No easy way to be free

Last year I was asked by a friend and colleague to contribute an article to a special journal issue she was co-editing that would be dedicated to personal genomics. I was happy to be asked and I think the issue as a whole turned out rather well.

This morning someone forwarded me an email from a market research firm that is selling this very same 98-page issue for 400 EUR (single license), 1250 EUR (site license), or 1950 EUR (“Enterprisewide,” whatever that means). And no, I’m not providing a link…I reckon it’s easy enough to find.

Look, I understand these are tough times for journals. Indeed these are tough times for most of us. And the godless capitalist in me understands what is going on here, even if I can’t quite applaud it. Preying upon other people’s ignorance may be icky, but it is not necessarily a crime. That said…come on now: 400 euros? That’s $514.61 (as of this morning). For less than 100 pages of scholarship.

Right now seven of the 14 articles are free. The other seven are $60 each. So even without a discount that’s still cheaper than any of the options offered by the market research middlemen. And of course if anyone wants the article I wrote, I will always send a PDF just as so many academics from all over the world have graciously and freely shared their published papers with me.

The other thing that sticks in my craw is the way this dysfunctional and perverse food chain operates.  We academics do the work, often at taxpayer expense, and our mission is to disseminate what we learn as widely as possible. We write for, review for and edit journals without compensation so that we can fulfill our scholarly mission. I am not looking for a piece of the action. I already feel fortunate that I get to do what I do for a living. And while I wish every journal were open access a la PLoS, I understand that change is hard and journals have fixed costs, etc.

But I think there’s a difference between selling expensive journal subscriptions and selling that very same scholarly content as “market research” at an even more obscene markup.

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