Power to the Academics, and Their Employers!

Scholarly publishing is at a crossroads.  For far too long, publishers have made huge profits from the work of academics who see dwindling financial returns for their research, to the detriment of students and libraries who in turn face skyrocketing prices for textbooks and journals. 

Academics are fed up, and there is no shortage of evidence to affirm this; the “Academic Spring”, “The Cost of Knowledge” protest signed by over 16,000 academics, and most recently a study which found that four in five academics believe that academic publishing needs an overhaul.

Extortionate pricing, slow speeds to bring research to market, shockingly unfair divisions of profits, and poor visibility and control over content are just some of the main themes at the heart of this debate which has been raging within the scholarly community for years.

What Academics and their Employers Want

In a previous role I worked as the Director of a learned society based in The Hague. We experienced constant battles with traditional publishers to try and obtain mutually beneficial and transparent publishing arrangements.  I discovered, first-hand, the lack of transparency in the relationship between academics and traditional publishers and I also knew how restricted we were by traditional publishers as there were few alternative channels available for publishing our society’s work.

Put simply, what academics want most of all is to be able to get their research out in the world to make an impact, to improve the quality of life, to expand our scientific knowledge of the world around us, and to make sufficient money to generate funds for their continued research. Given the development of technology in publishing, there is indeed an opportunity to break this traditional cycle of exploitation and profiteering, in order to empower academics and academic institutions to achieve these goals without traditional publishers.

Open or Closed Access?

In the last five years, technology has made the publishing process and the dissemination of research and information more democratic. One of the first steps in that chain was the emergence of Open Access (OA) models, which allow users to access content for free. For many academics who just want to get their research out to those communities who could best use the information, this is a perfect platform, allowing their research to be found and accessed with a simple search, whilst being free of charge to the user.

In order to accommodate traditional OA models, traditional academic publishers had to pivot their revenue intake from users to academics and institutions who, in order to publish via OA channels, would have to pay for the privilege. This payment, which comes in the form of APCs (Article Processing Charges) or BPCs (Book Processing Charges), is far from inexpensive, with some publishers charging up to $24,000 to publish a single OA monograph.

Hijacked Disruption

Open Access was supposed to be the knight in shining armour for academic publishing. It was supposed to make research more discoverable and widely available, and to create a content boom. But the OA movement is sadly not realising its massive potential and instead it has created a tiered, elitist system in academia whereby only certain researchers who achieve certain levels of funding can actually afford to publish.

Open Access was the disruption everybody wanted in academic publishing. However, as traditional publishers still retain control of the main distribution channels and access to the audiences that academics wanted to reach, they were able to evolve their business models to profit from it. It is starting to become abundantly clear that real, disruptive change, which empowers the scholarly community simply cannot come from within the traditional publishing industry – this needs to be driven by an outside force.

Empowering Academics

It is in this space that we developed Glasstree as a disruptive innovation, an alternative route to market which turns the tables and tips the balance back in favour of academics and their university employers. The concept is not only designed to make academic content more affordable to the end user and to provide academics and universities with greater financial rewards for their work (70 per cent of royalties), but it is also designed to rapidly speed up the publishing process and to give academics visibility and control over their research.

It also provides a range of Gold Open Access options while offering highly competitive processing charges - up to four times more affordable than the industry average for monographs.  The full-service Open Access option comprises manuscript assessment and copyediting, designated Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs), Kudos tools such as bibliometric and citation tracking, and double-blind peer reviews by independent reviewers, and is available to authors from only $2,000. The goal is to help academics take control of their work, benefit from their research, and get it out into the world for others to use and derive value from.

Five years have now passed since the Academic Spring and a large percentage of the academics who originally showed their disdain towards big traditional publishers have since continued to publish their research through them. They’ve continued to prop them up financially while earning just nine per cent of the royalties from their hard work, and while enduring long delays to publish and minimal creative input into how their work is published and who has access to it. Universites, who have subsidized the entire process, are finding it ever more difficult to purchase the publications that they have financially supported, receiving no remuneration for the institutional support that they provide to their academics.  Academics deserve more. Universities deserve more. They deserve Glasstree.

Daniel Berze is the VP Academic Publishing at Glasstree. He will be participating in the Is there a place for independent publishing in the academic world? panel debate at The London Book Fair’s The Faculty stage, 17:30, Wednesday 15th March 2017.

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