Jul 19, 2011

Journal Economics and the Value of Academic Liberties

I’ve heard people say both that academic journals are too expensive and that journals may be too quick to sacrifice the freedoms of authors in the face of threatened or actual lawsuits. It should be obvious that these positions tend to undermine each other. In the long run, it’s generally cheaper for journal publishers (like other kinds of businesses, as well as non-profits for that matter) to settle out of court rather than face a lengthy and expensive lawsuit. In other words, journals are cheaper when publishers settle rather than fight each potential lawsuit tooth and nail. If you value the academic liberties of authors, you should be willing to pay a price for it. 

Now, how much risk should publishers be taking on, and is that risk being priced fairly, or do some publishers have sufficient market power to overcharge for the assumption of that risk? These seem like the important questions to me, whereas railing against the cost of journals while advocating for a policy that keeps the cost high seems unproductive.

Update: I've started discussing this issue at the terrific NewAPPS blog.