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Pour le Guardian, les éditeurs universitaires sont plus cupides que Rupert Murdoch, Walmart et les banques.

par John le Dim 8 Juin 2014 - 16:01
Who are the most ruthless capitalists in the western world? Whose monopolistic practices make Walmart look like a corner shop and Rupert Murdoch a socialist? You won't guess the answer in a month of Sundays. While there are plenty of candidates, my vote goes not to the banks, the oil companies or the health insurers, but – wait for it – to academic publishers. Theirs might sound like a fusty and insignificant sector. It is anything but. Of all corporate scams, the racket they run is most urgently in need of referral to the competition authorities.

Everyone claims to agree that people should be encouraged to understand science and other academic research. Without current knowledge, we cannot make coherent democratic decisions. But the publishers have slapped a padlock and a "keep out" sign on the gates.

You might resent Murdoch's paywall policy, in which he charges £1 for 24 hours of access to the Times and Sunday Times. But at least in that period you can read and download as many articles as you like. Reading a single article published by one of Elsevier's journals will cost you $31.50. Springer charges €34.95, Wiley-Blackwell, $42. Read 10 and you pay 10 times. And the journals retain perpetual copyright. You want to read a letter printed in 1981? That'll be $31.50.
Daniel Pudles illo Illustration by Daniel Pudles

Of course, you could go into the library (if it still exists). But they too have been hit by cosmic fees. The average cost of an annual subscription to a chemistry journal is $3,792. Some journals cost $10,000 a year or more to stock. The most expensive I've seen, Elsevier's Biochimica et Biophysica Acta, is $20,930. Though academic libraries have been frantically cutting subscriptions to make ends meet, journals now consume 65% of their budgets, which means they have had to reduce the number of books they buy. Journal fees account for a significant component of universities' costs, which are being passed to their students.

Murdoch pays his journalists and editors, and his companies generate much of the content they use. But the academic publishers get their articles, their peer reviewing (vetting by other researchers) and even much of their editing for free. The material they publish was commissioned and funded not by them but by us, through government research grants and academic stipends. But to see it, we must pay again, and through the nose.

The returns are astronomical: in the past financial year, for example, Elsevier's operating profit margin was 36% (£724m on revenues of £2bn). They result from a stranglehold on the market. Elsevier, Springer and Wiley, who have bought up many of their competitors, now publish 42% of journal articles.

More importantly, universities are locked into buying their products. Academic papers are published in only one place, and they have to be read by researchers trying to keep up with their subject. Demand is inelastic and competition non-existent, because different journals can't publish the same material. In many cases the publishers oblige the libraries to buy a large package of journals, whether or not they want them all. Perhaps it's not surprising that one of the biggest crooks ever to have preyed upon the people of this country – Robert Maxwell – made much of his money through academic publishing.

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"Celui qui ne participe pas à la lutte participe à la défaite" (Brecht)
"La nostalgie, c'est plus ce que c'était" (Simone Signoret)
"Les médias participent à la falsification permanente de l'information" (Umberto Eco)

Re: Pour le Guardian, les éditeurs universitaires sont plus cupides que Rupert Murdoch, Walmart et les banques.

par lumeeka le Dim 8 Juin 2014 - 19:42
Tout dépend en effet de ce que l'on étudie malheureusement. En langues et en histoire/civi, j'ai eu beaucoup de chance, le livre qui m'a coûté le plus est mon dictionnaire Collins/Sansoni (£60/70 à l'époque). Je travaillais au Waterstones de mon campus et je pleurais intérieurement en scannant les manuels des étudiants en droit et en sciences. Ces coûts sont bien sûr à rajouter aux 3000£ annuels de frais universitaires. Wink

Sinon, toujours en sciences, voici la grille de Neurosciences pour les abonnements annuels :

Animals are my friends... and I don't eat my friends. George Bernard Shaw
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