freedom of information

The entire editorial board of the Elsevier-published Journal of Algorithms resigned to protest price gouging by the publisher. The overblown cost of journal publications is a real problem, especially given the recent budget crunches at universities. There has been a lot of consolidation in the academic publishing business, and publishers force libraries to buy packages of journals, fobbing off several lower-tier journals for each well-regarded one. The American Library Association has identified the reform of scholarly communication as a major issue facing libraries today, and other library groups have issued stronger broadsides against commercial academic publishers. Things are especially bad in the sciences, which has sparked the formation of the Public Library of Science, which has a new biology journal and plans for other disciplines as well.

Right now, one sixth of the entire U.C. library budget is spent on Elsevier’s “Science Direct Online.” In 2003… Elsevier wanted a 37% increase in the fee paid for Science Direct Online, phased in over the next 5 years… the way Elsevier has these journals “bundled” the library would have to cut 40% of the journals before it realizes a penny of savings. So, the librarians may get tough and drop Science Direct Online altogether.

The above is from a rant by John Baez, but it drives the point home. The reputation of a journal is made by its editorial board and reviewers. Why should they work for a pittance on a journal, only to have the publisher turn around and sell it back to them for a huge profit? I doubt that the value added in printing and running a batch script to convert .ps to .pdf is that much.

But the news is good — hopefully others will follow and the dissemination of information will be helped, not hindered, by new technologies.