• The fight over scholarly publications

    Academic Journals

    Once again, a wave of dissatisfaction over professional publishers’ policies. An online Memorandum by Harvard Faculty Advisory Council on Journal Pricing makes clear what the issues are:

    We write to communicate an untenable situation facing the Harvard Library. Many large journal publishers have made the scholarly communication environment fiscally unsustainable and academically restrictive. This situation is exacerbated by efforts of certain publishers (called “providers”) to acquire, bundle, and increase the pricing on journals.
    Harvard’s annual cost for journals from these providers now approaches $3.75M. In 2010, the comparable amount accounted for more than 20% of all periodical subscription costs and just under 10% of all collection costs for everything the Library acquires. Some journals cost as much as $40,000 per year, others in the tens of thousands. Prices for online content from two providers have increased by about 145% over the past six years, which far exceeds not only the consumer price index, but also the higher education and the library price indices. These journals therefore claim an ever-increasing share of our overall collection budget. Even though scholarly output continues to grow and publishing can be expensive, profit margins of 35% and more suggest that the prices we must pay do not solely result from an increasing supply of new articles.

    This issue can be traced back to discontent with one specific publisher, Elsevier, and this blog note by mathematician Timothy Gowers, 1998 Fields medal. As a result, an online petition was launched, to push for a change of practice.

    Interestingly, on the wikipedia page for Elsevier, one can find the following information, some of which has to do with economic journals:

    The elevated pricing of field journals in economics, most of which are published by Elsevier, was one of the motivations that moved the American Economic Association to launch the American Economic Journal in 2009.[10]
    Resignation of editorial boards
    In November 1999 the entire editorial board (50 persons) of the Journal of Logic Programming (founded in 1984 by Alan Robinson) collectively resigned after 16 months of unsuccessful negotiations with Elsevier Press about the price of library subscriptions.[11] The personnel created a new journal, Theory and Practice of Logic Programming, with Cambridge University Press at a much lower price,[11] while Elsevier continued publication with a new editorial board and a slightly different name (the Journal of Logic and Algebraic Programming).
    In 2002, dissatisfaction at Elsevier’s pricing policies caused the European Economic Association to terminate an agreement with Elsevier, which designated Elsevier’s European Economic Review as the official journal of the association. The EEA launched a new journal, the Journal of the European Economic Association.[12]
    At the end of 2003, the entire editorial board of the Journal of Algorithms resigned to start ACM Transactions on Algorithms with a different, lower priced publisher,[13] at the suggestion of Journal of Algorithms founder Donald Knuth.[14] The Journal of Algorithms continued under Elsevier with a new editorial board until October 2009, when it was discontinued[15]. The ACM Transactions on Algorithms is still in circulation.
    The same happened in 2005 to the International Journal of Solids and Structures, whose editors resigned to start the Journal of Mechanics of Materials and Structures. However, a new editorial board was quickly established and the journal continues in apparently unaltered form with editors D.A. Hills (Oxford University) and Stelios Kyriakides (University of Texas at Austin).[citation needed]
    On August 10, 2006, the entire editorial board of the distinguished mathematical journal Topology handed in their resignation, again because of stalled negotiations with Elsevier to lower the subscription price.[16] This board has now launched the new Journal of Topology at a far lower price, under the auspices of the London Mathematical Society.[17] After this mass resignation, Topology remained in circulation under a new editorial board until 2009, when it appears to have been discontinued[18].
    The French École Normale Supérieure has stopped having Elsevier publish the journal Annales Scientifiques de l’École Normale Supérieure[19] (as of 2008).[20]

    It would be interesting to see if economists are ready to act in similar ways towards Elsevier economic journals as mathematicians. Here is the full list of economics and finance journals from that publisher. Among them, many “top field” journals such as the Journal of Development Economics, the Journal of International Economics, etc., which have very few substitutes for authors aiming at very good field journals, but also journals that most researchers probably never read.

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