Architectural Blatherations

The Academic Publishing Rort

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The Good Oil

Bloomsbury Publishing has added a new title to its stable of academic journals, Architecture and Culture (AC), the journal of the Architectural Humanities Research Association (AHRA)1. This is an endeavour well-worth doing. We applaud it. As a discipline, architecture is notoriously introverted and self-centered; and architecture academics {professors} – who are not that bright at the best of times – could certainly do with some engagement with the humanities. Our gripe is with the entire model of academic publishing as it exists in the 21st century.

The Journal “Architecture and Culture”

According to its webpage:

Architecture and Culture, the international, peer-reviewed journal of the Architectural Humanities Research Association, investigates the relationship between architecture and the culture that shapes and is shaped by it.

Architecture and Culture publishes explorations that are rigorously speculative, purposively imaginative, visually and verbally stimulating. … Architecture and Culture aims to promote a conversation between all those who are curious about what architecture might be and what it can do.

Damn fine objectives, even if we are not quite sure what rigorously speculative means.

Architecture and Culture publishes twice a year, with a double issue in November. It is available in print and online editions. Let's call it three issues a year. According to this page, an institution wanting to pay for three pdfs from the 2014 series would have to cough up $USD 283, a sharp rise from the $USD 92 they charged for the 2013 series. That's just three fat pdfs. If the institution also wants to receive some shiny new paper products, they will pay $USD 331.

How Academic Publishing Used to Work

Contrary to the opinions of their students, academics {professors} gain prestige not by teaching but by publishing research. They do so by sending papers derived from their research to journals. There are respected and hallowed journals, and shonky journals. You are meant to aim for respected journals.

From the foundation of the Royal Society in 1660, at the very beginning of the Scientific Revolution, until about 2000, the academic publishing system worked like this:

The Economics of This Process

For at least the past century, the journal publishers have been on a gravy-train to heaven. The economics work like this:

So: the publisher gets its labour for free, courtesy of the universities, and then has the chutzpah to charge the universities for the products of this very same labour. Which the universities have already paid for. PZ Myers at Pharyngula summarises it all neatly.

Academics like to think they are smart, but the fact that a few large publishers (Elsevier, Wiley and Springer) have been shafting them and their universities up the a**e for a century would suggest otherwise.

1. The AHRA really should remove its membership page. Apart from privacy concerns, it does nothing for the organisation's credibility that the very first member is listed is Mr hijkl73791 abcde42530 (page retrieved 31 October 2013).