publishing ecosystem, publishers make substantial investments in supporting the editorial and peer-review process, copy editing, metatagging, ensuring an article’s discoverability, and preserving the scholarly record with integrity. These services, and many more (see Scholarly Kitchen's “96 Things Publishers Do”), serve the scientific and scholarly community and are separate investments from the research process. While the taxpayer supports research through government funding, the cost to publish is independent. This is not “double dip” but “value add.”
Researchers can elect to present results in any forum – personal websites, institutional repositories, funding-body progress reports, or at an academic conference. Researchers choose to publish in scholarly journals because peer review and the editorial process improve the short- and long-term impact of the research article – and of the research itself. The prestige of work being published by a reputable journal is an important career credential for academics worldwide. Such criteria are established by the academy and funding bodies, not by the publishers who support this ecosystem.
Publishing is a diverse landscape that relies on both commercial and non-for-profit publishers to support science and scholarship. Many journals – open access and subscription alike – are published by not-for-profit organizations (including scholarly societies, university presses, and open-access-only organizations like Public Library of Science and eLife). Many of the top journals in a field are published by not-for-profit societies, large and small. Also, prestigious societies frequently turn to commercial publisher partners who can offer high-quality and visibility at an economy of scale not realized as a self-published entity.
Aslin claims changing business models will reduces costs: “If you do the math, this could be cheaper than the status quo.” However, study after study has shown that, at best, costs would remain the same under new business models and, at worst, transitioning the system could cost more or be unsustainable. See: ‘Area-wide transition to open access is possible’ (Max Planck Society) and ’Open access is the future of academic publishing, says Finch report’ (The Guardian).