Scholarly Communication and the Dilemma of Collective Action : Why Academic Journals Cost Too Much

Author : John Wenzler

Why has the rise of the Internet – which drastically reduces the cost of distributing information – coincided with drastic increases in the prices that academic libraries pay for access to scholarly journals?

This study argues that libraries are trapped in a collective action dilemma as defined by economist Mancur Olson in The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups.

To truly reduce their costs, librarians would have to build a shared online collection of scholarly resources jointly managed by the academic community as a whole, but individual academic institutions lack the private incentives necessary to invest in a shared collection.

Thus, the management of online scholarly journals has been largely outsourced to publishers who have developed monopoly powers that allow them to increase subscription prices faster than the rate of inflation.

Many librarians consider the Open Access Movement the best response to increased subscription costs, but the current strategies employed to achieve Open Access also are undermined by collective action dilemmas. In conclusion, some alternative strategies are proposed.



Tackling complexity in an interdisciplinary scholarly network: Requirements for semantic publishing

Scholarly communication is complex. The clarification of concepts like “academic publication”, “document”, “semantics” and “ontology” facilitates tracking the limitations and benefits of the media of the current publishing system, as well as of a possible alternative medium.

In this paper, requirements for such a new medium of scholarly communication, labeled Scholarly Network, have been collected and a basic model has been developed. An interdisciplinary network of concepts and assertions, created with the help of Semantic Web technologies by scholars and reviewed by peers and information professionals, can provide a quick overview of the state of research.

The model picks up the concept of Nanopublications, but maps information in a more granular way. For a better understanding of which problems have to be solved by developing such a publication medium, e.g., inconsistency, theories of Radical Constructivism are of great help.


Innovations in scholarly communication – global survey on research tool usage

Many new websites and online tools have come into existence to support scholarly communication in all phases of the research workflow. To what extent researchers are using these and more traditional tools has been largely unknown.

This 2015-2016 survey aimed to fill that gap. Its results may help decision making by stakeholders supporting researchers and may also help researchers wishing to reflect on their own online workflows. In addition, information on tools usage can inform studies of changing research workflows.

The online survey employed an open, non-probability sample. A largely self-selected group of 20663 researchers, librarians, editors, publishers and other groups involved in research took the survey, which was available in seven languages.

The survey was open from May 10, 2015 to February 10, 2016. It captured information on tool usage for 17 research activities, stance towards open access and open science, and expectations of the most important development in scholarly communication.

Respondents’ demographics included research roles, country of affiliation, research discipline and year of first publication.

URL : Innovations in scholarly communication – global survey on research tool usage


On the Marginal Cost of Scholarly Communication

We assessed the marginal cost of scholarly communication from the perspective of an agent looking to start an independent, peer-reviewed scholarly journal. We found that various vendors can accommodate all of the services required for scholarly communication for a price ranging between $69 and $318 per article.

In contrast, if an agent had access to software solutions replacing the services provided by vendors, the marginal cost of scholarly communication would be reduced to the cloud infrastructure cost alone and drop to between $1.36 and $1.61 per article.

Incidentally, DOI registration alone accounts for between 82% and 98% of this cost. While vendor cost typically decreases with higher volume, new offerings in cloud computing exhibit the opposite trend, challenging the notion that large volume publishers benefit from economies of scales as compared to smaller publishers.

Given the current lack of software solutions fulfilling the functions of scholarly communication, we conclude that the development of high quality “plug-and-play” open source software solutions would have a significant impact in reducing the marginal cost of scholarly communication, making it more open to experimentation and innovation.


Big Publishers, Bigger Profits: How the Scholarly Community Lost the Control of its Journals

Despite holding the potential to liberate scholarly information, the digital era has, to the contrary, increased the control of a few for-profit publishers. While most journals in the print era were owned by academic institutions and scientific societies, the majority of scientific papers are currently published by five for-profit publishers, which often exhibit profit margins between 30%-40%.

This paper documents the evolution of this consolidation over the last 40 years, discusses the peculiar economics of scholarly publishing, and reflects upon the role of publishers in today’s academe.

URL : Big Publishers, Bigger Profits: How the Scholarly Community Lost the Control of its Journals

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Opening the Black Box of Scholarly Communication Funding: A Public Data Infrastructure for Financial Flows in Academic Publishing

« Public access to publicly funded research » has been one of the rallying calls of the global open access movement. Governments and public institutions around the world have mandated that publications supported by public funding sources should be publicly accessible. Publishers are experimenting with new models to widen access.

Yet financial flows underpinning scholarly publishing remain complex and opaque. In this paper we present work to trace and reassemble a picture of financial flows around the publication of journals in the UK in the midst of a national shift towards open access.

We contend that the current lack of financial transparency around scholarly communication is an obstacle to evidence-based policy-making – leaving researchers, decision-makers and institutions in the dark about the systemic implications of new financial models.

We conclude that obtaining a more joined up picture of financial flows is vital as a means for researchers, institutions and others to understand and shape changes to the sociotechnical systems that underpin scholarly communication.


Making Open Access work: The “state-of-the-art” in providing Open Access to scholarly literature


 The purpose of this paper is to provide an overview of one of the most important and controversial areas of scholarly communication: Open Access publishing and dissemination of research outputs. It identifies and discusses recent trends and future challenges for various stakeholders in delivering Open Access (OA) to the scholarly literature.


 The study is based on a number of interrelated strands of evidence which make up the current discourse on OA, comprising the peer-reviewed literature, grey literature and other forms of communication (including blogs and e-mail discussion lists). It uses a large-scale textual analysis of the peer-reviewed literature since 2010 (carried out using the VOSviewer tool) as a basis for discussion of issues raised in the OA discourse.


 A number of key themes are identified, including the relationship between “Green” OA (deposit in repositories) and “Gold” OA (OA journal publication), the developing evidence base associated with OA, researcher attitudes and behaviours, policy directions, management of repositories, development of journals, institutional responses and issues around impact and scholarly communication futures. It suggests that current challenges now focus on how OA can be made to work in practice, having moved on from the discussion of whether it should happen at all.


 The paper provides a structured evidence-based review of major issues in the OA field, and suggests key areas for future research and policy development.