New Scientist calls for the end of the scholarly publishing industry: "more profitable than oil," "indefensible"

In a stirring unsigned editorial, the New Scientist calls the scholarly publishing industry "indefensible," noting that the business of publishing tax-funded research and then selling it to tax-funded institutions has produced the most profitable industry in the world, where 40% margins dwarf those commanded by oil or finance.

The editorial slams the practice of hiding scientific knowledge behind paywalls, and distinguishes these paywalls from the paywall used by The New Scientist for the majority of its articles by stating "good journalism does not come free" (the editorial is not behind the New Scientist's paywall).

The editorial was occasioned by the advent of Plan S, through which a consortium of 15 of Europe's largest science funders have announced that they will only fund research that is freely available, on open access terms.

Though much of humanity's publicly funded scholarship is paywalled, it can almost all be gotten for free through Sci-Hub, a site that has inspired scholarly publishers to abandon their commitment to a free press and instead demand national firewalls to censor access to the rival site.

The reason it is so lucrative is because most of the costs of its content is picked up by taxpayers. Publicly funded researchers do the work, write it up and judge its merits. And yet the resulting intellectual property ends up in the hands of the publishers. To rub salt into the wound they then sell it via exorbitant subscriptions and paywalls, often paid for by taxpayers too. (Some readers may scent a whiff of hypocrisy, given New Scientist also charges for its content. But good journalism does not come free.)

The academic publishing business model is indefensible. Practically everybody – even the companies that profit from it – acknowledges that it has to change. And yet the status quo has proven extremely resilient.

Time to break academic publishing’s stranglehold on research [Unsigned/New Scientist]