I’ve been sharing with friends and colleagues a wonderful article from cultural studies by Ted Striphas, “Acknowledged Goods: Cultural Studies and the Politics of Academic Journal Publishing.” I’ve gotten enough feedback, including a great discussion in our doctoral seminar at Illinois, that I thought I’d mention it here (if you’re within an institution that subscribes to T&F journals, you might have access here, otherwise, there’s a free version here). And a tip of the hat to Super Bon!, where I learned of the Striphas piece.
I wanted to see if some of the points he made held true for music education. Google scholar now creates journal ranks, and here are the top five for music education (retrieved early April, and which are not surprising):
Now, let’s look at some of the points Striphas makes about journals in cultural studies and see if they hold true for these journals. This isn’t a complete examination, but enough to get the conversation started.
A Rising Oligopoly
Striphas claims that we’re on our way to an oligopoly, with a just few publishers holding most of the power despite more journals overall. In part this comes from the need for more digital access has accelerated the move to larger publishers:
“Confronted with this dilemma, some scholarly societies have opted to make a devil’s bargain. They have begun outsourcing the business and production aspects of their journals to large, for-profit corporate publishers—often the very same companies whose business practices have pressured them to contemplate outsourcing in the first place” (p. 11).
Of course, JRME and the rest of the MENC publications are now handled by Sage and R&L. IJME also moved to Sage, likely for the reasons Striphas outlines. In other words, ten years ago 80% of these journals were published by non-profits, now 40% are. Striphas’ claim seems to have merit, even with just a quick look at one list of top journals.
“The implication, then, is fairly clear: big publishers charge more for their journals because they can charge more” (p. 13). How does this hold for music education journals? Well, only BJME and BCRME are published by not-for profit or non-profit presses, the rest are for profit. Here’s the breakdown:
The average subscription price (print + electronic) for the for-profit journals is $517.33 per year, whereas for the non-profit the average is $203.00 per year. So, the for-profit journals charge just over 250% the cost of the non-profit, and I suppose there’s warrant for the assertion that they do so because they can. You may also, like me, be shocked at the high prices for institutions to subscribe to some of these journals—or that an issue of IJME costs 6.5 times more than an issue of BCRME—which is one indication of the degree to which scholars are insulated from many of the costs of the higher education system.
On the personal side, I’ve experienced some of the alienation described (mostly, losing rights when you publish, often without much sense of the rights being signed away). On the upside, I’ve had some good experiences attaching the CIC Author’s Addendum to contracts for several publications.
Conversations about the politics of journal publishing are worth having with graduate students, and Striphas’ piece is a great place to start the conversation off with some of the big issues laid out sensibly. It also relates to issues of intellectual property generally.