Ms. Wise said that it’s also a misconception that publishers like Elsevier make scientists pay to read their own work. “What publishers charge for is the distribution system. We identify emerging areas of research and support them by establishing journals. We pay editors who build a distinguished brand that is set apart from 27,000 other journals. We identify peer reviewers.
“And we invest a lot in infrastructure, the tags and metadata attached to each article that makes it discoverable by other researchers through search engines, and that links papers together through citations and subject matter. All of that has changed the way research is done today and makes it more efficient. That’s the added value that we bring.”
. . . .
Those arguments, however, are lost on senior scholars like Mr. Gowers, who told The Chronicle that researchers can now evaluate and review one another’s papers on open Web sites. “That would be far cheaper than anything a commercial publisher could hope to offer, and just as effective,” he noted.
Nor does the Elsevier infrastructure impress younger scholars like Mr. Abrahams. “It could disappear tomorrow, and I’d never notice that it’s gone,” he said.
The key term here is “added value.” As I learned in my two library science courses, metadata and distribution are important, time-consuming to produce, and thus costly. But at the same time, there are other channels increasingly available, and open-source software that can perform some of the same distribution structure, metadata analysis and tagging. Although again, there is a trade-off between “free” software and the time investment in learning to use it. I think the wide availability of virtually “free” internet (free to the user that is) obscures the costs in manpower and time that it takes to support such “free” use; that cost is either recovered in user fees, advertising, selling data, or is crowd-sourced (volunteer effort by users and techies).
The bottle-neck is distribution: journals do have a virtual monopoly, and libraries are continually underfunded. It makes sense to me to take the middleman (the journals) out of the mix, and allow scholars to publish online and referee each others’ work. But it is a completely different model. I do think for it to happen, it will need to be driven by scholars themselves, so that the academic culture itself changes the value that it places upon publication in refereed journals. According to the new model, the truly innovative and valuable work will bubble to the top of academic social networks, much like reddit and other social networking sites.