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Traditional legal academic publishing to tumble?

academic publishing
November 6, 2015

Academic publishers have long held a stranglehold over academics and their institutions, requiring academics to research, write, and edit for a publishers’ journals while turning around and selling the journals to the academic institutions at exorbitant prices.

Mathew Ingram (@mathewi) writes at Fortune that we may be seeing some cracks in the system.

In nothing short of a mutiny, the editorial staff of a major research journal, Lingua, has resigned en masse to protest Reed Elsevier (parent of LexisNexis) failing to embrace open access academic publishing.

The group expects its action to encourage editorial staff at other academic journals to do the same. Once their covenant not to compete agreements expire they’ll start their own open-access online publication providing the same coverage.

Stefan Muller of the Free University of Berlin, in an email to Inside Higher Ed (c/o Ingram) explains why many academics have a problem with the business model of academic publishers.

We have to publish in these journals, since our reputation is linked to prestigious publications. The problem is that… we are working for the publishers as reviewers (for free), we run the scientific parts of journals (often for free), we provide the content (for free) and they charge us enormous amounts for distributing the stuff.

What’s interesting is Ingram’s take and what this may mean for academic legal publishing.

In many ways, academic publishers are going through the same kind of wrenching change that traditional media companies like newspaper and magazine publishers are. Subscription-based business models that worked for decades are coming apart at the seams, thanks in part to the web’s ability to distribute content much more cheaply and broadly. And academia itself is becoming much more open as well.

Lawyers, law professors and even law students write and edit pieces for academic legal journals, law reviews, periodicals and books. Most all of it done for free while the publisher retains the rights and sells the content.

With the Internet and readily available publishing platforms (think blog and blog-like publications), it makes sense for many contributors to publish to their own publication — online and in an open fashion.

Niche focused publications are more apt to be cited, shared on social media and retrieved on Google search than traditional academic publications. This raises the stature of the author more so than writing for traditional academic legal publications.

Publishing to a blog, because of its reach and accessibility, is more likely to build a law student’s reputation and get the student a job than writing for the law review.

Having their own niche focused blog will do more for a law professor’s profile and influence than authoring books and articles. Those professors who do not appreciate this today soon will.

Armed with a niche blog, a lawyer can collaborate with other lawyers as well as establish themselves as a “go to” lawyer in a niche or a locale. That’s much harder to do contributing to academic publications.

As with general academic publishing, expect legal publishing’s business model to start showing some cracks — big time.

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