Skip main navigation

Hurry, only 2 days left to get one year of Unlimited learning for £249.99 £174.99. New subscribers only. T&Cs apply

Find out more

The Current Academic Publishing System

Disseminating and discussing scholarly results are essential components of the research process. The foundation of this discourse is publications.
Bookshelf in library
© This work by Jessika Rücknagel is licensed under CC BY 4.0.

Disseminating and discussing scholarly results are essential components of the research process. The foundation of this discourse is publications. And this is the reason why all forms of publications are so important for academics.

You have to publish your findings to develop a reputation.

Although the Internet offers many opportunities to disseminate knowledge, most forms of publication today still involve publishers.

Publishers coordinate the review process, handle the publication process as well as the distribution. However, scholars who are involved in creating or reviewing manuscripts are not compensated, at least not with money. Due to the so-called “Publish or perish” situation many scholars have to disseminate their work via well established publishers, journals or conferences.

Although the vast majority of research is publicly funded and conducted by people working in a research organisation, the publication is put behind a paywall. At least this is what happens in the traditional publishing system which is why these types of publication are called “closed-access”.

Basically we have the following situation:

  • Scholars create manuscripts to share their findings. They are paid by their institutions or a funding organisation.
  • Then they give the manuscript to a publisher.
  • The publisher gives the manuscript to reviewers, who are scholars as well and also paid by their institutions, not the publisher.
  • After the manuscript is finalised it will be published. In most cases authors grant exclusive rights of use to the publisher, which restricts the authors’ use of their own work.
  • Then the publisher sells the finished book, article and so forth. This is done by licensing agreements with research organisations. So all public organisations that need access to the publication pay the publisher again with taxpayers money. Prices for such a subscription are expensive.
  • If you don’t have a library that can pay for these publications, you have to pay yourself or cannot read the research results you are interested in.
  • The publisher never really paid the author but can keep all the profit.

What are the major concerns regarding this current practice of publishing in closed-access journals or venues?

Despite the large number of journals and publishers, the scholarly publishing market is dominated by only a few publishing groups.

These publishing groups have such market power that economic competition is basically non-existent. As a consequence, accessing relevant scholarly knowledge is expensive.

These prices are a barrier, not just for the global south, but for everyone, effectively hindering scientific progress.

For some years now, the increase in prices for scientific journals has been a serious cause for concern.

In the past, journal prices have risen to the point where many libraries could no longer afford subscriptions. With the serials crisis, access was severely restricted even for students and staff at financially well-off universities. In 2012, Harvard University appealed to its members to publish their research in open access journals, since the library could no longer continue to pay for the increasing subscription costs.

Unfortunately, the situation has not really improved. Subscriptions are still very expensive and are increasing every year. At the same time, library budgets are dwindling, meaning that access to publications from closed-access publishers or journals is not secured.

© This work by Jessika Rücknagel is licensed under CC BY 4.0.
This article is from the free online

Openness in Science and Innovation

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now