The Future of Scholarly Publishing

What does the future hold for scholarly publishing? Most would agree that the present system is unsustainable yet there remains little consensus on what could and should replace it. Patrick Dunleavy at the LSE Impact Blog makes a compelling case as to the widening scope for disintermediation. Or in other words: what’s the point of scholarly publishers when universities are increasingly able to perform these functions themselves?

Yet now journal articles are all online, most serious or major books will move into electronic format, and scholarly work will become a fully digital product (Weller, 2011). Add in open access and the possible scope for disintermediation widens dramatically. Many large publishers are still charging around $2700 for an open access paper in a good journal, while the sustainable future rate will probably be around $600. This is a huge premium, and it is not going to do academic publishers’ already battered reputations any good at all to try to defend it. Serious, big universities will be thinking, are already thinking – why don’t we publish digitally and open access ourselves?  All that academics at (for instance) Stanford, Harvard, Imperial or LSE get from being published in prestigious journals is the certification of peer review, itself an increasingly battered and replaceable currency.

Yet top universities could organize their own conventional peer review processes economically and effectively, much as they do for PhD examining in the UK, using a system of mutual service and support. All the rest of the piece – getting articles publicized by twitter and blogs, providing a well-edited product, delivering the article to any PC, phablet or colour printer in the world – can be done easily and cheaply by universities themselves. Online communities are already doing the work of developing more and more research, so for universities to directly organize and publish their own peer reviewed journals, monographs and books is a natural next step. In my view only a dramatic fall in journal OA prices can prevent this transition in the next ten years.

And it’s not just in publishing. With the rise of podcasting, universities are already substantial broadcasters – for instance, LSE podcasts have been downloaded many millions of times in 2012-13. Whatever eventually transpires around MOOCs, TV and videocast outputs from universities are already mushrooming. So universities increasingly broadcast their own work across the whole field of the cultural outputs, and they will do so far more in the next decade – partly responding to the also substantial impacts agenda (Bastow et al, 2014).

Categories: Digital Sociology, Higher Education, Mediated Matters

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