Why do we need academic journals in the first place?
Originally posted on Gigaom:
It may not get as much attention as the disruption that is occurring in newspapers, e-books or other parts of the mainstream media industry, but there is a revolution of sorts going on in the academic publishing business. It has recently exploded into public view with the boycott of Elsevier — one of the largest publishers of academic journals — over legislation that would block researchers from sharing their work. And for some, it has raised a broader question about academic publishing: namely, in an era of democratized distribution of information, why do we need expensive paywalled journals in the first place?
The boycott of Elsevier (please see disclosure below) seems to have become the flashpoint for many in the academic publishing world, and much like the recent grassroots protest against supporters of proposed anti-piracy bills SOPA and PIPA, the boycott is based on Elsevier’s support of a proposed law — in this case the Research Works Act. One of the main elements of the legislation that has sparked criticism is that it would prevent researchers who get federal funding from publishing their work anywhere other than a professional journal like the ones that Elsevier controls (Elsevier has published an open letter in response to the boycott, saying many of the issues raised have been distorted).