Much of the rhetoric around the future of scholarly communication hinges on the “open” label. In light of Elsevier’s recent acquisition of bepress and the announcement that, owing to high fees, an established mathematics journal’s editorial team will split from its publisher to start an open access alternative, Jefferson Pooley argues that the scholarly communication ecosystem should aim not only to be open but non-profit too. The profit motive is fundamentally misaligned with core values of academic life, potentially corroding ideals like unfettered inquiry, knowledge-sharing, and cooperative progress. There are obstacles to forging a non-profit alternative, from sustainable funding to entrenched cynicism, but such a goal is worthy and within reach.
Two big stories swept through scholarly publishing last week. Elsevier, the sprawling commercial publisher, bought bepress, the admired institutional-repository software maker. The acquisition distressed librarians and open access (OA) advocates around the world. bepress, nominally for-profit but in a mom-and-pop sense, had been swallowed whole by the ruthless profiteer that scholars love to boycott. Elsevier’s extortionate subscription pricing, its late-breaking OA opportunism, and its recent buying spree have left bepress customers – academic librarians, for the most part – feeling betrayed.
The second story cut the other way. Earlier in the week, the editors of the Journal of Algebraic Combinatorics announced plans to jump ship from the journal’s owner, publishing giant SpringerNature, to start an open access alternative, Algebraic Combinatorics. The editors, joined by nearly all the editorial board, cited Springer’s practice of “double dipping” – high subscription fees and steep author charges to unlock single articles. Springer and other commercial publishers, the editors wrote in their press release announcing the move, are “profiting from the volunteer labour of the academic community, and adding little value”.