Reforms needed to tackle greedy academic publishers

The Australia Institute

Media release | Wednesday, 20 March 2024

Hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money intended for research and education is being funnelled to giant international academic publishers each year, new research from the Australia Institute identifies.

The report, ‘Ending profiteering from publicly funded research’, shows that some academic publishers are generating profits approaching 40%, rivalling tech giants such as Google or Apple – with publishers charging institutions and research groups extortionate costs to make their research “open access” (freely available), as required by Australia’s two main funding bodies.

The report identifies ways to ensure that taxpayer money is spent on the research it was intended for, instead of lining the pockets of private academic publishing empires.

Key findings:

Australia’s public research institutions funnel an estimated $1 billion into the pockets of private academic publishers every year. Institutions spend $300 million on journal subscriptions alone

  • One‑off access for a single article can cost between AUD $40 and $65

  • Australia’s Chief Scientist has proposed a plan to pressure publishers to slash their exorbitant publishing and subscription fees, but it does not go far enough

  • The Australia Institute is recommending reforms to how funding bodies award research grants. These include:

    • Revising grant criteria to reward publication in open access journals with much lower publishing fees

    • Trialing a lottery-based system for the allocation of grants to reduce the emphasis on publication in grant applications

    • Introducing grants specifically for researchers committed to open-science principles;

    • Encouraging the rapid publication of research results through preprint servers

    • Encouraging the development of institutional repositories focused on publishing original research

“In a world of conspiracy theories and increasing political polarization, access to the best research is essential to informed public debate,” said Dr Kristen Scicluna, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Australia Institute.

“Instead, research is being hamstrung thanks to academic publishers exploiting taxpayers at every turn.

“Publishers do not pay researchers or peer reviewers, charge excessive open access publication fees, and impose unjustifiable subscription and access fees on research institutions and individuals.

“This amounts to hundreds of millions of dollars every year – much of it public money – spent on publication and subscription, not research and discovery.

“We need different methods to assess academic excellence, to disincentivise publication in exploitative, ‘prestigious’ journals and ensure better value for taxpayer money.

“Open science grants, modified lotteries, and institutional repositories to disrupt the business model of super-profitable academic publishing companies are all viable ways to pursue better value from our research funding.

“If we want to dismantle the academic publishing model and stop channelling public money to privately-owned publishing giants, we must reform our research grant system.”

The full report, ‘Ending profiteering from publicly funded research: Tackling the academic publishing oligopoly’ by Dr Kristen Scicluna, is attached.

/Public Release.