The Lairds of Learning
Posted: 29 Aug 2011 11:49 AM PDT
How did academic publishers acquire these feudal powers?
By George Monbiot. Published in the Guardian 30th August 2011

Who are the most ruthless capitalists in the Western world? Whose monopolistic practices makes WalMart look like a corner shop and Rupert Murdoch look like a socialist? You won’t guess the answer in a month of Sundays. While there are plenty of candidates, my vote goes not to the banks, the oil companies or the health insurers, but – wait for it – to academic publishers. Theirs might sound like a fusty and insignificant sector. It is anything but. Of all corporate scams, the racket they run is most urgently in need of referral to the competition authorities.

Everyone claims to agree that people should be encouraged to understand science and other academic research. Without current knowledge, we cannot make coherent democratic decisions. But the publishers have slapped a padlock and a Keep Out sign on the gates.

You might resent Murdoch’s paywall policy, in which he charges £1 for 24 hours of access to the Times and Sunday Times. But at least in that period you can read and download as many articles as you like. Reading a single article published by one of Elsevier’s journals will cost you $31.50(1). Springer charges Eur34.95(2), Wiley-Blackwell, $42(3). Read ten and you pay ten times. And the journals retain perpetual copyright. You want to read a letter printed in 1981? That’ll be $31.50(4).

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