The general public may not give much thought to how scientists and scholars publish their work, but please know that it matters. Like so much else in the world, corporate markets have colonized this space, which means that turning business profits is the primary goal, not the easy, affordable sharing of knowledge.
Commercial academic publishers have long privatized and monetized academic research, which over time has resulted in an oligopoly of a few publishers able to charge exorbitant prices for their books and journal subscriptions. The impact has been greatest on researchers in the Global South and at smaller, less affluent colleges and universities, where it is harder to access and share the latest scientific and scholarly research.
The most spirited response has come from the open access publishing movement. Open access, or OA, got its start twenty years ago as a way to publish academic books, journals, and other research that can be readily shared and copied. This was a break from the traditional publishing models that allowed major corporations to take researchers' copyrights and convert the fruits of academic commons into expensive proprietary products.
OA publications offered a refreshing alternative for making works permanently shareable at no or minimal cost. An example is open textbooks. They can rely on Creative Commons licenses to make the works legally shareable; print them using print-on-demand technology; and sell them at the cost of printing.
Open access not only helps scientists, scholars, and students build on the work of those who came before them. It assures a basic fairness -- to the academic fields that generated the knowledge in the first place, and to taxpayers who often pay (via the government) for research in science, medicine, and the humanities. Why should corporate publishers get to own the copyrights and privatize the gains of publicly funded research and public universities?
To explore the state of open access publishing today, I spoke recently with Sam Moore, an organizer with the Radical Open Access Collective on my Frontiers of Commoning podcast (episode #25). Moore is also a scholarly communications specialist at Cambridge University Library in England, and a research associate at Homerton College.
My interview digs into the oligopoly control of academic publishing, the high prices of academic journals and books, the lack of choices among many scientists and scholars, the limited leadership of university administrations, and some open-access innovations now being developed.