The business of academic publishing: “a catastrophe” – ScienceDirect

Richard Smith, a former editor at BMJ, reviews Jason Schmitt’s film, Paywall.

As I watched Paywall: The Business of Scholarship, I was taken back 30 years to when I thought for the first time about the business aspects of academic publishing. I was an assistant editor at the BMJ, and the editor asked me to join a meeting with a group of rheumatologists who wanted a share in the Annals of Rheumatic Diseases, a journal we owned. “We do the research published in the journal”, said one of the rheumatologists. “We do the peer review, we edit the journal, we read it, and we store it in our libraries. What do you do?” “Tell them what we do”, said the editor to me. I was at a complete loss….”

How one perplexing pirate is plundering the publishers • The Medical RepublicThe Medical Republic

“If the dissemination of almost all scientific research can be achieved by one solitary hacker based in Eastern Europe, what could possibly be making these articles so expensive to produce? It’s not like publishers are covering the cost of doing the scientific research. That bill is picked up by the taxpayer. And the peer reviewing is usually donated labour.

The huge – and arguably humanitarian – Sci-Hub project is making the publishing industry more than a little nervous. In 2017, Elsevier successfully sued Elbakyan for $15 million in the US. In another case brought against Sci-Hub in 2017, the court awarded $4.8 million in damages to the American Chemical Society….

Publishers are now on the back foot in price negotiations because the unspoken threat of Sci-Hub lingers in the air. With around 300 institutions in Germany and Sweden refusing to renew their subscriptions with Elsevier, thousands of researchers had their access to journals suspended. How long before those stranded academics resort to piracy?

Sci-Hub may be the match that finally ignites the open access revolution, but what do we really know about the woman at the helm? What is she like? What is her end goal? Who is funding her operation? Is she an ally or a threat to the West?…”

Book Review: Shadow Libraries: Access to Knowledge in Global Higher Education » Open@VT

Shadow Libraries is a collection of country studies exploring “how students get the materials they need.”  Most chapters report original research (usually responses to student surveys) in addition to providing useful background on the shadow library history of each nation (Russia, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, India, Poland, and South Africa).  As editor Karaganis puts it in his introduction, the book shows “the personal struggle to participate in global scientific and educational communities, and the recourse to a wide array of ad hoc strategies and networks when formal, authorized means are lacking… ” (p. 3). Shadow libraries, sometimes called pirate libraries, consist of texts (in this case, scholarly texts) aggregated outside the legal framework of copyright.

Karaganis’ introductory chapter does an excellent job summarizing the themes connecting the chapters, and is worth reading by itself.  For example, the factors leading to the development of shadow libraries are common to each country covered: low income; a dysfunctional market in which materials either aren’t available or are overpriced; a rising student population; and easy access to copying and/or sharing technology. The student population boom in low and middle-income countries in the last 20 years is remarkable- quadrupling in India, tripling in Brazil, and doubling in Poland, Mexico, and South Africa.  At the same time, reductions in state support for higher education have exacerbated the affordability problem, leaving the market to meet (or more commonly, not meet) demand.  Add to this the tendency of publishers to price learning and research materials for libraries rather than individuals, and the result is a real crisis of legal access….”

Ciencia: Todos contra Elsevier, el gigante editorial científico que cobra a España 25 kilos al año

From Google’s English: “The opacity of how much public institutions invest in subscriptions to scientific journals is maximum. Until now there was nothing published about it. However, records analyzed by Teknautas and the Data Unit of El Confidencial offer a first estimate: Spain spends around 25 million euros annually on subscriptions to Elsevier , an amount that doubles or triples the expenditure of other European countries.

Until recently, the activity of this editorial went unnoticed by the common non-scientific mortals despite billing 2,600 million euros in 2016. However, one day they saw their business threatened and decided to counterattack ….”

The Dark side of Sci-Hub | Medico musings…

“The problem is that , as cyber security experts say, they have never met a cyber criminal who gets into a database, takes only what is necessary and gets out. Chances are he looks around. Pilfers something else that might be of value. Or worse still leaves behind something nasty.( as of this writing, there is no evidence that Scihub or its partners have actually compromised the security of the universities with any malware).

Moreover when a password is hacked, the hacker has access to the bare minimum information in the database – for example a library database. The details such as username, age, gender, timing of visiting the library, date of joining, last visit taken, last book etc can be easily gotten. From then it is only a matter of social engineering to gain access to other portals – email, social media etc. It is also a matter of concern that some people have the same password for all their sites ! …

[P]ublishers [might] tighten access – perhaps a DRM (digital rights management) or two factor authentication might be introduced – so even if the passwords are stolen by phishing attacks/attacks on university, it will become harder to access the articles….

To make things worse, nothing in Russia can be done without the tacit approval of the government. It is  a well known fact that , as a price for such approval, the government/non governmental actors might want to be a ‘part’ of the project, presumably not to download science articles. She being a marked woman, with no other refuge, would have to yield to their pressure or face the music. People have disappeared for daring to disobey the non-governmental actors in Russia.

This is where the possibility of compromised passwords providing access to the university systems causes worry. However all of this remains conjecture – or the feverish imagination of jobless bloggers at the moment. (But who doesn’t love the bragging rights to ‘I told you so’ when a disaster strikes in the future).

There is also evidence that China has been downloading a lot more than the usual academic download – although for what purpose isn’t known. Also Iran is the third largest access site – that too, a small city in Iran, raising eyebrows about what is going on….”

Who is pirating medical literature? A bibliometric review of 28 million Sci-Hub downloads – The Lancet Global Health

“The use of illegal online “shadow libraries” such as Sci-Hub has also emerged as a means of accessing scientific literature.4 An analysis of requests to the site logged from September 2015 to January 2016 revealed that Sci-Hub had successfully satisfied 99·3% of queries….

We aimed to define the proportion of downloads on Sci-Hub that are medical in nature and to consider these data at the national level, evaluating the relation between density of medical literature downloads and scientific output, national income classifications, and indicators of internet penetrance….

Of 27·8 million download queries, 23·2 million were requests for journal articles. We categorised 94% of requests using Scopus terms. 4·7 million requests (22%) were for medical journal articles….

Most queries for medical literature originated in LMICs (3·3 million, 69%). Almost half (2·2 million, 47%) originated in upper-middle income countries….

Nearly 1 million articles published by medical journals are downloaded on Sci-Hub each month….”

Scientific publishing is a rip-off. We fund the research – it should be free | George Monbiot | Opinion | The Guardian

“Never underestimate the power of one determined person. What Carole Cadwalladr has done to Facebook and big data, and Edward Snowden has done to the state security complex, the young Kazakhstani scientist Alexandra Elbakyan has done to the multibillion-dollar industry that traps knowledge behind paywalls. Sci-Hub, her pirate web scraper service, has done more than any government to tackle one of the biggest rip-offs of the modern era: the capture of publicly funded research that should belong to us all. Everyone should be free to learn; knowledge should be disseminated as widely as possible. No one would publicly disagree with these sentiments. Yet governments and universities have allowed the big academic publishers to deny these rights. Academic publishing might sound like an obscure and fusty affair, but it uses one of the most ruthless and profitable business models of any industry.

The model was pioneered by the notorious conman Robert Maxwell. He realised that, because scientists need to be informed about all significant developments in their field, every journal that publishes academic papers can establish a monopoly and charge outrageous fees for the transmission of knowledge. He called his discovery “a perpetual financing machine”. He also realised that he could capture other people’s labour and resources for nothing. Governments funded the research published by his company, Pergamon, while scientists wrote the articles, reviewed them and edited the journalsfor free. His business model relied on the enclosure of common and public resources. Or, to use the technical term, daylight robbery.

As his other ventures ran into trouble, he sold his company to the Dutch publishing giant Elsevier. Like its major rivals, it has sustained the model to this day, and continues to make spectacular profits. Half the world’s research is published by five companies: Reed Elsevier, Springer, Taylor & Francis, Wiley-Blackwell and the American Chemical Society. Libraries must pay a fortune for their bundled journals, while those outside the university system are asked to pay $20, $30, sometimes $50 to read a single article….”

Open Access: “Plan S” Needs to Drop “Option B” – Open Access Archivangelism

But the culprits for the prohibitive pay-walling are not just the publishers: They are also the researchers, their institutions and their research grant funders — for not requiring all peer-reviewed research to be  made Open Access (OA) immediately upon acceptance for publication through researcher self-archiving intheir own institutional open access repositories.

Instead the OA policy of the EC (“Plan S“) and other institutional and funder OA policies worldwide are allowing publishers to continue their parasitism by offering researcher’ the choice between Option A (self-archiving their published research) or Option B (paying to publish it in an OA journal where publishers simply name their price and the parasitism continues in another key)….

And many researchers are ignoring the embargoes and spontaneously self-archiving their published papers — and have been doing it, inclreasingly  for almost 30 years now (without a single lawsuit).

But spontaneous self-archiving is growing far too slowly: it requires systematic mandates from institutions and funders in order to break out of the paywalls.

The only thing that is and has been sustaining the paywalls on research has been publishers’ lobbying of governments on funder OA policy and their manipulation of institutional OA policy with “Big Deals” on extortionate library licensing fees to ensure that OA policies always include Option B.

The solution is ever so simple: OA policies must drop Option B.”

What is the Price to Pay for Sci-Hub’s “Free” Articles

Costs can include those associated with building and maintaining a Web-based system that lets authors submit their papers at any time, Zappulla notes. There are also content management systems that keep track of articles as they’re submitted, peer-reviewed, and revised to provide critical feedback to authors and further the scholarly publishing process. Copy editing, text formatting, and graphics processing take place before a manuscript is finally published and uploaded to a digital library.

“Whether they are on the Web or in print, authors still want their articles to be easily discovered and read and to look good,” Zappulla says. “None of that is without cost.”

And for IEEE there’s the cost of keeping its platform, the IEEE Xplore Digital Library, running at the state of the art.

Added to those investments is the cost of archiving the material to “ensure the content will be available for posterity, no matter what happens,” Guida says. “The costs of continuing to create and develop the outstanding scholarly journals that IEEE and other STM publishers have introduced over the years must be covered.” Revenue from traditional subscriptions pays for those services, Zappulla says….”

Guest Post: Think Sci-Hub is Just Downloading PDFs? Think Again – The Scholarly Kitchen

Let me be clear: Sci-Hub is not just stealing PDFs. They’re phishing, they’re spamming, they’re hacking, they’re password-cracking, and basically doing anything to find personal credentials to get into academic institutions. While illegal access to published content is the most obvious target, this is just the tip of an iceberg concealing underlying efforts to steal multiple streams of personal and research data from the world’s academic institutions….”