“When Arizona State’s University Librarian, Jim O’Donnell, posted a link to an article about the status and strategy of four lawsuits brought in the past few years by commercial publishers on the LibLicense list, it started me on a series of rather disparate reflections about the state of scholarly communications.
Jim’s post was quite innocuous, of the “folks might be interested in this” variety, but he did note that some people might encounter a paywall. The article, “On the limitations of recent lawsuits against Sci-Hub, OMICS, ResearchGate, and Georgia State University,” by Stewart Manley, was published this summer in Learned Publishing, which is available, only with a subscription, through Wiley. My institution ended its Wiley “big deal” a year ago because we could no longer afford it, so I did encounter a paywall — $42 for this single, seven-page article (I ultimately obtained the article using inter-library loan, and am not providing a link to the pay-walled version). I commented, in response to Jim’s post, on this high cost of access, which leads to my first observation about the state of academic publishing.
It s not surprising that many replies to my comment came from people who routinely use the LibLicense list to defend the status quo in commercial publishing, but I was bemused by a common theme that emerged, that I should obtain the article by subscribing to Learned Publishing via a membership in the Society for Scholarly Publishing, which, I was told, was a good deal at $180, with a discount for librarians. Since one of the major points made by Manley, in the article this was all about, is that publishers are using litigation as a last-ditch effort to avoid the ramifications of digital technology, this struck me as quite ironic. The journal issue as a package for multiple articles, only some of which might interest any particular reader, is an anachronism related to print technology. One of the great new affordances of the digital environment is to break open the journal issue and provide article-by-article access. But, because of the continuing desire to maintain excessive profit margins, publishers have undermined this potential with big deals and paywalls. The solution suggested was to return to still another way of paying for lots of stuff I don’t need in order to see the article I do want, just as I had to do in the print era….”