Academia is unique in that professionals with highly specialized expertise, who are paid by public institutions, write articles and provide peer reviews to corporations who profit greatly without giving back to the research enterprise. In any other industry, such experts would charge up to $1,500/hour for their services; in academia, this expertise is given away to for-profit companies. Why are we willing to gift our review services and intellectual property to businesses, who then turn around and charge our institutions again for the products of our own research? Why are universities, governments and taxpayers OK paying for the labour costs of a massive multi-billion-dollar industry? Why aren’t publishers expected to pay for the production of the products that they profit greatly from? What if academics started charging publishers for their expert peer reviews? And what if the funds raised were used to help subsidize the costs of research and of building an open access system – run not by for-profit companies, but by our postsecondary institutions?
Publishers are dependent on the quality of their peer-review process; if their articles are found to have poor or non-existent peer review, the credibility of their journals is called into question and won’t attract high-quality research papers for publication. Yet, as dependent as publishers are on a rigorous process, they would cease to exist without the free labour of scholars writing and reviewing the articles. Some might counter that reviewing is part of the academic’s job; that it all comes as part of their (often not insubstantial) salary. This may be true, but the benefit of academic expertise largely goes to private, not public, parties. In addition, much of the time spent reviewing is over and above the teaching, research and service that academics spend the bulk of their work-week doing. It may be giving back to the profession, but at what toll on the researchers, our public institutions, and the academy?
Research is not free. It is paid for with taxpayer dollars through both academics’ salaries and government research grants; it is paid for a third time through outrageous subscription fees paid by university libraries. Depending on the institution, academic libraries pay $350,000 to $9-million annually in subscription fees. It is also paid for by academics, who spend their lives honing these skills at a great cost both financially and personally.