July 1, 2013

Want to get rich? Heck, yes! So which business should you be in?

According to Forbes, the most profitable U.S. Industries, based on private-company annual statements filed for 2012/13 are:

Business Profit margin
Oil and gas extraction 24.1%
Accounting, tax preparation, bookkeeping 21.2%
Legal services 19.6%
Commercial and industrial machine leasing 18.5%
Outpatient care centres 17.8%
Letting real-estate 16.5%
Offices of dentists 16.5%

Those are some healthy profit margins! It must be impossible to beat them — right?

Well, unless you’re a barrier-based legacy publisher, of course. Recall that the 2010/11 profit margins for the Big Four academic publishers came in at 32.4% for Informa, 33.9% for Springer, 36% for Elsevier and 42% for Wiley. And they’re still rising.

The average profit margin of the Big Four academic publishers — 36% — is half as good again as the highest profit margin Forbes could find for any industry.

Why do I keep banging on about this? Because, as Scott Aaronson wrote:

In my view, what’s missing at this point is mostly anger — a justified response to being asked to donate our time, not to Amnesty International or the Sierra Club, but to the likes of Kluwer and Elsevier. One would think such a request would anger everyone: conservatives and libertarians because of the unpaid labor, liberals because of the beneficiaries of that labor.

It’s genuinely great that the open-access movement has level heads like Peter Suber, Cameron Neylon and Stephen Curry. We’d get nowhere without advocates like them — people who can  keep their cool in the face of the lies and propaganda of entrenched interests, and who can speak clearly and level-headedly to administrators and as-yet unconvinced researchers.

But dammit, these publishers are parasites, and we really do need to face it. Pretending they’re our partners is simply self-delusion, an academic Stockholm syndrome. What they want (to continue to walk away with 32.4-42% of all the money spent on academic publishing) is directly opposed to what we, our institutions, our funders, our governments and our taxpayers want. And every attempt we make to increase the availability and utility of the work we do, they oppose.

Time for us to walk away.

13 Responses to “MAKE MONEY FAST!!!”

  1. Yes, but first we have to convince the majority of our colleagues. Think about the majority of countries which have policies made around ISI rankings.

  2. Mike Taylor Says:

    Yes indeed. Whenever I bemoan the research-evaluation situation in the UK, I have to remind myself how much worse it is in France (where all research is explicitly evaluated by Impact Factor) or in Germany (where publications in non-ISI-ranked journals are literally worthless).

  3. Same here, and probably almost everywhere. I believe there’s a trend to lower the level of famous, but pay-walled journals, in order to replace the submissions by the researchers who broke free from publishers with the ones of those who are forced by their governments to publish in the old way.

  4. Mike Taylor Says:

    Where is “here” for you?

    BTW., this is why I think the DORA is about the greatest thing to have happened in the academic publishing world since forever.

  5. “Here” for me now, is Romania. Yes. DORA is great, I signed it, of course. Mind you that by myself I make 50% of romanian researchers who signed the Elsevier boycott :) .

  6. Bryan Riolo Says:

    Then walk away. Start up another publishing company yourselves.

  7. Mike Taylor Says:

    Bryan, there are lots of walk-away-from-the-old-guys publishers: BMC, PLOS, Hindawi, eLife, F1000 Research and PeerJ spring to mind.

    The problem isn’t the lack of new and better publishers to walk to; it’s the failure of researchers to go to them in larger numbers. That’s changing, but I want it to change faster!

  8. Dino Hunter Says:

    For the love of God take me off this list!!!! I did NOT Join this list to hear you bitch and moan about publishers. I joined this list to hear about Sauropods, you do remember sauropods right? It is in the title of this list!!!!

  9. Dino Hunter Says:

    Ok, You see me walking away from this list!

  10. Mike Taylor Says:

    I don’t get it, Tracy. Who is forcing you to read this blog? How are they doing it? Do they have a gun to your head? Even if they do, can’t you just close your eyes and ignore it? Or is there a test afterwards?

    Dear everyone who doesn’t want to read what we write: please stop reading what we write. You’ll be happier for it. And if you could possibly stop writing about how you don’t want to read what we write, we will be happier for it, too.

  11. Matt Wedel Says:

    For the love of God take me off this list!!!!

    What list are you talking about? This is a blog. If you’re reading it, there are only two possibilities:
    1. You came here. You did this thing.
    2. At some point you subscribed to our RSS feed so you’re getting our posts delivered to you. Again, you did this thing.

    Either way, you’re reading our stuff because you made a conscious decision to make that happen. If you don’t like reading our stuff, make different decisions.

    I cannot believe that I have to explain this crap to a grown man.

  12. but – but – but Matt! Don’t you know that making people read what they signed up to read is the librul-athiest-LGBT-communist-nazi secret agenda????

  13. LeeB Says:

    There is an audio piece here from Radio New Zealand:

    This lists the costs to the entire country of New Zealand for publishing in academic journals; and also mentions the costs to Auckland University alone.
    The figures are for a single year and are in New Zealand dollars.
    They rightly describe the profits of the journals as obscene; as expected the journals contacted about this did not bother to comment.
    Also mentioned is the much lower amount paid to help researchers to publish in open access journals per year.


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