The humanities monograph may be under threat because of the increasing fashionability of STEM subjects, but the whole kit and caboodle of academic communication is under a rather more general threat. In fact it might appear that the biggest threat to academic publishing could be Open Access. If people have to be allowed to free-of-charge access any research funded by the government, one might imagine those publishers who’ve always managed to eke out a living by publishing this stuff at a small profit might end up getting shafted.

I remain more sanguine than many. It seems pretty much accepted by everyone that there are indeed costs involved in making research material available to an audience wider than the person in the next door office. Here’s a link to Springer Link bringing us an editorial from International Journal of Clinical Pharmacy about the costs involved. The existence of these “fixed costs” is obviously not news to anyone who’s worked in publishing, and rail as they may members of the commentariat cannot shout the evidence away. It costs something: and that something is what know-nothings like to think of as academic book publishers’ fat and obscene profits. Oh that they ever had been obscene, or even slightly rude!*

At The Scholarly Kitchen Roger Schonfeld and Christine Wolff-Eisenberg commented on the recent Ithaka S+R U.S. Faculty Survey and its implications for academic publishing. Unsurprisingly perhaps there’s widespread support for the idea of Open Access especially among younger faculty; as why wouldn’t there be? The good news for publishers is that there does seem to be an awareness of the value brought to published research by the publishing community.

Faculty Survey responses arranged by age group

Jennifer Crewe of Columbia University Press, in her interview referenced in my recent post on the humanities, does identify Open Access as a looming issue. But she remains non-committal about the whole thing, maintaining the wait-and-see attitude which is really all we can do. The issue isn’t just one of publishing: the whole system of academic assessment and hiring is tied up in the same bundle, and the solution will have to involve all the elements. Things will no doubt work themselves out — keep cool and see what happens before making any binding decisions.


* Elsevier‘s £1 billion (almost) profit for 2018 does qualify this I guess. 37% profit is amazing. But journals do seem to be a better bet than books. Does this mean that the subscription model is likely to be adopted for monographs?