Academic Publishing: Scientific Journals Need to Open Up- Part 3

In the previous two parts, I have discussed about the rise of publishing; historical contexts and open access. The following highlight emphasises more important aspect of publishing in order to understand the rise of Elsevier (as the aggregation platform).

Before World War II, many smaller society journals made ends meet by actually charging authors per-page fees to publish; by contrast, the commercial publishers launching new journals after the war were able to get by on subscription charges that university librarians, particularly in the U.S., were willing to pay.

Library budgets were growing, professors who published in the journals insisted that their universities subscribe and favorable exchange rates kept the prices charged by European publishers within reason in dollar terms.The floating of the world’s major currencies in 1971, and the economic troubles that followed, brought complaints about high journal prices and kicked off a more complicated era for the business overall

Viewpoint: Covid-19 Shows That Scientific Journals Need to Open Up

Here’s another historical perspective:

Elsevier (pronounced el-suh-veer) began to dabble in scientific publishing in the 1930s, started its first English-language journal in 1947 and became a major force in the field after merging its scientific arm with North-Holland in 1970.

Soon after that, it found the leader who would drive it to the top. Pierre Vinken was a neurosurgeon who became a part-time editor at the non-profit medical abstracts service Excerpta Medica in the 1950s, moved into a full-time executive role in the 1960s and then persuaded his colleagues to convert to for-profit status so they could sell out to Elsevier in 1971

For any monopoly to take root, it requires to be an aggregation platform. I have no idea why there was no regulation involved to control the rise of an academic gatekeeper. The financials are too complicated for me to dissect but in the pandemic era, I am sure that the governments would focus their attention to this.

The rise (and further rise) of Elsevier is examplified here:

Elsevier picked up Pergamon and its 418 journals from a cash-strapped Maxwell in 1991, then went on to add the Lancet and Academic Press to its portfolio, among many others. It merged with British publisher Reed in 1992 and today is the chief profit center of the most profitable and valuable media company that hardly anybody has heard of: Relx Plc boasts a market capitalization more than six times that of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., three times that of ViacomCBS Inc. and 36% higher than Thomson Reuters Corp.

Oh Boy!