25 April 2012

"can't afford it" vs "won't pay for it"

io9 | Robert Gonzalez | The wealthiest university on Earth can't afford its academic journal subscriptions

Allow me to re-write that for you:
The wealthiest university on Earth is allocating it's spending towards other priorities than academic journal subscriptions. As a result which, faculty will not get everything they desire.
That might be a good allocation, or it might not be. I don't know. I'm certainly no fan of the academic publishing industry. Perhaps subscription fees should be lower. But Harvard most certainly CAN afford $3.75M for subscriptions. They just have decided not to spend it.


  1. If part of the goal of Harvard is to produce alumni who continue to engage in academia, continue to read new articles, and so on, then Harvard can't afford to continue legitimizing the status quo, regardless of how much money Harvard has: under the status quo, alumni are exiled from the scientific discussion, unless they want to pay $30+ to read an article.

  2. I'm not sure I fully understand you.

    If Harvard goal is to destabilize the status quo, for whatever reason, that's one thing. In that case they don't want to spend ~$4M on articles in order to achieve a larger goal. But that's still them *deciding* not to spend the money, not being unable to afford it.

    Besides all that, AFAIK subscriptions don't cover alumni in the first place. I think the objectives of reducing subscription prices and allowing access to alumni would work at cross purposes.

    I'm a little confused about how you're modeling Harvard's intentions w.r.t. it's alumni. Are these alumni not in academic positions themselves? Because if they are, their current institutions are left with the tab.

    Is Harvard concerned about their alumni outside of academia having access to these articles? I didn't think there were that many non-academics who wanted access. How many people with bachelor's degrees would be reading an article in your average Elsevier journal if the price was $10 instead of $30? How much is Harvard's reputation a function of their ability to do so?

    Let's say University X offers all it's alumni free access to an academic journal of their choice. How many people (who wouldn't have access from another institution they are currently affiliated with) would bother reading it? If they did, what affect would that have on University X's standing? Maybe I'm misunderstanding, or being cynical, but I think the answers to those questions are "vanishingly few" and "very little."