According to an article in Times Higher Education, the entire editorial board of an academic journal has threatened to resign after its academic publisher delayed and attempted to censor an academic article on – wait for it – academic publishing and the high profits made by academic publishers. Taylor & Francis, the academic publisher named in the article, reportedly caused the publication of the learned journal Prometheus Critical Studies in Innovation to be delayed from its original target date of September 2013 until May 21st, over the content of one article, “Publisher, be damned! From price gouging to the open road.” The text of the article should be available at the original link, but appears to be currently unavailable, although the long and detailed abstract is.
As quoted in THE, the journal’s general editor Stuart Macdonald, visiting Professor in the School of Economics at Aalto University in Helsinki, stated that Taylor & Francis delayed the appearance of the journal and then asked for cuts to the contentious article. “They just said they didn’t want this debate to take place,” Professor Macdonald said. “They also said I should have got their approval before inviting debate papers, but I have never done that before and it seems quite improper.” The article eventually went to press after the editorial board threatened to resign, but only with cuts made to publishers’ names, and with disclaimers insisted on by the publisher.
The four authors of the original article, David Harvie, Geoff Lightfoot, Simon Lilley and Kenneth Weir, are all members of the University of Leicester School of Management Studies. Some selected samples of the article abstract include: “rampant price inflation is one characteristic of the market in academic journals – or at least those journals published by commercial publishers – with several studies since 2000 indicating rapidly increasing prices charged by for-profit publishers;” or “the academic publishing industry is as resistant to change as the music publishing industry was.” The article puts particular emphasis on the UK’s Finch Report on opening up access to publicly funded research which has hitherto benefited academic publishers at public expense. All in all, though, it looks like the original article is a modest, if well-substantiated, contribution to the debate on open access and academic publishing business models.
Taylor & Francis, through their obvious and deliberate attempt to muffle and censor academic debate, has put things on a totally different footing, and done more to prove the authors’ points than the original article ever could have done. If academic publishers are ready to try to censor even the most oblique, inconsequential free discussion of their own business models and profits, then why on earth would any academic body ever let them get access to research at all? And if this is typical of the ethics of publishing more broadly, then the sooner that Amazon devours these self-styled defenders of culture, free expression and intellectual life, the better.