Thursday, April 23, 2015

Can Amazon save academic publishing?

The London School of Economics and Political Science just launched a recent blog post on how scholars are judged in academic publishing. It's an enlightening piece on how scholarship should be valued and what might be in the future for successful researchers:
Some of the facts in this post are startling:
  • Eighty-two (82) percent of articles published in humanities are not even cited once
  • One study indicates only 20 percent of papers cited have actually been read.
  • The authors of the blog post suggest that on average, a manuscript in a peer-reviewed journal is read in its entirety by no more than 10 people.
Those who publish academic research know that it requires a tremendous effort, diligence, and a predominant amount of hours during our "off time." As one who has just achieved tenure, I am highly aware of the "publish or perish" mandates within university. Thank goodness I had a 25-year sales background, as I had to use every possible tactic to promote my work, then go through heavy rewrites and negotiate with editors in order to get it to press.
Most can relate to the peer-review process; I find it similar to a diving competition. You climb to the highest tier on the diving tower, step off and execute a perfect triple flip, then knife into the water.
You surface and look to the judge's stand. 10, 10, 9.9, 9.8 and a 2. A 2? Where did that come from?
So it goes with peer reviews. I have received " wonderful analysis publish as is" to "completely irrelevant and not supported with proper literature"...and that's for the same paper. On some occasions, dozens of hours produce zero ROI.
Where do we go from here? I had a new concept in academic publishing and wrote a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, but never heard back. Maybe the rest of you can reach out to Jeff in social media, so that he might reconsider.
Here's my idea: Amazon can launch and govern new academic journals on its Kindle digital publishing platform. At first, these journal would encompass broad categories, such as Journal of Mathametics, or Journal of Social Sciences. Editors and peer reviewers for each journal can be assigned. After all, it's Amazon - they know how to figure things out and deliver customer service.
This model has a new financial distribution plan. If you get accepted for the journal, you pick the sales price. Under the right parameters, you keep 70% of Kindle sales. Instead of the new (and ugly) model where unscrupulous journals are asking scholars to pay to be published, this model would put the money back where it belongs - in the author's pocket. As "Amazon Academic" grew, more journals specific to each area of study could be developed.
This could offer a big advantage. I'd suggest top Kindle journal articles would receive increased readership. Young scholars fighting for tenure would receive much-needed supplementary funds. Overworked and underpaid adjuncts would have an opportunity to build a digital publishing revenue source. Also, many state governments are reducing subsidies to universities and salaries are either frozen, or small incremental increases are given. This might be an opportunity for profs to compensate with alternative income streams.
I realize that many of our top academic journals are needed and will remain prestigious within the research marketplace. However, a partnership with Amazon would bring a new era of wealth distribution to how we share our passion and our papers.

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