The Scholarly Publishing System is Broken

 

At Carolina, we are committed to action that will make scholarship more affordable, sustainable, transparent, and open. The nation’s first public university, committed to the principle “of the public and for the public,” should strive for no less.

Scholars rely on a vast international publishing infrastructure in order to share research and learn about developments in their fields. For decades, academia entrusted publishing to learned societies, university presses, and not-for-profit publishers. Libraries subscribed to journals from these publishers at reasonable costs.

Today, commercial publishers dominate the scholarly publishing market. They have purchased many of the world’s leading scientific journals and have instituted new subscription models. The cost of scholarly information outpaces the rate of inflation. Publisher profits exceed those of corporations such as Apple, Alphabet, and JP Morgan Chase. Subscription costs are breaking library and university budgets around the world.

This problem is not simply a financial one. Universities, research funders, and the scientific community recognize that publishing research in expensive journals limits the growth of new knowledge. Prohibitive costs make it impossible for people at all but the wealthiest institutions to access important findings. Even more, unaffordable subscription prices and high paywalls keep taxpayers from reading and accessing the very research that they have paid for with their tax dollars.

Organizations that subscribe to and license scholarly content have reached a breaking point. The University of California cancelled a major deal with Elsevier, the world’s largest publisher of scientific journals, over failure to reach acceptable terms. Other universities have cancelled “big deal” packages that bundle journals of lesser interest with those of high research value, much as cable companies package little-watched channels with premium content.

Many research funders, including NSF, NIH, Wellcome Trust, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, certain agencies of the U.S. government, and the national funding agencies in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, France, and Canada now require open access publishing to make important findings available to everyone.

Publishers provide many valuable services, such as preparing articles for print or electronic distribution, marketing research publications, and overseeing the peer review process. However, these services offer little value when the cost and terms of purchasing or licensing scholarship become untenable. It is time to build a system of sustainable scholarship that will better serve researchers, universities, learners, and taxpayers.

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