Letters to the Editor

Scholarly Publishing Needs a New Model: iTunes

February 19, 2012

To the Editor:

There has been extensive coverage recently about the Research Works Act in the United States, a boycott of Elsevier for its publishing and subscription practices, and subsequent discussions about more-open access to scholarly work. This includes a recent article in The Chronicle ("Who Gets to See Published Research?," January 22). Much of the reaction has focused on the high cost of access, which effectively means that only institutionally affiliated individuals can readily obtain journal articles, even though much of this work is taxpayer-funded and available through the volunteer contributions of editors and peer reviewers. In addition, institutions are forced to buy expensive subscription packages that combine less-desired journals with more highly sought-out journals, and nonaffiliated individuals—members of the public, independent scholars, journalists—are effectively shut out. After all, who can afford to pay $10, $15, or even more for a single article that might not even be germane to one's work? Who could afford, without institutional access, to thoroughly review an area of scholarship?

It seems to us that the standard academic publishing model is in dire need of reform. It's time for a new model, something akin to the iTunes subscription model (iJournal?), in which scholarly articles would be available to anyone for download at a low cost. Many songs on iTunes can currently be purchased for 99 cents to $1.29, below a psychological price barrier that might otherwise inhibit frequent purchase. Similarly priced journal articles may stimulate far more sales (and revenue) than the current pricing scheme. The publishers might actually make money from single-user access; institutions could consider paying for actual use rather than bulk subscriptions; scholars would get a new metric of interest in their work through number and frequency of download; and there would be more access (not quite open, but closer) to the knowledge from all those minds and taxpayer dollars at work.

Michael Seto
Brockville, Ontario

Meredith Chivers
Assistant Professor of Psychology
Queen's University
Kingston, Ontario