Commercial Publishers and the Growth of Research

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned the resignation of the editorial board for the Journal of Library Administration. Several commenters urged them to start their own open access journal. That would certainly help tip the landscape to open access, but I haven’t heard that it’s going to happen this time like it has in the past.

Even if it does happen, JLA won’t wither away. There will simply be an additional journal for the discipline. It’s happened before- if you follow the previous link and look under 1998, you’ll see that when the Journal of Academic Librarianship was sold to Elsevier, the board resigned and most of them went on to found portal: Libraries and the Academy. Today, JAL is doing fine (and I’ve published there, though I’ve since pledged not to submit articles to, perform peer review for, or serve on the editorial board of Elsevier journals). So JLA will probably form another editorial board and will continue receiving submissions.

There are at least a couple of reasons why: the number of articles written is always increasing, and virtually all articles get published somewhere. The STM Report 2012 (PDF, p. 5) contains this data on growth in scholarly publishing:

“There were about 28,100 active scholarly peer-reviewed journals in mid 2012, collectively publishing about 1.8–1.9 million articles a year. The number of articles published each year and the number of journals have both grown steadily for over two centuries, by about 3% and 3.5% per year respectively. The reason is the equally persistent growth in the number of researchers, which has also grown at about 3% per year and now stands at between 6 and 9 million, depending on definition, although only about 20% of these are repeat authors.”

It’s commercial publishers who have been far faster in creating new journals, in order to further increase profits, as Michael Eisen writes:

“Long before the Internet, publishers discovered that launching new journals was like printing money – something Elsevier specialized in for decades, launching hundreds of new journals with hastily assembled editorial boards and then turning around and demanding that libraries subscribe to these journals as part of their “Big Deal” bundles of journals. These journals succeeded because there are always researchers looking for a place to put their papers, and many of these new journals greased the wheels by having fairly lax standards for publication.”

Midway through writing this post, I saw that the Scholarly Kitchen has already posted on the likely lack of effect from the resignations, though with a slightly different angle, comparing impact factors of old and new journals when editorial boards resigned. Their conclusion is that this is just a tempest in a teapot.

And maybe they are right, if you just focus on the editorial board. But the real story is not so much the resignation of the editorial board but what caused it: authors refusing to agree to the publisher’s terms. So what gives me hope is not editorial boards (why are they giving free labor to Informa anyway?) but authors who are paying more attention to contracts and open access issues. That could be a sign of a groundswell that will bring real change to scholarly communication.

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About Philip Young

Philip Young is Scholarly Communication Librarian at Virginia Tech where he supports outreach about open access, copyright/open licensing, open data, ORCID, and metrics/altmetrics.

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