A recent article by George Monbiot in The Guardian takes a critical look at academic publishers, apparently with a focus on the United Kingdom. The article makes the following points:

– Journals now eat up 65 per cent of university library budgets.

– “[A]cademic publishers get their articles, their peer reviewing (vetting by other researchers) and even much of their editing for free.”

– The research published by academic publishers is largely funded by publicly-funded research grants.

– Elsevier, Springer and Wiley currently publish 42 per cent of all journal articles. In the most recent financial year, Elsevier’s operating profit margin was 36 per cent.

The article suggests that the money paid to academic publishers represents a “tax on education,” and that academic publishers add “little value to the publishing process.”

The piece also features the following provocative excerpt:

“In the short term, governments should refer the academic publishers to their competition watchdogs, and insist that all papers arising from publicly funded research are placed in a free public database. In the longer term, they should work with researchers to cut out the middleman altogether, creating — along the lines proposed by Björn Brembs of Berlin’s Freie Universität — a single global archive of academic literature and data. Peer-review would be overseen by an independent body. It could be funded by the library budgets which are currently being diverted into the hands of privateers.”

The article appears amid campaigns for copyright reform by both the Canadian Association of University Teachers and the Canadian Federation of Students. Both organizations advocate in favour of more open access.

This article was first posted on The Progressive Economics Forum.