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Academic publishing discussion at SUNY Potsdam this month

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The Internet promised a revolution in information sharing among college professors: more research was supposed to be disseminated inexpensively among university campuses and academic writers.

At first, the promise was met. Publishers started scanning and posting their academic journals online, uploading them into electronic databases where research papers could be read, studied and cited.

“As libraries transferred to online resources from print resources, the pricing models changed and in fact our users and our administrators and folks financing operations thought things might be cheaper,” said Michelle L. Young, director of libraries at Clarkson University, Potsdam.

However, in recent years, the steady inflation of academic journal subscription prices has begun anew, leading some campus libraries to reduce their subscriptions and a movement of researchers and students to call for the free and open sharing of academic work.

“I think they charge more mainly because they can,” said Martin A. Walker, a chemistry professor at SUNY Potsdam. “If you become indispensable, then you can charge more for your product.”

Part of the problem is consolidation in the academic publishing business. Three large publishing houses — Elsevier, Springer and Wiley — account for more than 40 percent of all academic articles published.

The virtual monopoly allows the companies to dictate how journals are packaged and sold.

“Originally, they did offer online journals a la carte. Now it has transitioned into packages, like cable TV,” Ms. Young said. “You have to pay for channels you might not even like. It is like DirectTV with journals.”

The rising cost of academic research has led some to call for changes to what they consider an outdated publication model. To further that conversation, Mr. Walker has organized a panel discussion as part of SUNY Potsdam’s triennial academic festival. “The Future of Publishing” discussion will be at 11 a.m. April 12 in Kellas Hall, Room 103, on the SUNY Potsdam campus.

“I think we’re at a very interesting time where we still use essentially a 19th century model of scientific publishing and we haven’t yet adapted to all the consequences of the Internet revolution, so this panel discussion is really going to explore how things may change,” Mr. Walker said.

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