How much does it cost to produce a journal article? Recent claims have varied from $2 to $100 to $2000. It seems to many of us now that this question has gone unanswered for at least two decades, although the truth is, the debate is probably as old as journal publishing itself. In our view, it is time to reframe this stale debate and ask fundamental questions: What are journals for? What kind of value do they create? How can we assess the complex interaction of financial and non-financial exchanges they involve?
In seeking to answer these questions, we found a striking similarity in accounts of journals and publishing: the economic models they employ all focus on publishing as a technology.
Almost every description of the economics of journal publishing puts the publishing process at the centre. They ask how the costs of managing content based goods play out in markets of authors and subscribers. In the political arena, where we debate how our publishing systems should work, this leads us to focus on how the costs of publication technology should be managed and apportioned. For instance, a focus on technology leads some advocates of publishing reform to note that, because the costs of dissemination on the web are low, the cost of publishing should also be low. Conversely, publishers frequently argue that the capital investment requirements involved in updating technology make publishing increasingly more expensive.
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