Have you seen or heard about this piece in the Chronicle on Higher Education last week calling (sort of) for a moratorium on doing peer review for academic journals published by big, for-profit companies? I think I’ve lost count of how many people have mentioned it to me or sent me the link.
The piece is by Hugh Gusterson, a professor of cultural studies and anthropology at George Mason University. Gusterson is fed up with how much free labor we academics provide to the for-profit presses that publish so many of our peer-reviewed scholarly publications these days. Basically, according to Gusterson, we continue to do review prospective journal articles without compensation even as the presses that benefit from our labor are making huge dollars. For example, publishing giant Elseveier, according to Gusterson, recorded profits of 36% on revenues of $3.2 billion (yes, “b” not “m”) this past year. Their CEO’s salary was $4.6 million. And we get nothing back. Talk about labor exploitation. Adding insult to injury, Gusterson was recently required by one of these operations to pay $400 for the right to reprint his own writing in a book of his own essays.
Food for thought here, to be certain, not only because we and our students all review for scholarly journals regularly but also (or perhaps especially) because we here at TSP use unpaid peer-review for all of our white papers (not to mention for some features and other content like our roundtables and podcasts) and have a publication deal with W.W. Norton, a for-profit operation. The key for us, though, is our commitment to open-access, on-line publishing for the site.
Here’s how our deal works: We publicize and distribute all our articles and content on the site in a completely free, open-access model. We are committed to this model because our whole goal is public dissemination and circulation of our materials. In exchange for their help in supporting the site, Norton gets an exclusive commercial right to publish hard versions of our original work, but TSP and the authors retain non-commercial rights (they’re welcome to post their article elsewhere online or publish it in a volume of their own work). Norton will also pay royalties if a piece is published in a hard-copy volume, splitting them evenly between the authors and TSP. We don’t expect it to be more than “burrito money,” but we really like the idea that we can distribute the content without charging readers *and* return a little money to contributors.
So maybe we’re not the biggest, baddest, best capitalists of all time, but it seems to be working for the moment. Be curious to get your ideas and reactions. And maybe next time the subject of publishing and financing comes up, I’ll ask Chris to tell you about how paywalls limit the public impact of our work.