What Should Academics Do About Journal Prices?

What Should Academics Do About Journal Prices?


All six editors and all 31 editorial board members of Lingua, one of the top journals in linguistics, last week resigned to protest Elsevier’s policies on pricing and its refusal to convert the journal to an open-access publication that would be free online. As soon as January, when the departing editors’ noncompete contracts expire, they plan to start a new open-access journal to be called GlossaThe editors and editorial board members quit, they say, after telling Elsevier of the frustrations of libraries reporting that they could not afford to subscribe to the journal and in some cases couldn’t even figure out what it would cost to subscribe.

The above report is from Inside Higher Ed. The news, which broke on Facebook last Friday, prompted Professor Lee Walters (University of Southampton) to write to me about his concerns about philosophy journals, and to share data he has collected.

As has been noted many time before, it is ridiculous that we continue to do the majority of the work for journals and yet publishers charge the universities we work at the prices that they do. Please see the attached spreadsheet that I have compiled that shows the current institutional subscription rates for a number of our journals. I think a pattern emerges. As you can see there is huge variation in the fees that publishers charge. I realize that it is very difficult to directly compare journals without further data, since the number of articles that journals publish in a year varies, and presumably the precise package offered by each publisher varies. Moreover, some of the publishers put back some of the cost of subscriptions back into the profession. I’m thinking here of some the OUP journals, for instance the bodies associated with Analysis, British Journal of Aesthetics, British Journal of the Philosophy of Science, and Mind all fund things like conferences, research fellowships, graduate scholarships and prizes. And perhaps other publishers do this too. But putting all that to one side I think we are in a position to draw some preliminary conclusions.

The next question is what we do about this, assuming we want to?

He notes the development in linguistics and discussion of one in mathematics, and says “Maybe a focused boycott of some journals publishers with respect to editing, reviewing, submitted could have an impact.

Here is part of Professor Walters’ spreadsheet:

Journal Prices Spreadsheet 1

The entire spreadsheet, with more information, is available on a publicly accessible Google drive. Thanks to Professor Walters for gathering this information.

In his correspondence, Walters notes the increase in the number of open access journals in philosophy. Giving increased attention to those alternatives may put some market pressure on the pricing of the traditional journals.

Discussion of what, if anything, philosophers should do about journal prices is welcome. Journal editors and publishers are encouraged to comment, too.

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