Guardian article on the nature of and background to the "staggeringly profitable" business of academic publishing
The 2015 annual report of Elsevier's parent company, RELX, was published in March.
Happily for RELX the academic publishing part of their business, Elsevier, continues to grow (by 2%) and profits continue to rise (by 3%) - to well over 30% adjusted operating profit (see page 17 of the report). £760 million profit on a turnover of £2070 million is pretty good by the standards of any industry.
Of course this level of revenue is small beer compared to some of the other players in the academic publishing market such as Wiley (see my earlier blog). The 2015 results of Informa plc show a similar pattern to Elsevier's, with an adjusted operating profit margin at over 36% for its academic publishing business (which includes many familiar names). Even these high levels of profit mask the immense profitability of the journal segment of academic publishing, which does much better than academic book publishing.
Sadly for academic libraries, universities, academics and taxpayers the exploitation of academic labour continues. Neither academics nor their departments are compensated for the labour devoted to journal peer reviewing for free. Journal publishers continue to receive copyright on research work outputs for free. They continue to demolish university library budgets with journal subscription fees. Meanwhile the content of those journals continues to be provided free by academics whose work is funded by others, including taxpayers.
12 years on from the highly critical House of Commons report into academic publishing, nothing of significance has changed except the rise and rise of the global academic publishing corporations.
New book Doing Doctoral Research.....and getting it right is available on Kindle for 99p on Friday 11 March. Price slowly increments to the usual one after that. http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01B9MAXFOhttp://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01B9MAXFO
Here are the 10 things that I used this week for research that I couldn’t easily have done without, beyond the obvious, like a computer…
Of course we all go through different phases in what we are doing research-wise and so priorities and lists will change. But this is my top ten (well, OK, I snuck in a couple of extras…...) that I used in the past week.
Please do contribute your own top 10 in the comments section here or with a link to elsewhere. You should have used them in the past week, consider them must-have and they should be predominantly used for research. (And, apologies, the table is an image, so the links are non-clickable.)
14 free qualitative data analysis software packages are described here: http://www.predictiveanalyticstoday.com/top-free-qualitative-data-analysis-software/
And the excellent cmaptools, dowloadable at http://cmaptools.en.softonic.com/ is interestingly illustrated being applied to learning theory here:
I see that Pearson[i] do ‘personalised learning resources’ for higher education: http://tinyurl.com/pdylp6m. Academics can compile their own materials in combination with relevant materials published by Pearson to create a bespoke book for their students. Pearson tells potential customers that their students will…. “pay only for the content they need which aligns exactly to your teaching.”
That sends a shiver down my spine for a couple of reasons. The first is pedagogical. It reminds me of my experience years ago as a tutor on an Open University Masters course being told in a training session that tutors were forbidden to direct students’ reading beyond the OU materials provided. I was astonished, stated my view that the policy was stupid and ignored it. The OU materials were varied, of a very high standard and well integrated. But they presented a closed world of knowledge. Happily at some point later the OU saw that limiting students’ inquisitiveness, research skills and knowledge of the breadth of literature available in this way made no sense. Pearson’s notion of ‘personalised learning resources’ is potentially going much further down this road of branded, over-structured teaching provision: a modern-day form of programmed instruction with an edu-business twist.
And of course, apart from the lecturer’s own work, their “bespoke” books contain Pearson materials; for copyright reasons, Pearson would say. There are two case studies provided by Pearson to help sell this idea. One says “I was lucky because Pearson had all the cases I wanted”, and the other “It helped that Pearson had the content I needed.” Those two short case studies are worth reading (http://tinyurl.com/oqm5dup and http://tinyurl.com/nvf3qjs). In both of them “my Pearson account manager” is lauded. The imagery is the same in both: the lecturer having their hand held by the kindly account manager with the fabulous resources of benevolent Pearson making things better for lecturers and students.
Which brings me on to my second concern: the Pearsonisation of education: the spread of PearsonWorld. This is already extremely well advanced in the United States, with Pearson involved in school-level testing and provision of textbooks and other learning materials in a big way. The same is true of other parts of the world. Anna Hogan and Bob Lingard write extremely informatively about this in a number of different outputs for a variety of audiences (http://tinyurl.com/okujmxu and see references below). Edu-business of this kind is finding a benign environment in neo-liberal government regimes like those of the USA and the UK. And of course Pearson wants to extend the breadth and depth of its reach globally; to meet its goal of becoming “one globally connected company” as their 2013 annual report has it (p. 11).
Or of course students could make use of their university library, which is free at the point of use. Interestingly, the word “library” only crops up once in the two case studies, the Heriot-Watt one: “it’s nice to see students no longer relying on library copies.” I'm not so sure.
(Part 2 of this post suggests some alternative routes, if bespoke books for specific courses are your thing. There are other possibilities, I'm sure, so please point to them if you wish.)
Hogan, A., Lingard, B. and Sellar, S. (2015) Edu-businesses and education policy. Professional Voice, 10 2: 24-30. http://issuu.com/aeu-vic/docs/pv_10_2_complete_web
Hogan, A., Sellar, S. and Lingard, B. (2015). Network restructuring of global edu-business: the case of Pearson’s Efficacy Framework. In W. Au and J. J. Ferrare (Eds.), Mapping corporate education reform: power and policy networks in the neoliberal state (pp. 43-64) London, UK: Routledge. https://www.routledge.com/products/9781138792005
Hogan, A. (2014) NAPLAN and the role of edu-business: new governance, new privatisations and new partnerships in Australian education policy. Australian Educational Researcher, 1-18. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s13384-014-0162-z
[i] Sales in 2013: £5.2 billion. Adjusted operating profit of only £871 million thanks to “tough trading” that year.
If academics want to go down the ‘bespoke books’ road there are better ways of doing it than involving Pearson, ones that offer: faster delivery; online access and cheaper pricing (including in some cases being free for students). Createspace is the easiest alternative: materials are quickly created using free online tools and the resultant book is available to buy through Amazon in online or hard copy form. The author sets the price and online books can be made free for 5 days in every 90. Smashwords plus Lulu is a bit more complicated – the Smashwords online creation software isn’t as good as Createspace’s, and it requires a secondary process of setting up the book in Lulu for print on demand (POD). However the advantage is that the e-book can be made free forever on Smashwords. Lulu’s POD book price is set by the author at or above Lulu's minimum, which is low, and (from experience) the quality is excellent and it is delivered to the purchaser a couple of days after ordering (Pearson say 15 weeks for theirs). Or you could just use Lulu on its own – they do e-books as well as POD books. Copyright issues for material in the book can be addressed in the way they always have been – by writing to the copyright owner and asking for permission to reproduce a specific item or section in a specific form for a specific purpose for a given length of time. Materials are not limited to Pearson-owned ones, and of course short passages of text, properly referenced, do not need copyright permission, being 'fair use' (80 words of a book is a rule of thumb, but it depends on context).
That’s still relying on business support, of course, but at least it doesn’t involve getting sucked into PearsonWorld. It’s a learning process involving more work and it’s more time-consuming. But you take control of it yourself as an autonomous, intelligent, critical and creative person.
One of my readers reminded me that we should celebrate those journals and publishers who are on the side of angels when it comes to open access. It's a good point, and we should not just celebrate them but publish work in them. Here are some initial comments, and I'd welcome more from readers.
Care needs to be taken when choosing to celebrate and use open access journals. Many are not really on the side of the angels. Predatory publishers describe themselves as ‘open access’, and in a sense they are: the author pays and the reader has free access to their work, just as in the open access gold model (see earlier blog posts). However predatory publishers’ journals do not have readership, quality control, status or value. I wouldn't describe 'legitimate' journals that only offer gold open access as on the angels' side either - their high publication fees exclude many authors and institutions.
So which open access journals and publishers should be celebrated and used?
The Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association aims to promote good practice in open access publishing and support the best publishers. Their members list is a good place to start looking. In 2003 the Open Society Foundations (funded by George Soros) gave financial backing to Lund University in Sweden to run a Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ). DOAJ carefully vets open access journal publishers before listing them. It currently covers over 10,000 journals.
Another alternative is to stay with the big five publishers (often necessary for early-career academics who need to establish their credentials) but simultaneously to take every opportunity to make work accessible to everyone…..Without, of course, paying the big five’s exorbitant fees for ‘gold’ open access (immediate availability with no paywall).
The way to do this is to “archive” work – that is, to make it accessible to the public, but within the policies of the chosen journal. Archiving can be done on the author’s own website, a university repository (Lancaster University’s is here: http://eprints.lancs.ac.uk/) or on public servers such as www.academia.edu. Universities and their libraries are understandably very keen that academics use their repositories as much as possible, though my experience is that they make it very frustrating and time-consuming to do so.
There are various levels of archiving:
· Pre-print archiving: uploading the version of an article after it is submitted to the journal but before refereeing.
· Author’s post-print archiving: uploading the final .pdf version of the article, but not the published version in the journal.
· Publisher’s post-print archiving: uploading the published version of the article immediately after the journal publishes it.
· Green open access: publisher’s post-print archiving after a period of embargo. Sometimes one year, sometimes two or more.
Different journals have different policies on these options, and set different conditions in relation to them. Fortunately JISC has funded the RoMEO website, which is a searchable database of publishers' policies regarding the self- archiving of journal articles on the web and in open access repositories. It is a really good place to choose a journal on the basis of its access policies: http://www.sherpa.ac.uk/romeo/ .
For example the journal Higher Education comes out reasonably well[i]. Although published by Springer, one of the oligopolistic big five, that journal allows every level of archiving listed above except publisher’s post-print archiving within the first year of publication. In other words Higher Education has a green open access policy with a one-year embargo and permits pre-print and author's post-print archiving.
Its entry on RoMEO is here: http://www.sherpa.ac.uk/romeo/issn/0018-1560/.
Readers: please suggest specific publishers or journals that should be celebrated for their open access approach. I'll start off with a couple of suggestions:
[i] It is ‘green’ on RoMEO’s four-colour scale of accessibility: green; blue; yellow; white. This is not be confused with ‘green open access’, which means the ability to archive the publisher’s post-print after an embargo period. RoMEO’S categorisation system is set out here: http://tinyurl.com/d49jb6g
Answer: They are both allowed to exploit taxpayers even though there is demonstrably a far better way of doing things.
I've talked a lot in earlier blogs about how the oligopoly of academic journal publishers are triple-funded by the British tax payer - in getting tax-funded journal content for free, in getting tax-funded peer reviewers to work for free, and in selling the content back to tax-funded university libraries - in the very institutions that provided the content free of charge in the first place. And of course there are far better ways of quality-controlling, disseminating and archiving new knowledge that don't involve paywalls, huge profits and shareholder dividends.
There are of course parallels in this with the 'privatised' UK rail system (actually, funded by government subsidies to the tune of £2billion, down from £4billion). It's interesting to see this played out in microcosm where I live.
Here's what I'd like rail users in my small town to know when they use one of the few trains that run here:
Your ticket today to Lancaster
Cost you around £8 (or around £15 if you are going the other way, to Leeds).
An equivalent journey in the Netherlands (using the chipcard) would cost you
2.80 euros (£2).
Why Compare with the Netherlands?
Because the train is operated by Northern Rail, which is half-owned by Abellio whose parent company is Dutch Railways. Abellio is Dutch Railways’ international arm.
Dutch railways is state-owned. (As is the case of railways in France, Germany, Italy and elsewhere).
Dutch railways made a surprisingly low net profit of 43 million euros[i] in 2013 on its services in the Netherlands. The UK Government meanwhile subsidises the 'private' system by billions of pounds, including £356 million to Northern Rail in 2013.
Northern Rail's Income and Profit:
Income for 2013:
From tickets: £230 million [ii]
From UK government grants: £356 million
From other sources : £56 million
Northern Rail net profit for the year: £30 million[iii]
Northern Rail's gravy train:
· Northern Rail Directors’ 2013 total income £863,000 (well over twice that in 2012)
· The highest earning Director was paid £240,000
· Total of dividends paid to Northern Rail shareholders in 2013: £29.3 million
Of course Dutch taxpayers and rail users are benefiting nicely from the British system too. Which is good to know. Sadly, the lucky Dutch don't benefit from publishers' profits in quite the same way - not even from their own Elsevier, one of the oligopolistic big five.
[i] This figure is surprisingly low when compared to other countries. Italy’s state-owned railways earned around 300 million euros in the same period.
[ii] Why worry too much about serving passenger need when over half as much again comes from government subsidy?
[iii] Coincidentally, roughly the same as the whole Dutch railway system - 43 million euros.
Figures for Northern Rail are from their annual report:
The eminent American observer of UK higher education, Martin Trow, observed in the late 1980’s that British academics were caught in a ‘Robbins trap’ (Trow, 1989). This is the paradox presented by a simultaneous and incompatible commitment to higher education expansion as advocated in the 1963 Robbins report, on the one hand, and a model of higher education founded on practices more suited to a smaller, more homogenous HE system on the other (Trowler, 1997).
For academics caught in that trap, doing the old things in a very different context didn’t work and resulted in exhaustion, stress and frustration at not being able to achieve their goals. These academics were trying to offer a bespoke higher education experience to individual students in newly massified contexts. And of course they largely failed because of the weight of student numbers, the new heterogeneity of the student body and because of the simultaneous suite of curricular ‘reforms’ somewhat modelled on the US HE setup (semesterisation, modularisation and the rest) which made it difficult to get to know individual students. Different practices and different values were required in this new situation, Trow claimed.
Things have moved on and academics as a group have largely adapted. The sector itself has settled down somewhat and in some places early enthusiasms for those ‘reforms’ have moderated or reversed. But, as another eminent American sociologist noted, most people feel their lives are in “a series of traps” (Mills, 1959), not just the one. For some the Robbins Trap has been replaced by another antagonistic relationship: between their longstanding values, priorities and practices on the one hand and a higher education context that has changed under their feet: the Commercialism Trap.
With the progressive withdrawal of state support from higher education in many countries, universities have been forced to chase funding and behave more like businesses. New managerialist practices have been a deployed in this, particularly in relation to target-setting and associated resource allocation and promotion policies. In many places universities have become much more commercialised, target-driven and financially focused. Frances Kelly’s heartfelt article A Day in the Life (and Death) of a Public University (2015) describes this, and its personal effects on her as Head of Department resigning from her job, in some detail:
"As I listen to the speakers talk about the ‘third mission’ I notice I am growing angry and upset, too upset to speak. I think about the idea of welfare and how it is now absent from university mission statements, although the template phrase student experience regularly appears".
Like Kelly, many academics continue to have a commitment to working for the public good and to being a responsible academic citizen, working pro bono and ‘doing their bit’. In a commercialised, competitive environment they continue to do external examining work, review articles, sit on external committees, offer talks to other universities, do public engagement work and so on, either for free or for ‘honorarium’ rates hovering around the minimum wage or below it.
And of course they are encouraged to continue by the representatives of interests which would be harmed if they stopped: the convenient fiction of collegiality and the public good is mobilized when necessary, and commercialism temporarily occluded. The results are the same as before: exhaustion, stress and frustration as academics attempt to both meet the targets set by the employers and to behave in ways they see as good citizenship.
Pertinent questions to be asked, though, are: ‘whose interests is this in?’ and ‘does doing this really achieve the goals I consider important?’ So, for example, when GlobalAcademyJobs encourages you to become a journal peer reviewer, how robust is the argument that your CV will be enhanced? Is this a target actually recognised by appointment and promotion panels? And whose interests does such an argument really serve?
There is a Polish proverb which translates as: “Not My Circus. Not My Monkeys.” I think it’s useful to reflect regularly on the nature of our personal circus, our own monkeys. And to look closely at the ones that trundle down the road towards us from time to time, asking “whose circus is that?” Understanding what the trap is and how it works is the first step to getting out of it.
Kelly, F. (2015) A day in the life (and death) of a public university. Higher Education Research and Development. Taylor and Francis Online http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/07294360.2015.1024628
GlobalAcademyJobs (2015) How to Become a Peer Reviewer. http://globalacademyjobs.com/blog/91/How-to-become-a-peer-reviewer.
Mills, C. W. (1959) The Sociological Imagination. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Trow M. (1989) The Robbins Trap: British Attitudes and the Limits of Expansion, Higher Education Quarterly, 43, 1, pp. 55-75. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1468-2273.1989.tb01493.x/abstract
Trowler, P. (1997) Beyond the Robbins Trap: reconceptualising academic responses to change in higher education (or....Quiet Flows the Don?). Studies in Higher Education, 22, 3, 301-318. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/03075079712331380916
 I noted in an earlier blog ("Elsevier's Double Trouble") that the big academic publishers are facing a dire problem recruiting peer reviewers as they increase the number of journals and articles they publish year on year. Coincidentally, .....or perhaps not, that blog was also sparked by an article promoting doing peer review in the GlobalAcademyJobs bulletin.