Redo the Scholarly Journal Model

June 26, 2015

Scholarly publishing is using an outdated business model at a time when other industries are thriving through innovation.

I thought that the most sclerotic industries resistant to change were sick-care, government, and higher ed. For those that work in state-sponsored academic medical centers, that puts them in a tough innovation spot. But, the other day, I was reminded of another sclerotic change-resister: scholarly publishing.

It made me recall when, several years ago, I proposed to a large medical publisher that we create an online text to compete with the existing printed traditional offering. The reply: "We don't do that." I consequently created an online point of care repository in my medical specialty that eventually was acquired by WebMD and is now branded as Medscape Reference.

I continue to question the academic publishing business model. What other industry takes the intellectual property of authors and makes a profit off of it without any compensation to the authors, reviewers, or editors? When it comes to libraries, publishers have monopoly rights. Scientists continue to publish without question because they need to publish or perish.

I'm not the only one who is suspect. Should it be readers pay or author pays? What about the obligation to publish findings supported with grants from taxpayers? Open-access journals are growing and Research Councils UK, a conduit through which the government transmits taxpayers’ money to academic researchers, changed the rules on how the results of studies it pays for are made public.

Perhaps we should take a page out of the Spotify, Pandora, and now Apple music streaming playbook and use a freemium model or a pay-per-view approach. For every click to a freely available article, the author would get a royalty. Taylor Swift does. Jimmy Buffet does. Why shouldn't Dr. Scientist?

There are enough indentured scientists as it is. They shouldn't have to pay to publish their findings and profits should be shared by all those who participate. After all, the taxpayers paid for the research and are entitled to read what they get for their money.


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