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Harvard Faculty Have Had Enough

This post is all over the blogosphere today.  The Faculty Advisory Council at Harvard is saying enough is enough to the publishers of scientific journals.  The costs of these publications and the new subscription bundles are extortionary:

Perhaps this announcement is simply part of a negotiating strategy (one would expect Harvard librarians to be a clever bunch). But, be that as it may, what is particularly striking is the advice offered to staff regarding what they can do to help the situation, which chimes with what I and many others have been arguing as pathways to bolstering open access publishing (and was writing aboutonly yesterday). To pick out just two key phrases (with my emphases in bold):

“Consider submitting articles to open-access journals, or to ones that have reasonable, sustainable subscription costs; move prestige to open access.

If on the editorial board of a journal involved, determine if it can be published as open access material, or independently from publishers that practice pricing described above.If not, consider resigning.”

This sends an important message (one is tempted to the hyperbole that it may even be a ‘shot heard round the world’). If one of the most prestigious and richest institutions in the world cannot afford its journal subscriptions, then there is a serious problem in academic publishing.

 Atrios thinks that Harvard can handle the costs.  Maybe, but the rest of us can’t and, anyway, that’s not the point. The point is that as long as big institutional licensees keep shelling out millions of dollars in subscription fees, the rest of us, small companies and independent scientists, are going to be forced to follow the publishers’ fee structures.  For those of you who have never had to download a paper, try coughing up $35/paper.  If you’re starting a new project in a biotech area requiring some background research, literature costs can easily get out of control and be a significant drag on the limited funds available.

There’s really no excuse for this business model except that publishers like it this way and now that there are a lot of companies downsizing, they just jack up the costs on everyone else to maintain their profit margins.  They refuse to evolve so Harvard may be striking the first blow to make them do it.  I want to see an iTunes type model where papers cost no more than a couple of bucks  for a digital copy that I can download to my Notability app.  Journals are not printed anymore, the content is provided to the publishers for nothing and in many cases, already pre-formatted.  So, this crap has got to stop.  No more stranglehold on scientific information.

Go Harvard.