Why do so many academics publish in unreadable outlets?

Why do so many academics publish in unreadable outlets?

I don’t mean the prose style is unreadable (though it might be), but I’m thinking of the outlets they chose to publish in.

Obviously, I recognise that the ‘gold standard’ for many academics is the refereed journal article, and the majority of these journals, especially the ones that are ‘highly ranked’, are subscription-only. If you are working towards getting a job, tenure, promotion, research assessment and so on, you may need to publish in those kinds of outlets. Fine, this is a compromise between accessibility and recognised outlet.

I’m thinking of two other kinds of outputs.

First, authored and edited books. Why do so many academics continue to publish books which are hardback only, very expensive, often with poor production values, and so on? And, given the current trend for very short books (Briefs, Shorts, Forerunners, Swifts, Pivots, etc.) why do authors often go with the trade presses where the price for these little books would be prohibitive for a full-length study?

In terms of my own authored books, all but one appeared in paperback immediately, and the exception had that agreed (verbally), only for the publisher to change their mind when the book was in production. No amount of work or persuasion have made them change their mind. Lesson learned – I now insist on this being in the contract before I sign. And in a sense, more fool them: all my other books have sold many times as many copies, about the same as this one in hardback and many more in paperback.

For edited books, I know that placing these is extremely difficult. I’ve generally found edited books much harder to persuade publishers to do. So, sometimes a compromise is needed here – hardback first, then paperback in a year’s time or similar. But again, get it in the contract. The one complete exception to this is when I was commissioned to lead the editing of a reprint collection for Sage from the Environment and Planning journals. That was very expensive, and destined for library sales only – all the content bar editors’ introductions was available to journal subscribers already, and I got my own introduction made open access.

Second, smaller pieces that count little for promotion, tenure, etc. and would never be submitted in a research assessment – book reviews, interventions, responses, commentaries, etc. Why do so many of these end up in inaccessible outlets? What is the point? These days I try to only write short pieces like this if it’s got a chance of being open access or otherwise easily available. It’s why I rarely do book reviews for conventional journals, unless they appear on an open-access companion site, and prefer to write for Berfrois or similar.

I don’t tend to write that many book chapters for other people’s books these days, but when I do, it would make a big difference if the book was going to be reasonably cheap or even open access (I’ve written a few recently for collections with Punctum books, for example). I know that opinions on book chapters differ, but I’ve yet to find an academic manager who thinks they should be equal weighted with a refereed journal article. So if you’re going to write them then it must be principally to be read – an entirely good reason, of course! So, try to make them available and accessible…

And, beyond that… why don’t more academics use institutional repositories, or their own websites to upload pdfs? Almost all my articles and other short pieces are available on this site, and even links to some books.

I can imagine that some responses will be – I have no choice! My department/university/chair expects this… Publishers are all the same… But you do have choices, and not all publishers are the same. Yes, for journal articles you probably need to be aware of where is deemed a good place to publish, but for anything else…


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8 Responses to Why do so many academics publish in unreadable outlets?

  1. Pingback: Elden asks the question: Why do so many academics publish in unreadable outlets?  | PHILOSOPHY IN A TIME OF ERROR

  2. dmf says:

    “Members of the Undercommoning collective discuss the social and economic burdens of the neoliberal university – from the precarious nature of adjunct employment, to the existential claustrophobia of an educational system geared toward the sole production of debt and workers – and explain how a new wave of radical organizers are finding solidarity and building alternative forms of research and education
    Max, Cassie and Brianne are part of the Undercommoning collective, who recently published the letter “Undercommoning within, against and beyond the university-as-such” at ROAR Magazine: roarmag.org/essays/undercommoni…iversity-education/

  3. I have probably said more than enough about these issues already as a journal editor and writer of a dwindling number of texts myself. Firstly, we have to start at the top – those of us who assess tenure/promotion/job apps. have a major responsibly to assess the work, not the ranking of its place of publication. This is particularly the case for journals, where ethical and open access publication (in ACME, Human Geography, or my own journal for example) will not get you a Web of Science listed article, but some of the contributions are brilliant and have wide impact. Those same assessors can now begin to pay attention to blogs and other outlets. While we are at it, we can publish in accessible and ethical outlets ourselves. Secondly, books – I am starting to identify on my now-enormous page some alternative book publishing outlets (at the bottom). https://simonbatterbury.wordpress.com/2015/10/25/list-of-open-access-journals/ . eg Praxis epress is associated with ACME but pretty under-used. There may be reasons to use the big publishers but the reasons are decreasing in number. However book publishing is way behind the OA journals (I am not a well known academic like Stuart and hardly publish anything by comparison, so my OA book would have sold little commercially). Thirdly, and more controversially, I am beginning to think that ‘performance metrics with teeth’ – the ones that require ‘8 ISI listed publications and a grant of $xx in xx years’ are actually a breach of academic freedom, in the way Cary Nelson defines it. They are part of neoliberal, competitive, dog-eat-dog methods for university and departmental management and they need to be resisted, rather than just moaning about them. this means a concerted intellectual and practical argument to the management- again, easier to lead at the top. The stress they cause (particularly around ‘grant capture’ targets and confirmation terms for lectureships or assistant professors) is palpable. A softer approach, such as we had 15 years ago where the job was to assist staff, not punish them in the event of noncompliance, is much more appropriate and ethical, and probably leads to better results. This would include diverse publishing. Fourthly, follow Simon Springer’s fruity multilingual in ACME. And therefore, take back publishing. We can do a lot of it ourselves. Academic publishing is coalescing around five major companies now and I don’t like the look of continual corporate buyouts. Even Pion has gone. But see the hundreds of universities and societies doing their own thing, on my site.

  4. I have just discovered an extraordinary resource – Walt Crawford’s work. He is a serious librarian and data hound who has individually surveyed every OA journal on the DOAJ listing, and we are talking thousands, many more than i was able to manage. (DOAJ is not perfect but quite a good listing of OA journals that are reputable). And he does this every year, counting how many papers they publish, if there are any costs involved for authors etc – similar to me. He then does an analysis. It turns out OA journals are free completely to readers and authors and these are different to the company ones, that charge and make all the money. On his spreadsheet accessible here http://waltcrawford.name/goaj.html, you can classify them by discipline, and other criteria. He also has an analysis in the form of a book, for which he invites a small financial contribution, but he says most people just read the pdf. By the way there are LOADS of free geography journals that anglophone people in research universities probably never knew existed – we should do. And publish in them. Especially those of us not up for tenure.

  5. Pingback: Most popular posts and pages in 2016 | Progressive Geographies

  6. Clare O'Farrell says:

    Reblogged this on Refracted input.

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