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I have read a few articles in the last couple days about several problems with academic publishing. To me, the primary critique is that oftentimes, research is funded with public money, in public facilities, then researchers sometimes have to pay the academic publisher to have an unpaid, third-party peer-reviewer to scrutinize the work, before the academic publisher "publishes" the work, primarily electronically, behind a paywall; they then sell subscriptions to institutions and organizations at high rates, and put individual articles up for grabs for about $50 an article.

To add to it, their profit margins are outrageous. To provide some context, according to here, the consumer staples sector profit margin 5-year average is 6.5%. The energy sector is at 4.9%. The health care sector at 10.4%. The financial sector is at 15.8%. The wildly profitable information technology sector is sitting at 21.5%. And, the most profitable sector tracked by the S&P 500, the real estate sector, has a profit margin of 34.7%. So, what are the profit margins for the academic publishing sector? According to a New Scientist article, their profit margins sit around 40%. Which seems to be taken from this journal. New Scientist calls it the most profitable business the world.

And there is something about keeping mankind's knowledge behind a paywall that doesn't sit right with many researchers. Personally, as a hyper-curious layman, I FREQUENTLY am forced to shell out money for articles that my curiosity will not allow me to do without. And, all you have to do is Google "academic publishing money" to get scores of articles scourging the academic publishing industry, so it made me think, why not nationalize academic publishing?

When I Googled "nationalizing academic publishing" on Google Scholar, all that came up were papers talking about nationalizing science, which is a completely different thing. You can collaborate with other nations in your science projects and still peer-review and publish them via a federal academic institution. The first government agency that comes to mind where this academic publishing department could be located is the National Institute of Standards and Technology. I really feel like somewhere at some point, this conversation had to come up.

So, my question is there any literature (preferably recent, i.e., within past 10 years, but if not any literature) on nationalizing academic publishing.

To be clear, what I mean by nationalizing academic publishing is creating a single, federal government publishing office who would peer-review and publish ALL academic works in the country, then provide that information free to the public. It could be paid for by taxes on corporations, alcohol, cannabis, sporting events, or by fees paid by academic institutions.

The answer I am looking for is the one that includes a well thought-out discussion of the pros and cons of nationalizing, the structure of such an organization, the costs involved, and discussion on obvious issues such as how to prevent undue government influence.

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    Pushbacks against the most profitable publishers is certainly a thing, but it's not clear why nationalization would be a better solution than, for example, funding non-profit publishers such as SciPost. Publishing run by a government agency would likely become inflexible and eventually go against the "by scientists for scientists" preference of e.g. DPG. And by the way, there actually used to be a "The Journal of Research of NIST".
    – Anyon
    Jun 18 at 0:44
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    I am not here to argue the merits of this. I just want to know if it has been previously discussed. As for your critiques, NIST and NIH, among others, operate just fine. That being said, I can think of a TON of potential downsides, such as undue political influence. This is the reason for the question. I am hoping people smarter than myself have openly discussed this pros and cons of this option, or even how this entity would be organized/staffed/etc. I am not suggesting this is the only, or even the best solution. Again, I don't know, thus, the question.
    – Jimmy G.
    Jun 18 at 0:58
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    Similar question: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/129763/… which was closed as a duplicate of: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/86686/…
    – Bryan Krause
    Jun 18 at 1:04
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    Note that some funders, like the US NIH (possibly all US federal funding? I'm less familiar with other sources) require all papers published with their funding to be publicly available within 12 months after publishing; other funders elsewhere have similar or stronger mandates. Publishers still make money on this model, of course, but it mitigates your complaint about having to pay for articles as a reader. Preprints are also widely available and are nearly identical to the "published" equivalents, if they exist.
    – Bryan Krause
    Jun 18 at 1:07
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    How would publishing the results from international collaborations function? Most publishing in my field goes through international associations. I would consider it a bad thing if these were broken up and we withdraw back within national boundaries. Jun 19 at 13:07

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Nationalization is not necessary because government owned publishers already exist.

Peruse a list of university presses and you will find many which are publicly owned. There are other government-owned academic publishers, such as

The main issue is that these publishers have limited funds. The presses of public universities in the United States have undergone a substantial contraction caused by budget cuts.

Naturally, many government owned publishers focus on research topics of interest to governments, like policy and economics. They also have a range of quality control processes, limitations on authorship, and limited prestige.

If, for some reason, you want literature, here are some examples: https://scholar.google.com/scholar?start=0&q=decline+of+university+presses&hl=en&as_sdt=0,11&as_ylo=2018

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  • What does this have to do with nationalizing academic publishing. Having a select few government owned pressed is NOTHING like nationalizing academic publishing. Is the argument, because some university presses have been underfunded recently, I should stop looking into the nationalization of academic publishing? But again, I am not here to argue the merits of it, but every issue everyone brings up are relatively trivial issues that could be fixed with robust laws. Surely Russia or China has nationalized academic publishing. Has it never even been considered here?
    – Jimmy G.
    Jun 18 at 6:26
  • One can argue that most “society publishers” are pretty close to the governmental funded publishers. Funny enough most societies are not able to figure it out without the help for-profit publishers (party showing the limits of non-profits and academic societies)
    – Greg
    Jun 18 at 11:51
  • @JimmyG. It is up to you to explain the difference between what exists and what you want. "I am not here to argue the merits of it" I do not believe you. Personally, I would be totally fine with nationalization of for-profit publishers. Nationalization is much more effective in industries where there is a large barrier to entry, like railways. Governments have very low barriers to entry for academic publishing. Jun 18 at 16:37
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    @AnonymousPhysicist I really am not here to debate the merits, because I don't know the merits or demerits. I know that I can easily think of fixes to what seems like everyone's seemingly knee-jerk reactions to immediately associate anything government with bad. My hope is that someone has studied this possibility and has numbers of what it would cost, what the structures would look like, how to maintain scientific integrity, and, hopefully, even case studies of countries that have done this. I'm a curious layman, I have no ability to debate this issue.
    – Jimmy G.
    Jun 18 at 20:16

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