17 August 2015

Journal articles as a revenue source

From last week, news came that the Ecological Society of America has contracted Wiley, one of the “big five” academic publishers, to publish ESA journals.

I have decidedly mixed feelings about this. A big part of the mixed feelings comes from a couple of years back, when ESA spoke out against open access. At the time, someone from the society wrote:

This is perhaps a good example of the inherent conflict between the interests of those who believe research publications should make their content freely available to all and the reality that there are significant costs associated with publishing scholarly research journals.

I appreciate that there are costs in publishing that need to be covered. Heck, I can even see a case for charging for scientific research. I can understand that a scientific society might have not want to maintain the infrastructure needed to publish journals. As the Gavin’s blog post noted:

Somewhere in Ithaca there is a single computer running DOS(!) that performs a critical part of the current journal publishing platform used by ESA
Still, there are a couple of things that bug me about the Wiley deal, First, this is another example of the ongoing pattern of scientific publication becoming increasingly concentrated with a few publishers. I’ve said before I think a healthy publishing ecosystem, like a biological ecosystem, has lots of diversity. Second, this sounds like ESA sees publications as a revenue stream for them.

Gavin Simpson wrote:

The payment to ESA from Wiley in the 2015–16 budget is $1,350,357. ... (I)n 2016–17 the payment from Wiley will be $2,700,714(.) ... What is, I think, indicative is that the senior ESA staff and academics were clearly anticipating significant improvements in the “profit” generated by the Society’s journals that can be directed towards activities the Society does on behalf of its members and its support for ecology.

Again, I have mixed feelings about all this. I understand that scientific societies can do good work and need revenue. But it can also be the case that societies like that can become insular and self-perpetuating, more concerned about their own continued existence than serving others. I’m not saying ESA is at that point at all... just that societies could have incentives that are not in the general interest, or the interest of their field, but only in their interest.

So I am not sure that charging for publications is the way to go about raising revenue for a professional scientific society.

Related posts

ESA still not supporting open access

External links

ESA’s publishing deal with Wiley 


Larivière V, Haustein S, Mongeon P. 2015. The oligopoly of academic publishers in the digital era. PLOS ONE 10: e0127502. http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0127502

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