The Ethics and Economics of Academic Publishing

Is it fundamentally unethical for a Publisher to extract content from an academic author and commercially benefit from the sale of this without returning any of the economic gains back to the provider of that content or his/her employer? It is agreed that the Publisher adds value and facilitates dissemination and assumes financial risk and should be justly remunerated for this, but not at the excessive profit margins we see today, and not without transferring a fair portion back to the content generator, or his/her employer (university, research institution). The ‘facilitation’ process has been, in some cases, taken over by the University or research institution, in order to moderate excessive profits and to return monetary gains to the University/Association. However, many authors are not satisfied and are looking for alternative models.

Due to the advances in technology and the trend towards user friendly design and operation, this ‘facilitation’ process is becoming more accessible to individual academics, or ever smaller clusters of academics (academic associations) who are willing to perform these tasks themselves and accept the relatively moderate financial risk (for example, the number of academics who have left traditional academic book publishers in order to self-publish is exploding). These royalties would have otherwise lined the deep pockets of traditional academic book Publishers. Academics are more sensitive to the economic limitations of students and have priced their books at levels that have resulted in more affordable prices for students. We can anticipate that an increasing number of clustered academics (via their professional associations, etc.) will enter the world of article based publishing via alternative portals, as it becomes evident that the technologies are becoming readily available (in conjunction with service providers who will will enable this), affordable and scaleable and that the benefits greatly outweigh the risks. As regards the division of income, the appropriate economic models will emerge to accommodate the distribution of profits (either to the broader cluster, and/or to the individual participant), factoring in usage and quality considerations, while ensuring the integrity of the scientific process. Of course the proof will be in the pudding and this is one dessert that we hope the coming decade will see being served back to academics everywhere.

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