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Open Access

The Serials Crisis

  • During the last decades, the price of the serials subscription for academic journals has increased much faster than inflation.
  • The market for scholarly journals is an oligopoly, with 5 major commercial publishers, Elsevier, Springer, Wiley, Taylor & Francis and Sage, covering more than half of the market. "Every scholarly journal is a natural mini-monopoly in the sense that no other journal publishes the same articles". (Suber, 2012). The biggest commercial publishers earn extremely high-profit margins.
  • Researchers and peer reviewers do not get paid for their articles or reviews. These people are paid by their universities, receive public research grants, and the libraries of their universities pay high subscription prices to get access to their articles. That is why it can be considered that the research funders pay 3 times for the same products.

Why Should Researchers, Students and Taxpayers Care?

  • Because the subscription costs have become so high that many libraries, even in rich countries, can not afford them anymore.
  • There is a great inequality between researchers, regarding their access to research. In 2008, Yale had 25% fewer subscriptions than Harvard, and India's richest academic institution had access to only 12% of the subscriptions of Harvard. (Peter Suber, Open Access, 2012).
  • People outside the academia (NGO staff, professionals, journalists, the general public) have great difficulties to access research generally paid by public funds.
  • It limits the visibility of research, its impact and the number of citations.
  • Researchers may not have the ability, due to copyright restrictions, to use their own research for their scholarship.

What is the Value Added by Publishers?

Even if publishers do not pay the authors for their articles, they provide some services that add value to the articles:

  • preparing the definite typeset version of an article (but today, word processing software allows researchers to prepare a clean copy on their computers)
  • certifying an article's quality via the journal's reputation for selectivity
  • improving the original manuscript by suggestions from reviewers and editors
  • distributing the article to those (and only those) allowed to read it
 
(Armstrong, Mark. “Opening Access to Research.” Economic Journal 125, no. 586 (August 2015): F1–30. https://doi.org/10.1111/ecoj.12254.)