The finances and ethics of scientific publishing are complex, and there is an inherent tension between commercial publishers and academics and their institutions. On the one hand, we as scientists are (most often) using public money to carry out research, usually in the public interest, and then we typically publish in for-profit journals that restrict public access to our publications. Authors seldom see any of the financial return from publisher profits. On the other hand, publishers provide a level of distribution and visibility for our work, which individual authors could not match. In previous posts I have discussed Open Access publications, but there is another reason to consider other publication models. Recently Nature Publishing Group notified the University of California system of an impending 400% increase in the cost for their publications. The UC administration has responded with an announced plan to boycott NPG publications. The announcement rightly points out a 400% increase is not feasible given the current plight of library budgets, especially in California, and that scientists in the UC system disproportionately contribute to publishing, reviewing and editing NPG publications and thus are the engine for NPG profits. (See a nice story about the boycott in The Chronicle of Higher Education)
This is just the latest symptom of the growing tension between publishing and academia, and is a stark reminder that other publishing models need to actively supported. Perhaps the UC system could invest in open access publishers in lieu of NPGs outrageous costs? Something has to give, and perhaps the UC boycott will remind libraries that they hold the purse strings and could be the greatest driving force for change.