Taylor and Francis, the publishers of the journal Prometheus: Critical Studies in Innovation have managed to antagonize many in the academic community by insisting that the authors of an article about Open Access revise the piece to remove the names of all the publishers mentioned in the article. The article, “Publisher, be damned! From price gouging to the open road” is as a result freely available at T&F’s website. (Click on the title link above, then chose either “View full text”, or “Download text”.) The article does indeed suppress publisher names, but they often become clear via the references.

This controversy is of course not new. The website The Cost of Knowledge has signed up more than 14,000 mathematicians pledged not to cooperate with Elsevier.

Clearly there are layers of wickedness in all this, ranging from commercial academic publishers, through university presses, to learned societies. That a commercial publisher should seek to maximize profits shouldn’t surprise: they in effect have a fiduciary obligation to do so. Learned societies no doubt seek to cover their costs, and university presses’ aims are broadly similar, though they do secretly love journals hoping that they can use the revenues to subsidize their monograph publishing, or at the very least to provide cash in January which enables them to pay out royalties in April.

The application of APCs (Article Processing Charges) seems sly: if you can’t make money by selling a subscription, make it by charging fees to get the article into the journal. Of course there are costs involved in origination, and the authors’ calculations are doubtless too low. But it does look like the charges being levied may be being calculated to provide the “decent” profit margin we have become used to.

The Bookseller reported on the controversy in a 9 June post. The original news was in Times Higher Education.