Deborah Oyine Aluh

I’m sure most first-generation researchers out there can totally relate to the amusing scenario of their friends and family bombarding them with questions about the royalties they expect from their published works. And then comes the exhausting task of explaining how academic publishing works. You don’t get paid for publishing your work, it’s quite the opposite, actually.

So, let me give you a little rundown of how it goes down, from the perspective of an “independent” early career researcher. I’m taking this viewpoint because even being affiliated with a university doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get funding for your research or even access to all the information you need. Nah, you need to have some real experience under your belt before you are considered eligible for any substantial funding. It all starts with investing a considerable amount of time, money, and resources into conducting a research study, which often goes unrewarded. You somehow manage to conduct research on a shoestring budget, navigating through the treacherous waters of paywalls on journal websites (seriously, some demand up to 75 USD just to read an article; it’s madness). Then, against all odds, you finally write your manuscript to the best of your abilities, breaking a few paywall laws along the way. And that’s when the real torture begins. You start submitting your manuscript to journals that perfectly align with your research, maybe even throwing in a citation to a groundbreaking article that served as a precursor to your own study. But guess what? They slap you in the face with a reminder that you’d need to cough up whopping sums (as much as 3000 GBP in some cases) if your manuscript is accepted. Your university doesn’t have any APC agreements with these publishers, and you don’t have that kind of money, so you must tearfully withdraw your precious manuscript from the running. It’s a cycle that just keeps on repeating, with all the fancy `high impact factor` journals. Short of resorting to predatory journals, you’re left with a tiny pool of options where they `generously` offer to publish your work at absolutely no cost. These gems are hybrid and subscription-model journals.

Subscription and hybrid journals have been called out severally as the gatekeepers of knowledge, allowing only a select few who can afford their fees to access research articles. This exclusivity leads to the untimely demise of many valuable research articles. This issue is particularly detrimental to high-quality research articles from low-income contexts, which potentially hold great relevance in other low-income contexts. Unfortunately, the high subscription and access fees imposed by these journals make it challenging for individuals or institutions in these contexts to have access to these articles. As a result, valuable research articles from low-income contexts remain hidden behind these financial barriers, unable to reach their full potential and make a significant impact on the scientific community.

In addition, the excessively lengthy peer-review process employed by subscription and hybrid journals can also contribute to the demise of research articles. Although peer review is undeniably crucial for ensuring the quality and accuracy of scientific publications, it often results in delays and rejections that can negatively impact the dissemination of knowledge. Imagine having your manuscript under review for fifteen months or more, only to have it ultimately rejected. Valuable research can remain stagnant in the review process for months or even years, hampering its potential to make contributions to scientific advancements.

If you ask me where research articles go to die, I will say they end up behind the great paywalls of subscription-only and hybrid journals controlled by fancy publishers like Elsevier, Sage, Taylor & Francis, Springer Nature, and others. It’s 2024, yet access to knowledge remains an elitist privilege, reminiscent of the Middle Ages. When it comes to the realm of knowledge, the great paywalls are the true Iron Throne, and the fancy publishers are the ones playing the Game of Loans. See what I did there? 🙂

Okay, I`ll stop lamenting. The next time someone asks about the royalties from my published research, I’ll just smile and say, “In academic publishing, we don’t earn royalties; we pay with our souls. But hey, at least I’m rich in citations!”

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