Continuing on academic publishing, bibliometric lists and other random bits (2nd part)

Jose Teixeira photo

Did we open the bouteille de champagne? TSEpustuksia blog platform went live for a bit more than a year. Thanks to the efforts of Jonna Järveläinen and others at the Department of Management at Turku School of Economics, now part of University of Turku (Finland). Teachers and researchers linked to the department have yet another mechanism to spread their academic thoughts and ideas by the informal and often interesting blog manners.

For my first blog post, on October 2011, I shared some research drafting ideas on open-source technologies for realizing social networks and applications. With some of the feedback collected from the blog post readers, I worked on it and successfully shared my research findings in the 8th International Conference on Open Source Systems (http://oss2012.org/), the number one conference in my field held this year in Tunisia. Some success was achieved, but the work further continues and I will try to share my research insights to a more generalist audience (some information systems generalist journal).

On my second blog post, on February 2012, I share some of my thoughts on how academic publishing works, mentioned the open-access movement and the newly introduced Finnish bibliometric list that will have a depth impact on scholar daily work. My last blog post ends with a table with the TOP20 generalist journals in Information Systems Science and their ratings according the Finnish, Norwegian and Danish bibliometric lists.I also provided information on either those journals were indexed by the publishing super-houses Thomson Reuters and Elsevier, together with access information in either it is an open-access journal or correspondent 1 year subscription price (the retail price cost that universities need to pay to publishing houses for being able to access to the content of the publication online).

For this third blog post, 8 months later, I will provided an analysis of the previously provided tabular data and an overview on how this this new bibliometric lists are impacting my ongoing research efforts. Following I copy&paste my previous blog entry tables since the remaining part of my blog entry is just an analysis of the same tables from different economic perspectives.

“Top” Information Systems journals

AIS JOURNAL RANKING FINNISH LEVEL (1-3) NORWEGIAN LEVEL (1-2) DANISH LEVEL (1-2) IN THOMSON-REUTERS WOK? IN ELSEVIER SCOPUS? OPEN-ACCESS JOURNAL? 1 YEAR ONLINE-SUBSCRIPTION RETAIL-PRICE
1 MISQ 3 2 2 yes yes no 1000 USD
2 ISR 3 2 2 yes yes no 395 USD
3 ACM 2 2 2 yes yes no 120 USD
4 MS 3 2 2 yes yes no 804 USD
5 JMIS 3 2 2 yes yes no 995 USD
6 AI 3 2 2 yes yes no 3022 EUR
7 DSI 3 2 2 yes yes no 409 EUR
8 HBR 2 2 2 yes yes no 106 EUR
9 ITI 2 1 1 yes yes no 630 USD
10 AIM 1 1 1 yes yes no free*
11 EIS 2 2 2 yes yes no 764 GBP
12 DSS 2 2 2 yes yes no 1317 EUR
13 CS 2 2 2 yes yes no 29.95 USD
14 I&M 3 2 2 yes yes no 957 EUR
15 ATD 3 2 2 yes yes no 214 USD
16 TSE 3 2 2 yes yes no 156 USD
17 ATI 3 2 2 yes yes no 172 USD
18 CSS 3 2 2 yes yes no 2759 EUR
19 SR 2 1 2 yes yes no 69 USD
20 AIS 1 1 2 no yes no free*

(*) Free for members of academic associations: AAAI and AIS

“Top” journal and conference on my field of research

AIS JOURNAL RANKING FINNISH LEVEL (1-3) NORWEGIAN LEVEL (1-2) DANISH LEVEL(1-2) IN THOMSON-REUTERS WOK? IN ELSEVIER SCOPUS? OPEN-ACCESS PUB? 1 YEAR ONLINE-SUBSCRIPTION RETAIL-PRICE
First Monday 1 1 2 no yes (viaDOAJ) yes free
ICOSS NA NA NA no no no free for conference participants
The first table aggregates the TOP 20 journals according the respectful Association for Information Systems and the second table, with just two rows lists the most respectful outlets for disseminating knowledge on my own field of expertise (open-source software).  The following sections will reflect then my own analysis of the provided tabular information from different perspectives mattering scholarly publishing.

High ranked journals are extremely expensive !!

Information Systems TOP 20 journals are extremely expensive. The cost of one year online subscription for one of this journals ranges from 0 to 3022 EUR.  We can easily observe that journals provided by traditional publication houses (Elsevier, Wiley,Macmillan,etc) are much more expensive that the journals provided by professional organizations (ACM, IEEE,etc) and academic organizations (AIS, INFORMS, AAAI,etc). From the set of the TOP 20 journals, two organizations (AIS and AAAI) provide their publications for free on the Internet to researcher belonging to the organization (by paying small membership fees). Let’s note that none of the top journals is open-access since no publication is freely and indiscriminately available to any Internet reader.

As in many research fields, within Information Systems, Elsevier journals are also the most expensive. Subscribing the online editions of Elsevier’s Artificial IntelligenceDecision Support SystemsInformation & Managementand Journal of Computer and System Sciences can cost (3022+1317+957+2759 EUR) 8055 EUR, even without being the most influential journals in the field! An expensive cost, often superior to the cost of hiring an full-time doctoral student (depending on country usual wages) and specially taking in account that publishers do not fund their content providers. Authors, reviewers and editors work on an voluntary basis, most often funded by tax payers.

By looking once again at the table, we notice that the most reputed journals are not most expensive. It is important to notice that, in academic publishing, the subscription price of a journal in not correlated with its quality. But why are traditional publishing super-houses charging so much? The most often explication comes from the cartelization of the scholarly publishing business. Within last two decades we saw a few publish houses, powered with leverage provided from New York, London and Amsterdam based banks, merging and acquiring more and more smaller publishing labels. Consequently, the remaining super-houses, in a cartel environment, control huge publication portfolios that increase their negotiation power when dealing with universities and libraries that require access to the exiting body of knowledge for performing research.

A publishing super-house like the Amsterdam-based Elsevier, that in 2010 reported 36% profit on revenues of $3.2 billion, can credit part of their business success (outranking the big oil and pharma corporations) to their commercial strategy resembling the same strategy employed by the souvenir sales-man that I encountered in the maze-like streets of the Tunis Medina when visiting the Tunisian capital for an academic conference.

In an analogy to the publishing super-house commercial strategy, here I introduce my kahva set acquired in Tunis Medina where many salesman fight to convert of tourists-visits until sales of local handicrafts and other souvenirs.  The kahva set comprising a small wooden support table, a tray, one pot and four cups is now decorating my my kitchen, receiving compliments from some of guests.

Tunisian kahva set

Setup an high initial price !!

When showing interest in the kahva (needed to decorate my kitchen) the sales-person started by demanding very high prices. However, after a long negotiation the prices decreased and it’s clear that very few people actually pay the price initially requested by the sales-person. I paid for the table 30% of the initial price, but since I don’t have much idea about the product production costs or it’s usual retail costs,  I really don’t have any idea if I paid to much for the product (no idea for how much the sale-man pays to it’s supplier for the same product). Anyway, with such big ”discount” towards the initial price, I have a felling that I made a good deal.

In analogy, when an university subscribes to publications (essential to perform research),  the publishing super-house starts by demanding exorbitant retail prices. However universities, or public organizations representing them, often demand rappel discounts (since they subscribe to so many publications) . Purchasers often don’t know about an publication production costs or publishers operational costs, and consequently as humans they can fell that the publisher is actually offering a big ”discount” to the academic intuition.

But how much really costs to run an academic journal publication? Publishers don’t reveal by Academics have actually the answer: From the production point of view, Tenopir and King surveyed in 2010 the cost of academic journals according to information supplied by publishers of several nonprofit journals and it appears that first copy costs an average about 100 USD per page. Bergstrom, calculated in 2011, that the marginal subscriber costs are about 0.02 USD per subscriber. This means that there is a colossal difference between the costs of running an academic journal publication and its sales price, explaining the notable and growling wealth of a publishing super-house.

Another commercial benefit associated with the setting of such high initial retail prices emerges in case of legal litigation. If researchers and associated academic intuitions violate publisher’s intellectual property (for instance by hosting full papers in author’s web-page), an crime punishable with years of prison in Finland; the calculation of damages to be paid take in account those high initial price tags (even if their content is sold at a much lower average-sales-price).

Do not share the production advancement benefits with customers !!

Handcrafted vs Machine-pressed silver trays

When showing interest in a kahva silver tray,  the sales-person promptly highlight the difference between handcrafted and machine pressed trays. The first, hand-made by a local artisan was more expensive and prone to imperfections in it’s decoration pattern; the second, industrially produced, using a press was available at a much lower price (obvious to me since industrial production costs are much lower).

In analogy, within publishing, the invention of the modern printing press by Gutenberg in 1450 D.C revolutionized the book-making process by smashing the huge human investments of hand-written copies (making the costs of producing one or hundreds of books very similar). This disruptive reduction of publishing costs enhanced the circulation of information and ideas all over the world till a second disruptive revolution that came with the digitization of the publishing industry.

However, even if the digitization reduced extraordinary publisher’s operational costs (less printing blocks, ink, paper, logistics, wages, etc)  the price of academic publications did not drop (as with Gutenberg ) but rose substantially. Meaning, that publishers did not share the production advancement benefits with their customers. Actually publishing super-houses charge much more now: A book formatted in the pdf format and distributed over the internet cost now more than a similar book physically pressed and sent via regular mail 10 year ago !!!

It is important to notice that publication prices are increasing at a very fast pace, a complete study from the Association of Research Libraries estimates that in the time period 1986-2006, subscription prices to scholarly journals rose by 321% while the subscriptions to these periodicals over the same time period only increased by 51%. This can be translated into serial unit cost increase over the same time period rose 180%, while the Consumer Price Index of the same time has only risen 84%. This means that the  publishing super-houses are getting bigger and bigger stakes from the public budgets allocated to research (at expense of scholars, universities and their libraries).

Built a good portfolio offer, but pack it in bundles !!

My kahva set included 1 pot and 2 cups (not enough for me), so I showed some interest in buy 2 extra cups for having a more complete set. However, the individual price of each cup set by the salesman was so high !! Buying 2 cups separately was more expensive than buying the overall set (1 pot + 2 cups + table) ! With this ”bundles” commercial strategy, handicraft salesman force their customers to to by an overall set over selecting items at a prohibitive price.

In analogy, withing academic publishing, Universities and other research intuitions are practicably forced buy very large ”bundles”, which will include many journals that those libraries do not actually want. Super-house publishers controlling a large set of the published body of theoretical knowledge force their customers to pay both for the good and the crappy journals. Since reading, reviewing and citing is essential for researchers, super-house publishers exploit it making huge profits.

The interesting is that by charging outrageous prices for necessary journals and bundling unneeded journals, publisher’s salesforce have great arguments when dealing with their subscribers: By subscribing an bundle, cost-price per-journal drops and available readership widens; Something easy to sell, however in practice universities lost their freedom of selecting witch journals they pay for and the monetary sums that universities or public organization repressing them transfer to publishers continues increasing exponentially. Even better, since most researchers don’t have any clear idea about how much each journal/paper that he reads and cites costs (it’s a library or minister of education issue), most researcher are even not aware that research budgets shift more and more towards the publisher side at is own expense !!

Joyful scene from Medina streets market in Tunis

Continues in a next episode … academic duties going on.

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About jaateixeira

Jose Teixeira is currently a doctoral candidate at the Information Systems Science department of Turku University. He worked and studied across many EU member states. He studied in Oporto University, IAE Aix-en-Provence, Turku School of Economics and Tilburg University, studying topics on computer science, information systems, management and economics. He also worked in the Industry for reputable companies such as Wipro, Tesco and Nokia. His research addresses the open-source software phenomenon from different economical point-of-views. More information on the researcher and its academic activities can be found at www.jteixeira.eu

One thought on “Continuing on academic publishing, bibliometric lists and other random bits (2nd part)

  1. Very interesting analogue indeed! Similar with you, I am increasingly annoyed by the fact that EVERYBODY admit that open access to knowledge is a trend to the future; but NOBODY, or almost nobody, ever does anything to push this trend! This article is a small step, but hope it can reach broader audience and awaken more researchers for doing something that we could.

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