Professional Publishing Under Pressure: WWED?

May 18, 2018

Professional publishers have been chugging along as other types of publishing companies have struggled. Sure, pumping up the revenue line has been hard work. Just ask a former senior manager at Reed Elsevier, Thomson Reuters, or Wolters Kluwer, among others.

But the job is now getting increasingly difficult.

Let’s assume that the information in “Sweden Ends Contract with Science Publisher Elsevier, Moving for Open Access for Scientific Articles” is accurate. I learned:

Sweden, like many other European countries, is aiming for full scientific “open access” (free article reading) by 2026. In 2017, Swedish universities paid Elsevier €1.3M ($1.5M) for article publications and €12M ($14.1M) for access to articles. Now Sweden is demanding that Elsevier make Swedish research content fully available to the public and make its 1,900 journals fully available to Swedish researchers, all at a reasonable price to Swedish universities.

What will Elsevier do? What will other professional publishing companies do? Reduce prices? Cut Ebsco type deals?

I suppose one fund raising option could be a Lance Armstrong type plastic bracelet that says, “WWED”, shorthand for “What Would Elsevier Do?” Maybe a Patreon play is warranted?

The reality is that if one is expecting law firms, accountants, and universities to pay like it was 1999, that seems unlikely to me. What can be dropped for lower cost or “good enough” free online services? Here’s a short list:

  • Peer reviewed journals
  • Publications which charge authors to include their “scientific studies”
  • Exploiters of the tenure chasing PhDs
  • Recycled public documents related to law and tax regulations
  • Collections of essays submitted to an organization no one knows much about which offers expensive journals and odd duck conferences featuring the published experts
  • Compilations of US and Canadian government information.

Of course, this Swedish resistance could be a mere blip, a negotiating ploy.

On the other hand, maybe the world of professional publishing has already changed?

Stephen E Arnold, May 18, 2018


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