On many levels.
In “Opinion: Academic Publishing Is Broken” (The Scientist, March 19, 2012), earth scientist Michael P. Taylor offers “The current system by which academics publish their scientific discoveries is a massive waste of money”:
First, academic publishing is not an efficient market, because of the monopoly effect of certain journals. If you work in the field of cell biology, you simply have to have access to the journal Cell. There are no competitors that you can buy instead, because the specific papers that are published in Cell can be found nowhere else.
Second, academics tend to be conservative. So when publishers say that the current system works and there’s no need to change it, academics are, surprisingly, all too ready to accept that claim. Senior researchers can become too comfortable to rock the boat; their juniors can feel too insecure to do it.
Third, and most important, while it may cost a fraction as much money to publish in an open-access journal, those savings are not rewarded to the researchers. With open-access publishing, the researchers must pay those fees out of their own grant money, or with department funds, while subscription bills are footed by the university libraries, which have completely separate budgets.
Fetch a broom already.
The worst part, which we will leave Taylor to tell you in this must-read piece is, taxpayers who can’t afford to pay what the journal charges for articles are actually funding all this. And Elsevier is getting rich off it.
Oh, … a few more brooms, please.