Whose Fall is the Academic Spring?

The past has seen several protests against the controversial business practices of commercial publishing-houses. However none of them had been as influential as the recent Elsevier boycott, a movement, which has later been titled The Academic Spring. It is now almost two years later, as it is in the case of its eponym, The Arab Spring. Recognizing that in many countries of the Arab world the protests have not resulted in the changes, many have hoped for, it seems reasonable to take a look to have a critical look at the outcomes of the Academic uprising.

From unreasonable journal prices, over the publication of fake journals to promote the products of pharmaceutical companies [], the support of the Research Works Act (RWA) however was for many the final nail in the coffin of Elsevier’s integrity []. Elsevier’s opponents however could quickly celebrate their first victory when the RWA was declared dead in late February. The RWA however was only one aspect of the critique and its failure prevented that the situation would turn worse, but it didn’t really affect the status quo. The costofknowledge still continues to gather members, but does not seem to effectively threaten Elsevier’s market-domination. That the problem remains is demonstrated when in April of 2012, the library of Harvard University released a memorandum in which they described increasing difficulties to pay the annual costs for journal subscriptions and conclude that “many large journal publishers have made the scholarly communication environment fiscally unsustainable and academically restrictive.”[]. One year later Greg Martin resigned from his position on the editorial board of Elsevier’s Journal of Number Theory. In the resignation letter he concludes that there have been no observable changes in Elsevier’s business []. In their ‘one year resume’ the initiators of the boycott have been a little bit more optimistic []. While they admit that not much has changed in the general business strategy of Elsevier, the ‘Big Deal’ price negotiations haven’t become more transparent and bundling is still a common practice, they report some minor price drops. However they state, that more importantly, the boycott has raised awareness and increased the support for newer more open business models. What almost all of the critics unites, is a shared hope in open access. The recent Access2Research petition can be seen as a further success of the open access movement, as it convinced the White house to release a memorandum that directs all federal agencies to make all federally-funded research freely available within 12 month after initial publication [].

PLoS One, an open access journal is now by far the largest academic journal in the world [] and open access journals are being founded almost daily. While some of these new journals appear what one would call ‘scam’, they, as well as all the journals with poor quality standards won’t have a long life expectancy. The genie however left the bottle and it is unlikely that the fresh spirit of open access will disappear any time soon.


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