Double-Dipping in Academic Publishing: The Unsettling Exploitation of Authors and Readers
In a digital age where access to information is increasingly recognized as a fundamental human right, a deeply concerning trend has emerged in academic publishing. There’s a rising misuse of publishing models that burden authors with charges for their work to be published and levy fees on readers for accessing the published content. This practice, known as “double-dipping,” has sparked a chorus of protest from a broad spectrum of stakeholders: academics, librarians, students, and, particularly, open-access advocates.
Historically, the conventional model for academic publishing functioned on a no-charge basis for authors, with publishers profiting through subscription fees paid by readers or institutions such as universities and libraries. In stark contrast, the prevailing trend in today’s publishing landscape requires authors to pay to publish their work, ostensibly under the pretense of making these works freely available to the public — a model referred to as “author pays” or “gold open access.”
While ostensibly advocating for democratized access to information, the gold open-access model has revealed its deeply flawed nature. After charging authors for publication — generally in the form of an article processing charge, which can range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars — numerous publishers continue to charge readers for access, effectively double-dipping into both authors’ and readers’ pockets. The guiding principle behind open access is to democratize knowledge, not commodify it. The current situation signifies a clear deviation from this principle and ruthless exploitation of academics, who often feel pressured by the “publish or perish” culture prevalent in academia.
"While ostensibly advocating for democratized access to information, the gold open-access model has revealed its deeply flawed nature."
The “pay-to-publish, pay-to-read” modus operandi not only erodes the fundamental goal of academic research — the dissemination of knowledge — but also disproportionately impacts researchers from lower-income countries and underfunded institutions. For instance, an analysis by the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition has shown that academics in these settings often cannot shoulder the exorbitant costs of publishing and accessing academic content.
In addition, this practice has led to the flourishing of a predatory publishing industry. These predatory publishers often masquerade as legitimate open-access publishers, charging authors exorbitant publication fees without offering the rigorous peer-review process that safeguards the quality and integrity of academic work. A 2015 study in BMC Medicine estimated that such publishers had published 420,000 articles a year, demonstrating the scale of this issue.
But the global academic community isn’t sitting idle. A robust movement is gaining momentum, advocating for a significant reform of the academic publishing paradigm, demanding authentic open-access publishing models, enhanced transparency, and equitable pricing.
"As academic publishing stands at a crossroads, the way forward must prioritize the unrestricted and equitable dissemination of knowledge."
Renowned reform initiatives, like the Plan S in Europe, spearheaded by a coalition of national research agencies and funders (cOAlition S), advocate for all publicly funded research to be freely available. Concurrently, the Center for Open Science, a key player in promoting transparency and reproducibility in research, has been instrumental in supporting these open-access movements. An increasing number of academics, bolstered by the ethos of organizations like the Center for Open Science, are boycotting journals that engage in double-dipping practices. They are opting instead to publish their work on preprint servers such as bioRxiv and arXiv, or in bona fide open-access journals like PLOS ONE.
As academic publishing stands at a crossroads, the way forward must prioritize the unrestricted and equitable dissemination of knowledge. The vibrancy and effectiveness of academic discourse hinge upon this. Identifying and eradicating exploitative publishing practices is paramount for the health of academic research and global intellectual exchange. The crusade against double-dipping is not just a cause célèbre; it’s a mandate for democratizing knowledge in the 21st century.
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