Scholarly Open Access Publishers: Beware the bad apples

Many, myself included, have embraced scholarly open access publishing as an antidote to the ills and exploitative practices of mainstream academic, scientific, and scholarly publishing. However, not all scholarly open access publishing is necessarily good. And one academic librarian, Jeffrey Beall, librarian at Auraria Library in the University of Colorado Denver, makes it his business to track down bad scholarly open access publishers, and spread the word about their wrong-doings.
Beall’s List of “Potential, possible, or probable predatory scholarly open-access publishers” is one of the best early warning systems around for “questionable, scholarly open-access publishers.” The list is also depressingly huge, and is kept regularly updated, the last update being just the day before writing.
The criteria for inclusion in Beall’s List are exhaustive, and include such obvious scams as “an optional ‘fast-track’ fee-based service for expedited peer review which appears to provide assured publication with little or no vetting,” or a

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Helix conducts research as you write

tcdisrupt_NY16-8702 Researchers often need to go beyond Google to find the kind of medical journal articles and flat data files necessary for their work. But many journal articles are locked away in databases like JSTOR or PubMed, which don’t have the reliable search capabilities of an engine like Google — so researchers have to waste time tracking them down. Read More

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Is online piracy of academic books really such a threat?

Piracy.jpgA rather alarmist report in the Chronicle of Higher Education, entitled “Online Piracy of Academic Materials Extends to Scholarly Books,” paints the threat to current academic publishing in very graphic terms. And it appears concerned that the facilitators of such piracy are attracting sympathy from academics and librarians, “especially when the sites portray themselves as vigilantes.”

The article quotes Peter Berkery, executive director of the Association of American University Presses, as saying: “We don’t want people to think we’re taking a position against open access. We’re taking a position against theft, and hacking, and phishing.” And it continues, “several press leaders said they wanted to be sure any stance they take against piracy isn’t perceived as an attack on the open-access movement, which is gaining popularity among some academics and librarians.”

Let me be clear: nor am I taking up a position pro theft, and hacking, and phishing. But certain academic publishers might want to take a good look at their pricing models, and their profit margins, before trying to occupy the moral high ground – especially when much of the original research they base their profits on is publicly funded. If you loot the public purse, lock up all trade, and charge ruinous tolls, you can’t be surprised if others turn to piracy. And I don’t mean all academic publishers by this at all. The article does highlight the university presses who feel themselves especially victimized by such piracy, and who are almost always publicly funded “mission-driven publishers.”

However, the article specifically singles out as its pirate chief “a site called Library Genesis, which also offers more than a million popular books from commercial publishers. The site appears to be a sister site to Sci-Hub, an unauthorized collection of scholarly-journal articles created by Alexandra Elbakyan, a graduate student in Kazakhstan. While the workings of the two sites aren’t exactly clear, several press directors said they believed Sci-Hub is the tool that also powers the Library Genesis database. Both sites were ordered shut down last year as a result of a lawsuit filed by a commercial journal publisher, Elsevier.”

TeleRead readers should know by now what Elsevier’s record is like in terms of aggressively protectionist policing of its own revenue streams – many of them once again publicly funded – and hostility towards more open access research models. The fact that the article mentions Elsevier with little reflection on, or apparent awareness of, this past record, is definitely a red flag to me.
So, I’m not denying that there is a genuine problem with piracy of academic literature. How big a problem? Who does it threaten beyond the profit margins of Elsevier? Those are questions that you might want to assess with a rather wider spectrum of input than this one article from CHE.

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Reed Elsevier, under new name, continues to bank big bucks

logo-elsevier.jpgEveryone’s favorite knowledge-hoarder, Reed Elsevier, has apparently had a very good 2015, based on its latest financial results. Trading since February 2015 under the new monicker REXL Group, Reed Elsevier reported 3 percent revenue growth and 5 percent underlying adjusted operating profit growth, spread “across all four business areas,” and “strong financial position & cash flow.” Revenue for the year totaled £5.97 billion ($8.28 billion).

“We achieved good underlying revenue growth in 2015, and continued to generate underlying operating profit growth ahead of revenue growth through continuous process innovation.,” Chief Executive Officer, Erik Engstrom, commented. “Trends in the early part of 2016 are consistent with 2015 across our business.”

In its investor presentation, Reed Elsevier declared that for its Scientific, Technical & Medical division – the area that’s seen the most conflict and controversy over scholarly open access – “strong growth in usage and article submissions to primary research subscription journals continued,” although “print book declines continued.” That’s perhaps a little regrettable, considering that those journals’ subscription fees are widely criticized as unduly high, and their sales depend on the often publicly-funded research that academics continue to push into their pages. But clearly it”s still a lucrative business for Reed Elsevier.

Incidentally, Reed Elsevier’s 2015 name change stemmed, according to reports in CFO Magazine and elsewhere, from a desire to modernize the company’s image for investors while streamlining its holding structure. Customers and scientific authors, meanwhile, would continue to deal with the old brand names. And of course, any speculation that the name change was done partly in order to distance REXL from all those awkward scandals and controversies in the scientific publishing community is just … well, speculation …

The post Reed Elsevier, under new name, continues to bank big bucks appeared first on TeleRead News: E-books, publishing, tech and beyond.

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