Posts tagged with: open access

Blog author: dpahman
posted by on Friday, January 4, 2013

800px-Programming_language_textbooksIn addition to my post in late November about the textbook bubble (spurred by this post from AEI’s Mark Perry), the Atlantic‘s Jordan Weissmann joins the discussion, asking, “Why Are College Textbooks So Absurdly Expensive?” (also the title of his article). It is a good question, and one that highlights the danger of disconnecting the determination of prices from the subjective valuing of consumer demand. There is no competition, no free market, where students are required to buy only certain books for their classes at artificially inflated prices. Weissmann provides a helpful summary of Kevin Carey’s related Slate article as follows:

Academic Publishers will tell you that creating modern textbooks is an expensive, labor-intensive process that demands charging high prices. But as Kevin Carey noted in a recent Slate piece, the industry also shares some of the dysfunctions that help drive up the cost of healthcare spending. Just as doctors prescribe prescription drugs they’ll never have to pay for, college professors often assign titles with little consideration of cost. Students, like patients worried about their health, don’t have much choice to pay up, lest they risk their grades. Meanwhile, Carey illustrates how publishers have done just about everything within their power to prop up their profits, from bundling textbooks with software that forces students to buy new editions instead of cheaper used copies, to suing a low-cost textbook start-ups [sic] over flimsy copyright claims. (more…)

Rodney Dangerfield is famous for saying, “I don’t get no respect!” This complaint is shared in the laments that I often hear from academics, that electronic journals are not afforded the same respect as print journals. I explored some of the reasons for this as well as some of the results that have implications for journal publishers in an article published last year, “Scholarship at the Crossroads: The Journal of Markets & Morality Case Study,” Journal of Scholarly Publishing 36, no. 3 (April 2005).

The basic argument in favor of affording electronic journals the same prestige and status as print journals is that they both are based on the same fundamental quality-control process: peer review. In reality, however, all peer review is not created equal. There are practical differences in what various journals call peer review, how they exercise it, and the self-imposed rigor and depth of external reviews. But even if all peer review were qualitatively equal, there are other factors that contribute to the perception that electronic journals deserve less respect.

The fact is that there are very few, if any, practical constraints on the number and length of articles that could be published by an electronic journal. A print journal has a definite maximum number of pages per issue and volume that can be printed. This creates scarcity, and thus a perception if not the reality of increased value, since only a select number of articles can be printed. No such limits exist in the digital medium, so that such constraints must be voluntarily and rigorously enforced by electronic journal publishers if they are to mimic the dynamics of this aspect of traditional journal publishing.

One other observation I’d like to make is that the advent of e-journals has really sparked the proliferation and diversification of journal publishing. This mirrors and catalyzes the increasing specialization of academic disciplines. For example, the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) lists 90 titles under the subject heading “History”. Some journals are focused on narrow geographical areas and historical periods, such as The Heroic Age: A Journal of Early Medieval Northwestern Europe.

To be sure, some academic disciplines, such as literature and gender studies, lend themselves to greater fracturing and diversification, so that Cervantes or Flaubert have their own dedicated e-journals. It’s entirely likely, for example, that the typical tenure review board member is going to value an article published in Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality somewhat less than one appearing in the American Journal of Sociology. In addition, peer review takes on a different shape if there are very few scholars who are true specialists in a particular area of research.

Certainly many scholars will argue that this embodies the democratization of education and academics, in that fields are no longer monopolized by a few traditional and academically conservative journals. But at the same time scholars must realize that the obscurity and extreme specialization of some of e-journals contributes greatly to their lack of prestige.

One concrete way for electronic journals as a medium to gain respect, especially in the humanistic fields, would be for major, established, respected journals to make the move from print to digital. Otherwise, electronic journals that are almost always less than a decade-old will struggle to get respect.

My presentation a few weeks ago at the Drexel University Libraries Scholarly Communications Symposium went extremely well, all things considered. My talk was titled, “The Digital Ad Fontes!: Scholarly Research Trends in the Humanities,” and I was representing the liberal arts, particularly history and theology.

Dr. Blaise Cronin, who was going to give the first lecture, took ill and was unable to attend. The attendees were quite interested in my presentation, and questions had to be cut off to maintain the schedule, even though I was given more time than I originally anticipated because of Dr. Cronin’s absence.

I want to pass on a bit of the introduction of my piece, in which I set up the question and engage various views of what scholarly publishing in the digital age looks like: (more…)