The Politics of Journal Publishing (music education edition)

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.

Journal Pricing
“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.

About Matthew

Music education: media, technology, and participatory music.
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6 Responses to The Politics of Journal Publishing (music education edition)

  1. I appreciate this post, Matt. The issue is making the rounds in many places. Here’s a Guardian/Observer piece by John Naughton I found both informational and a little incendiary, always a fun combination:

  2. Pingback: Politics of Journal Publishing in Music Education

  3. Albert Henderson says:

    I have read and written about many comparisons of journal prices. Usually, one finds actual reasons for differences, such as limiting/not limiting numbers of pages, the presence of advertising revenues or dues, etc. There are studies of editorial differences in disciplines, none mentioned here. Nor do I see any reference to Lotka’s law of productivity, which would suggest half of all publishers ever publish only one journal.

  4. i’m less concerned with the publishers and profits, and more concerned with the narrowness of what winds up getting published in these “top 5” journals. the “repertoire” of our literature is very limited–we really only see certain kinds of articles, as defined by certain methodological approaches. i think its interesting that when one walks around a poster session at a conference, big or small, you can see a pretty diverse group of projects being shared: historical, narrative, quasi-experimental, case studies, surveys, etc.

    my anecdotal memory suggests that the quantitative/qualitative split is roughly 50-50 at these sessions, and yet the “top 5” journals are still publishing much more quantitative work than anything else. if our major journals are supposed to be representative of what the profession is producing, something is obviously wrong with this picture.

    when i’ve asked people affiliated with these journals about this, i hear some very odd comments:

    • “well, most of the qualitative things we get are not very good.” hmm. i wonder if the “good” qualitative authors have just stopped sending their stuff to these journals. . .i know many who have done just that.

    • “a lot of qualitative articles don’t fit our journal’s requirements.” then maybe we need to revise our journal requirements. . .

    • “our editorial board is not as familiar with qualitative work as it is with quantitative.” this seems like an easy fix: make our editorial boards more representative of the kind of work being done across the profession.

    of course, i am just as much to blame for this narrowing of our academic arteries. the vast majority of articles i have my students read for classes come from these “top 5” journals–and when you are choosing from a “repertoire” of 90% quantitative stuff, you get what you get. over the last couple if years i’ve made a conscious effort to broaden the group of journals i look at, and have been finding more diverse scholarship as a result. for me, this is the really insidious part of the “politics of publication”–the sclerosis of our professional knowledge creeps up on you silently, and before you know it your “vocabulary” of articles and authors is limited and shallow.

    as for the oligopoly. . .there are also some advantages in going with bigger publishers. Sage has brought NAfME’s journals a better visibility and profile academically than they had before, and they have gotten these journals into more databases and libraries as a result. CRME’s recent foray into putting all of their back issues online has been a great move, and has made CRME articles much easier to find and cite. as a former journal editor, Sage was nothing but great to work with. i was very hesitant about making that move, and was really very pleasantly surprised with how well Sage handled the transition. they were respectful, knowledgeable and very easy to work with–and i think all of the Sage-published journals look and read better as a result.

    this is not to say that your points aren’t good ones, Matt–and we need to remain vigilant about these issues. but we also need to keep our eyes focused on what’s inside these journals, and not just how they are published. keep up the good work here–i enjoy reading your blog posts! enjoy the rest of your summer!

  5. Pingback: Get to know your publication embargoes | Matthew Thibeault

  6. Pingback: The Politics of Journal Publishing in Music Education + Harvard Goes Open Access + Quebec Student Strike

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