Over the past few years, these deceptively simple questions have been beset with controversy. Librarians at some of the world’s wealthiest institutions have announced that they can no longer afford to purchase the materials their researchers need. Leading academics have organised boycotts, petitions and mass resignations to protest the combination of prohibitively high prices and profit margins that rival those of the big oil, pharmaceutical and technology firms. A recent paper found that just five multinational publishing conglomerates accounted for 50% of all papers published in 2013.
It may seem like an administrative afterthought, but the issue of how research is communicated in society raises questions that cut to the heart of what academics do, and what academia is about. The scale of the entanglement between academic research and big publishers may well lead us to ask: who is serving whom? Does our scholarly communication system put the needs of researchers first? Or does it prioritise the uninterrupted profitability of a handful of publishers?
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