Yet more on evil journals

Just in case any of you were still wondering: yes, evil journals actually are evil. They hire evil PR reps. They attempt to deny taxpayers access to research that is publicly funded, just to make a buck. They start astroturf front groups with names as Orwellian as Bush’s “Clear Skies Initiative.”

They do what they can to sound like science is their priority, but this is transparent bullshit. Should we be surprised that these companies put money before science? No, they’re a corporation; that’s their job, in fact, their legal responsibility to their stockholders.

So, everybody, please, take a couple of minutes out of your day to go to write your congresscritter, and senators too and tell they the exact opposite of these clowns’ talking points: publicly funded research should be public. Period. None of this “well, maybe if the author gets around to it” stuff. And if that’s such a threat to the bottom line of Elsevier et al., maybe they should consider getting out of the scientific publishing business. I doubt they would be all that sorely missed.

My discovery of the week is that we don’t even need these jokers for publishing books anymore; you can sell books as print-on-demand for a base cost of less than $10 (for a paperback; less than $20 for a hardcover), and keep the copyright, and 80% of the margin. [Don’t you want a link here?
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Pass the word on.

18 thoughts on “Yet more on evil journals

  1. Also, if you haven’t seen the resemblance of the journals’ PR rep to Dr. Evil, you really have to go over to the n-category cafe.

    Although, frankly, I’d be surprised if any of our readers don’t read the n-category cafe.

  2. Is it likewise evil of the MAA to deny me free access to MathDL, a project “supported by National Science Foundation Division of Undergraduate Education”?

    I have many books on my shelves that were published by university presses and whose authors claim to have received government support for their production, yet the content of these books is not accessible for free. Are the university presses evil?

    Who isn’t evil?

  3. Yes, you do need those jokers for publishing. Print-on-demand services are for when you want your friends and family to have convenient access to what you’ve written. If you want the rest of the world to read it, you have to publish traditionally.

  4. I don’t think many of us our thinking about writing books for “the rest of the world” to read. We’re thinking about research monographs, graduate texts, and the like. The world of research mathematicians and graduate students is very small, and we don’t necessarily need a publishing company to do publicity for it. As evidence I submit Hatcher’s Algebraic Topology, which essentially became the standard graduate text before it was ever published.

  5. I’ve tried to do it the Lulu-way (see here or for that matter the whole neverendingbooks-project) but in the end I gave in to traditional publishing. Here’s a copy&paste of a comment on this :

    “My experiences with lulu were good. It is easy to set up an account and if there is someone around you good at Latex and Photoshop you can produce a good-looking book at about 1/4th of the price at a regular publishing house. 3 caveats however :
    1) it seems like a good idea to get a cheap version out for students, but one needs to have a credit-card to buy and most students dont have one.
    2) they used to offer free shipping for orders over 25$ (which partly was the reason why we offered the 2 books at a price just over 25$) but it seems they have changed this recently.
    3) and this is the crucial bit : math-books are not meant to be bought by individuals, they have to be bought by university-libraries who put them on a shelf in the hope that someone someday will browse through it… unfortunately this means IRL-shelves rather than virtual lulu-shelves and whereas most libraries have standing orders with regular publishing firms (or at least get their regular offerings), none of them browses through lulu so it takes a special effort of someone to get a lulu-book ordered… this is the principal reason why i gave in at the end.”

  6. 1) Here are the numbers on credit card ownership among undergraduates. As you can see, for upperclassman and graduate students, not having a credit card isn’t a serious issue. Especially since many of those people without credit cards have debit cards. For books aimed at first and second year students this may be more of an issue. Nonetheless it is patently false that “most students don’t have credit cards.”

    2) Even with a price for shipping, the self-publishing route is way cheaper for buyers.

    3) This is a very good point. However, it is one that could possibly be beaten in the long run with a little advocacy on the part of mathematicians. Furthermore, there is a balance between this disadvantage and other advantages. For example, with traditional publishing, the publisher controls when the book goes in and out of print. No one can own Cassels’s and Frohlich’s book, no matter how badly they want to. The only way to get a copy is to wait for a mathematician to die. Sure a library may have one copy, but that’s not enough for everyone. And if, heaven forbid, someone loses the library’s copy, then everyone is out of luck.

    Furthermore, I can say with confidence that I would rather a book be available online for free and in print for cheap (like Hatcher) than in the library. If I want it temporarily I’m happier to use the online version than to go find the book in the library, and if I want it for a longer period of time it would be better to buy it for $30 than to take it out of the library and keep renewing it.

  7. It occurs to me that on point 1 I’m probably being US-centric. The situation in Europe may be substantially different.

    One other point that may be relevant to my thoughts on this, I browse for mathematics on the internet before I try the library. I’d much rather find something on google books than find the actual book. I may be unusual in this regard, however, I find this attitude is increasingly common in people our age. I know multiple people who regularly scan the books that they own so that they can have them on their computer and not need the hard copy.

  8. lieven wrote: “none of them browses through lulu so it takes a special effort of someone to get a lulu-book ordered… this is the principal reason why i gave in at the end.””

    That’s true. But perhaps they’d start browsing it if they saw that things their patrons wanted to read were being published there.

  9. Isabel wrote: “But perhaps they’d start browsing it if they saw that things their patrons wanted to read were being published there.”

    Does your librarian know what you want to read? I think if mathematicians really want to change the publishing world, they need to stop talking to each other and start talking to librarians.

  10. If you want the rest of the world to read it, you have to publish traditionally.

    Why? Care to actually justify that claim? Because the rest of world doesn’t know how to use the internet? Because math books desperately need the publicity blitz Springer puts out around their release? Because the rest of the world doesn’t have a credit card (I’ll just note: in the US, most ATM cards [which everyone with a bank account has] now double as debit cards, which can used for buying things on the internet.), and doesn’t have a friend with a credit card either?

    Now, the library thing is a real problem, and I won’t pontificate on it too much, since I honestly don’t know how librarians pick the books they buy, but frankly, if they’re depending on Springer to pick them at the moment, I would consider getting more input from the university community and less from Springer to be a good thing, not an insurmountable problem.

    In the roughly 60 seconds of thought I’ve given to the problem, the best thing I’ve come up with is a digg-style system, though obviously with restricted membership (locally, professors and grad students of a given university. perhaps there could be a global system, using the membership roles of various scholarly societies), and probably a limited number of votes.

    Now, I’m sure there are flaws with such an idea (for example, it hasn’t been implemented yet), but it’s at least a reasonable suggestion. I’m sure there are variations on that could work roughly as well as the current systems.

    ah, web 2.0, the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.

  11. I have the impression from Springer authors with whom I have spoken that Springer’s textbook department does actual editing. (Not much for content, but for typos, grammar and consistency of notation.) This seems obviously worthwhile. Would any published authors like to comment on this?

    Also, I would be uncomfortable relying on results in a self published book unless the author’s reputation was already known to me. An article on the arXiv is short enough that I can usually check the validity of the arguments itself, but when I go to a book I am often looking to be able to just plug in information without checking the details. It is helpful to me to know that a reliable publishing house believes this authors has the necessary background to write on the topic.

    I’m generally a big fan of electronic nonprofit publishing methods, but books don’t seem like a good fit to me.

  12. David-

    You make a good point. I never claimed that publishing houses don’t add any value to their books.

    But in my mind, ever objection I’ve heard thus far doesn’t stand up very well next to “right, but every single math library in the world could afford twice as many books,” which would be a pretty incredible thing, when you think about it.

  13. Oh, absolutely. That was the point of the caveat “unless the author’s reputation was already known to me”. My post was about why I would expect professionally edited books to continue to exist and remain competitive in the fields of textbooks and monographs, not why I would expect them to out compete everything else. (In short article publishing, it is not clear to me that there is enough value added for for profit publishers to remain competitive.)

    By the way, something else occurs to me. Who reviews the self published literature, either on MathSciNet or in publications like Notices? I know that, in popular fiction, professional publishing houses put a lot of work into getting their novels reviewed in major newspapers. Do Springer et. al. do the equivalent?

  14. David Speyer wrote:

    I have the impression […] Springer’s textbook department does actual editing. (Not much for content, but for typos, grammar and consistency of notation.)

    I have the opposite impression. Has anyone spent any time trying to read the first edition of Gelfand and Manin’s Methods of Homological Algebra? It is essentially unreadable. There are so many errors of English and mathematics. There’s no way that that was read by any competent editing professional. I really should have tried to get my money back off Springer.

  15. Jason Starr wrote: “Does your librarian know what you want to read?”

    no. That’s a good point. Perhaps my librarian should.

    I’m not particularly motivated to tell my librarian this, though, as most of what I want to read is either things that my library has or is available online. But I shall keep it in mind if I hear other people in my department complaining about things the library doesn’t have.

  16. Personally, I can’t complain about Cassels and Fröhlich’s book’s going out of print. It’s possibly the worst book I’ve read about the subject that wasn’t written by Serge Lang.

    About my claim that you need traditional publishing, I don’t know the details in math, but in general fiction and non-fiction, self-publishing just doesn’t work. Even very established authors who tried to self-publish a book, namely Mark Twain and Stephen King, flopped until they published another book traditionally.

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