[Taxacom] Monbiot editorial on academic publishing

Wuster,Wolfgang w.wuster at bangor.ac.uk
Thu Sep 1 04:42:08 CDT 2011

Stephen Thorpe wrote:
> >The  reason for my original question was to find out whether these 
> paywalls actually make a significant contribution to publishers' 
> incomes. Unfortunately, it seems like that information is not readily 
> available
> The answer to that is obvious! Publishers probably, I strongly 
> suspect, get very little income from individual subscriptions, but 
> rely on libraries for institutional subscriptions. This is reliable 
> and predictable income...

No doubt they don't get much from individual subscriptions. I was more 
interested in income from one-off purchases of pdf's - the famous $30-45 
fees that Monbiot was mentioning.  I agree it is probably very small, 
but was wondering whether anyone here has any figures.

> >There is nothing academics love doing more than spending money for the 
> sake of it, and then spending months writing grant applications that 
> have a 90% chance of failing
> sarcasm aside, would you rather (A) spend money on easy stuff, and 
> then spend months writing a new grant application, or (B) spend money 
> doing darn hard work, and then spend months writing a new grant 
> application??

Answer: (C) do cheap work that does not necessitate a grant application, 
and do twice as much since I then don't have to waste money on writing 
grant applications that probably won't succeed anyway. Not an approach 
that wins popularity points with my superiors, but since some of my best 
and most highly cited papers were produced grant-free (e.g., through 
database mining), they don't have too many grounds for complaint. 
Fortunately, my empire-building genes seem to be deactivated, so it 
works for me. I appreciate it can't work for everyone.

> Besides, the context is not really one of individuals applying for 
> specific grants, but one of long-term backbone funding to institutions 
> for research purposes ...

OK, that was not clear from your original point. However, publisher's 
expensive subscription packages that bleed library budgets dry are a 
separate issue from the question of access to information by individuals 
that is hindered by paywalls and the $30-45 access fees that were the 
first major gripe in Monbiot's essay.

I don't have any fundamental disagreement with Monbiot on this topic and 
the principles of his view of academic publishing. However, it is 
counterproductive to simply jump up and down and complain about the 
status quo and the seeming impossibility of accessing information 
without paying through the nose without also pointing out that there are 
a considerable number of unofficial ways in which one can get hold of 
*most* publications for free. Perhaps we as individual publishing 
academics should do our bit to educate the interested public in how to 
get the papers.

Dr. Wolfgang W├╝ster  -  Lecturer
School of Biological Sciences    
Bangor University
Environment Centre Wales
Bangor LL57  2UW                 
Wales, UK                        

Tel: +44 1248 382301  
Fax: +44 1248 382569
E-mail: w.wuster at bangor.ac.uk  

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