Jean-S├ębastien Caux

Being honest about the reform of publishing

Posted on 2024-03-07   Publishing

Let's be honest: the reform of publishing is not going well. It's very slow, with a timeline now exceeding two decades. It's a very top-down affair; scientists - the most important stakeholders whose livelihoods are literally at stake - are too disengaged, by neglect or by design. Polluting external interests dominate: profit-making is rife, resources/money is pipelined to shareholders rather than researchers. Organizations, even academic ones, including professional associations, are not being genuinely honest about their operations, purposes and motivations. Reform is stalled by a collective action problem: an illusory "tragedy of the commons" is talked about, while a very real and costly "treachery of the private" is happening behind the scenes.

I believe the "top-down" approach to installing a Diamond-style replacement for today's APC-fuelled, for-profit dominated publishing services is failing to deliver. Discussions about Open Access have been ongoing for more than two decades. Despite many promises and expressions of good intent, the reality is that today's publishing infrastructure is being rapidly and successfully consolidated into the hands of (explicit or hidden) for-profit entities pursuing interests decoupled from/antithetical to those of academia. Reform of the industry is also currently very much corporate-directed. The academic side is manifestly being outsmarted (if you need convincing, just look at recent self-congratulating annual reports of the big publishers), and APCs are winning in the war of the post-subscription business models. For profit-makers in publishing, business has never been this good.

The lack of a concrete, no frills, large-scale and sustainable system for funding Diamond initiatives is not only morally regrettable, but it represents a massive financial loss for academic institutions, today and in the future. This loss inevitably translates into curtailed opportunities and livelihoods for scientists all over the world. Money which could fund students, postdocs, scientific staff, support staff etc., is instead pipelined to shareholders.

With SciPost, we are really trying to counter this. Our activities over the last 8 years have delivered many positives, but there is an uncomfortable imbalance between our potential (extremely high), what the community expects of us (very high), what we actually deliver (high), and the resources we are given to do so (insufficient). The context in which we operate is such that our growth is stunted, opportunities are not fully exploited, and the differential between what we do and what we could achieve is too large. We would now like to change this.

We believe our Genuine Open Access services are true to the spirit of academia, without masquerade or dishonesty. We do not "invest our funds back into science" because we do not syphon money away from research in the first place. We do not have hidden for-profit underlying structures obfuscated by factually powerless frontend "professional associations". We are completely controlled by academia. All aspects of our operations are transparent. We have no further interests besides serving our academic community's publishing needs.

We are countering the costly damages caused (among others) by APC-favouring systems by offering a practical, equitable, cost-slashing alternative. Our editorial procedure is hermetically decoupled from financial considerations. Our continued existence is thus entirely in the hands of organizations which benefit from our activities, namely the world's academic institutions and research centers.

We do not want erratic, short-term, targeted project-based incidental support: we want to make the services we currently deliver sustainable, without having to constantly add bells and whistles. We also do not want to have to rely on non-academic organizations or private donors for our financing: SciPost belongs to the academic community and should prosper (or wither) purely within that context.

We are vulnerable and fragile. Absence of structural support at best stunts our growth, at worst threatens our continued existence. This is a wake-up call. If you think that our activities are worth sustaining, now is the time to act.