Publishers Object to Losing the Ability to Profit From Publishing Papers They Didn’t Pay For (And Research They Didn’t Fund)

I don’t say this enough but one of the problems in academic publishing is how journal publishers are exploiting the academic “publish or perish” imperative to force researchers to hand over the copyrights on their research papers.

The journal publishers do not buy the copyright, nor do they fund the research, but because the publishers have a monopoly on distribution, they have all the power and are able to demand whatever they want, including control.

And once they get control of a paper, they put it behind a paywall that is so costly that entire state university systems are forgoing access.

I am not the first to point this out, and there is growing support for the idea that (at the very least) any research funded by the public should belong to the public and should not become the property of for-profit journal publishers. (This is the Open Science movement.)

So when I read that the Trump administration was considering a rule that said all papers based on publicly funded research should be made available to the public immediately upon publication, I cheered.

Publishers, on the other hand, are panicked at the idea that they might lose their monopoly on knowledge.

The AAP published an open letter least week condemning the proposed change. You can read it over on their website. (I would quote it here, but I could not find a clip that wasn’t nonsense.)

The tl;dr summary of the AAP’s position is that, in order to further the spread of knowledge, they have to … *checks notes* … restrict access to it by putting it behind a paywall.

Don’t try to make sense of that claim; you might hurt yourself. (Or even worse, you might be able to understand the thinking, which would be even scarier.)


image  by gruntzooki via Flickr

Nate Hoffelder

View posts by Nate Hoffelder
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader. He has been blogging about indie authors since 2010 while learning new tech skills weekly. He fixes author sites, and shares what he learns on The Digital Reader's blog. In his spare time, he fosters dogs for A Forever Home, a local rescue group.


  1. Disgusting Dude23 December, 2019

    Same logic as saying they foster literature by rejecting 99% of manuscripts based on *their* ability to sell them without marketing.

    1. Nate Hoffelder23 December, 2019


      this is true

  2. Anna Castle24 December, 2019

    You kind of skipped right past this part: “Many academic journals are funded by subscription fees collected in the first year of publication. The Trump mandate could force publishers to shift their model so authors pay hefty article processing charges, or APCs.”

    Will the new mandate let publishers demand payment from the scholars and scientists who do the research? They don’t have it, which means it would become a line item in the grant supporting the research, if there was one. So the taxpayers would still be paying for the publication, just a few steps back in the process. And note that lots of papers are written years after the grant money’s been spent. I guess those would just not get published.

    Read the whole article. This initiative is not a good idea. The Union of Concerned Scientists is skeptical about it. We should be too.

  3. Paul24 December, 2019

    In addition sometimes the papers are published after the three or five year grant is up, and then the university has to pay the APC’s, assuming they get it because the money is clawed back by the agencies if it’s not spent,

    The average cost of publishing a research paper is $1500-$10,000 depending on how many reviews it goes through and how many papers are rejected. (The cheapest I’ve come across that meets US guidelines on accessibly is $500, and the Peer Review of that content is weak). Even PLOSOne is having difficulty in the marketplace since Nature launched scientific reports.

    This is a terrible idea, might bankrupt most of the societies and strengthen the large commercial publishers like Elsevier.


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