As it currently stands, the publishing infrastructure is deeply beholden to academic journals who hold so much power that they are able to charge universities exorbitant fees for access to their content. These journals do not compensate the authors of the material they then peddle to libraries, placing this responsibility onto the universities that employ the researchers. Universities effectively pay twice for this content: paying their faculty to research and publish, and, then, paying journals for access to the materials their faculty created. Fitzpatrick presents the case that while these publishing houses do offer value, the degree to which they control how academic publishing is done is an untenable regime that must eventually topple.
How this revolution will come about is yet to be seen but Fitzpatrick provides a few suggestions. A university press can publish the work of its own faculty in order to have access to this material both cheaply and with far greater control over how that material can be distributed and maintained. A university press can also prioritize open access for peer-review and publishing, generating an environment that spurs greater involvement of the field while avoiding the pitfalls of vanity press.
Fitzpatrick claims that services, not access, will be vital to the open access method of publishing. This means that institutions providing these services (i.e., libraries) will become the integral in deciding whether the university press is viable. While this may be true after a substantial amount of progress is made in making academic research available through open access, it is certainly not the case now nor will it be true until the relationship between the university and academic presses is transformed. Specifically, the power that these publishing houses have is far too great and universities are complicit in amplifying that power. I would argue that a university press will not be necessary if the academic fields collectively refuse to pay. If Nature is slowly but firmly excluded from our databases, the appeal of publishing in Nature will inevitably diminish.
Researchers still need to publish and openly accessible formats are an alternative to those behind large paywalls. However, university presses should not necessarily be the objective. Publishing methods that affirm open access, that allow greater freedom in distribution, and that are not prohibitively expensive are not unique attributes of a university press. If we look at CUNY as an example of a university system with severe fiscal limitations, would ending contracts with academic presses in order to save money while simultaneously offering its faculty a pathway to publishing be more effective than simply trying to reconfigure those contracts? Even if access to content becomes less expensive, the problem of providing services for the university press remains.
CUNY has an Office of Library Services department that exists independently from the IT departments specifically for developing and troubleshooting library-related services. It’s major contribution in recent years was the implementation of OneSearch – an integrated database search service offered to the consortium of CUNY campuses. OneSearch (a.k.a. “Primo”) is a product developed and sold to CUNY by Ex Libris. (CUNY’s current Dean of Library and Information System and its former Director of Library Services, Greg Gosselin, was a long time employee of Ex Libris. He was hired right around the time of the OneSearch purchase.)
I question the feasibility of CUNY embracing university press tactics considering the cost that would be incurred by needing to expand the OLS department in addition to what the university press itself would cost. Despite Fitzpatrick’s optimism of services being used to recuperate the losses of open access publishing, university libraries are often not just dependent on contracts for access to research material but are often using services that are developed externally, as is clear in the case of OneSearch. While a revolution in academic publishing may be possible, it is difficult to determine whether it will save the university any money.