Academic journal publishers have been in existence since the mid 1600s. The French started it all but the Brits quickly picked it up and played a big part in shaping journal publications into what they are today. Back then, academia was not established as a career. The practice of research relied upon the initiative of well-endowed individuals who simply interested in learning. As the 1800s approached, hints of professional scholarship started appearing as these individuals formed into societies. The societies moved to produce scheduled periodicals, which form the basis of journal publications today.
How did it work? The periodicals would feature research findings in much shorter forms than they are today. Prestige of academic journal publishers is determined by citation impact, which is frequency of referencing. This has its roots in how it was imperative for scholars to belong to the right societies. The good thing that they did to steer journal publications to their present state was to compete on the basis of quantity of article authorship.
This field was boosted by internationalization of scholarship and increased funding to learning institutions after the end of the Second World War. There were a lot more writers and readers for academic journal publishers. This led them to figure out that they could reap economic reward from the ecosystem of researchers. What was previously purely a non-profit scholarship activity came to be tainted by the interests of commercialization. The evolution was particularly enabled by higher learning institutions of the United Kingdom and the United States of America.
Today, there are predominantly three types of journal publishers that are identified by their financial sustainability model as listed below:
- Commercial journal publishers
- Society journal publishers
- Non-Profit journal publishers
How academic journal publishers work
Journal publications survive by featuring the works of the best researchers and then selling access to these findings to an interested audience. Typically, the buyers are institutions of learning. Besides competing for buyers, the academic journal publishers have also retained the old characterization of competing for prestige. This is determined by the numerous journal publisher rankings that exist. But there is no universal ranking. What exists is the domination of the industry by a handful of publications.
Elsevier, Springer Nature, Wiley-Blackwell plus Taylor and Francis account for up to 70% of all publications in the social sciences as per several findings. This is intriguing because there are between 5000 and 10000 journal publications globally to accommodate the millions of journal articles completed every year. Google Scholar has a repository of 125 million documents.
The good about academic journal publishers
Academic journal publishers play an important role in standardizing methodology of research undertaking. Can you imagine how restricting it would be if every country opted to go their own way in the style of structuring a paper? One of the consequences of this standardization has been the absolute dominance of the English language as the one for academia. BricsJournal.com offers excellent and budget-friendly professional journal translation services to increase an author’s chance to be published.
The standardization makes it possible to accurately attribute research findings to the right researcher. It has also made it simple to share information across borders and cultures. This process is democratic as every journal publisher and researcher is free to enter the fray. It is also meritocratic because of the peer review’s function of ensuring quality and validity.
Journal publishers continue to serve researchers well in helping them develop their reputations as academics. A work is considered valid if it is featured in a reputable journal publication. The researchers also have room to target the kinds of publications they would wish to see their findings featured in. This is progressive.
The bad about academic journal publishers
But the role of academic journal publishers is also criticized for being an act of gatekeeping. This barrier of entry that ensures quality also leads to a generally conservative field of academia. New knowledge is oft incremental rather than drastic. The act of editorial consideration becomes a murky swamp of political plays under these kinds of circumstances.
What has come under most criticism though is the commercialization of academic publishing. For one, it pushes learning institutions to make choices between buying textbooks and paying to access journals. The journal prices are exorbitant. For instance, Springer charges $10,000 a year for a copy of an edition plus electronic access. As you are aware, the dominance of a neoliberal ideology has witnessed continued reduced funding to universities and their research departments.
Therefore, academic journal publishers are condemned for being in the business of rent-seeking. Why and how? They get papers either for free from researchers or they charge a submission fee. They also seek out peer reviewers for free as well. How is it that they end up charging too much to access the research findings then? Academic publishers counter that they need to do so to not only pay for editorial effort but also other activities like organizing seminars and conferences.
This commercialization aspect plus the aforementioned reality of dominance by a few players make for a very dangerous combination.Where does this leave the publishers and the world of publishing?
Academic journal publishing will get better
It should come as no surprise that calls to disrupt the norms of academic journal publishers have gotten ever louder. A low hanging fruit has been the shift to Open Access publication but this has been in turn criticized for burdening cost of sustaining a publication on the authors as they have to pay a publication fee. Nevertheless, it is a good place to begin reforms. Some of the entities actualizing this are Cost of Knowledge and Access2Research.
Reform may yet be forced on academic journal publishers by the overwhelming effect of the internet on day-to-day life. Tools like blockchain are being considered for use in eliminating the problem of research fraud and replication. This open ledger system would allow for development and maintenance of a superior form of digital database.
Another win for academic journal publishers is in exploitation of the online space for new avenues of revenues. This could serve to lessen the cost of research publication for researchers. Readership can now move from institutions to individual subscribing readers. The data mined from the interaction in this space can also be capitalized on.
Academic journal publishers are at a crossroad as to their functionality going forward. The best place for them will be to reconsider the criticism levelled against them and to collectively change for the better. Otherwise, they have been a force for good in academia.