Academic publishing is moving toward a major overhaul.
Traditionally, scholars have submitted their manuscripts to journals. Submissions are evaluated for rigor, excellence, and potential impact; only those manuscripts that pass muster are published in the journals. Universities and other institutions subscribe to the journals, thereby purchasing access to the journals’ contents for anyone affiliated with the institution.
In the paper-and-ink era the academic publishers were saddled with the expenses of printing and warehousing and distributing the journals. By now though the printed journal has been rendered all but obsolete by online publication. Distribution is now nearly free and instantaneous. Access too: instead of traipsing to the library and poring through the archives hoping to find the volume you’re looking for, now you can read articles online from anywhere, any time.
The publishers don’t create journal content: that’s the work of the scholars, who get paid by the institutions with which they’re affiliated and by the granting agencies supporting their projects. The publishers don’t vet the submitted manuscripts either: that’s done by peer reviewers, who aren’t paid for their efforts. So: if variable costs are absorbed by the scholars, and if fixed costs are eliminated by e-publishing, and if reader access is no longer constrained by physical access to the printed journal, why not just make journals open-access, free for any and all to read regardless of institutional affiliation?
The publishers still incur some costs: they have to wrangle the talent, format and copy-edit the texts, and ensure that the online interfaces are working smoothly. But why pass those costs on to the readers? Authors of published articles don’t benefit from restricting access — the wider the distribution net, the the greater the potential readership, impact, recognition, reward. Equipped with online publishing tools, the authors already shoulder most of the editing and formatting load. Open-access journals are already changing the publishing ecologies of scholarly disciplines. to varying degrees — why not fully shift to that model, cutting out the added expenses and distribution bottlenecks imposed by for-profit publishing companies? Or, even more quickly and efficiently, why not have the authors self-publish their articles, submitting them to an independent peer review board whose findings are likewise published and open to public discussion? Whatever remaining administrative expenses are incurred in publishing and distributing online open access research can be covered by the institutions financing the authors’ work, which also benefit from widespread distribution.
**Here’s an article that came out today spotlighting some of the efforts that academic institutions and scholars (collectively and individually) are taking to circumvent the access paywalls and bottlenecks imposed by the academic publishing industry.**
So that’s the trajectory in scholarly publishing. Are there implications for the publication of fictional texts? Not surprisingly, I’ve got some thoughts… next time.