This seems typical of the world of publishing today. Many publishers are merely money making machines, with little regard for either students, or knowledge. Unfortunately, as publishers adopt more and more predatory practices, they end up pissing off both students and professors. There is one major academic publisher in my field Cengage (who operate under many other names), whose books I now refuse to use. They update editions every three years, doing little more than changing page numbers and changing the order of exercises. Each new edition comes with a substantial price hike and force me to rework sections of my classes. The result of this? I now have the equivalent of an on-line text I have developed myself over the years. So, they have lost the business.
It is the very same publishing houses who are mean about sending us desk copies and charge us for them, if we do not adopt their texts. Again, they end up as losers, as there is no incentive to use their texts. They also get pissy when we sell the books that they send to us, without our asking. This again is silly. In the State in which I teach, professors have not had a pay rise in four years, so a few bucks to buy lunch was a welcome perk. Stopping this perk does not make us like them any more.
That being said, not all publishers are like this. Some keep their editions for a long time and do not change much when they bring out new editions. A good example of this is Oxford University Press. So, when I need to use a text for a class, all the business goes to OUP. This is the correct way to do business in publishing. It should not be about quarterly results, but rather about building and maintaining long term relationships. The technological innovation described in the post is just yet another step in the wrong direction. Eventually though, publishers will have to work out the errors of their ways, or perish./p
I have signed the boycott petition. It is great to have such an opportunity. The reason I signed is because I work at a State university and as such I am a public servant of the State. Doing research is what I am paid to do by the people of my State. However, once research is completed, it needs to get published. I can post it to various sites, but that does little good -- as others have noted, publication in a 'good' place matters. That is what gets visibility. So, I send a paper to a journal. The editorial assisants then send the paper out to referees. The referees are also usually other professors, frequently work at other State institutions. The referees produce reports and make recommendations about whether the paper should be published. However, referees also work for free. If the paper gets accepted, there are usually some changes that need to be made. No problem. Thus far, the whole process is State funded and nobody has made a dime, other than their salary.
The next step is where the the trouble starts. Before the paper will be given final acceptance for publication by the journal, I am required to sign over the entire copyright to the publishers! Thus, far in the process, they have done nothing. Yet, from this point on, they get to profit from my work and that of the referees.
Publishers will provide
If someone wants to read my paper, they must have access to a library with a subscription to the journal. Subscriptions to journals are massively expensive. Should a member of the people of my State want to have access to my work, if they cannot find a library with access, then they must pay the journal publishers for the right to do so.
What is laughable is that the publishers now also do things like offering an option to have the paper available on-line for free. However, to exercise this option, they want *me* to pay them a large fee. This is a crazy set up. They have added little yet get all the cash.
In all fairness, different publishers have different policies on all this. Elsevier (along with Kluwer) just happen to have both the most restrictive policies coupled with the highest prices. However, if I want to get my work out there, or get a promotion (I already have tenure), then I have to play the game the publishers run with fewer morals than a mafia protection racket.
These then are the frustrations that made me sign the anti-Elseview petition. It is makes me mad. The petition shows that I am not alone in this. Perhaps one day Congress will do something useful and outlaw the practices of the publishers. However, as the publishers use their ill gotten gains from the work of others to pay high priced lobbying firms, I doubt this will happen any time soon.
All that being said, there is one tiny plus side. We professors are pretty smart cookies. There are many ways of getting access to materials, even if the library does not have a subscription. This means that there is a thriving set of back-channels that the greed of publishers have created. More than that, I am not prepared to say.
"Though a program be but three lines long, someday it will have to be maintained." -- The Tao of Programming