"Acknowledged Goods" Worksite v. 0.1

What follows is a short snippet from the interior of my paper-in-progress, "Acknowledged Goods: Cultural Studies and the Politics of Scholarly Journal Publishing." Comments are welcome and can be added below. Alternatively, you can email feedback to me at: striphas@indiana.edu. Thanks in advance for your input!

(For a complete draft of "Acknowledged Goods," please click here.)


Acknowledged Goods: Cultural Studies and

the Politics of Scholarly Journal Publishing

by Ted Striphas
©2008

…Tables one and two survey the prices and publishers of leading journals in the field. Here’s the good news: the cost of an institutional subscription to even the most expensive cultural studies journals, Continuum (US$910/year, or US$227.50/issue) and Media, Culture, and Society (US$1366/year, or US$227.67/issue) doesn’t come close to the most notoriously priced scholarly publication I know of. The Journal of Applied Polymer Science, which is published twice-monthly by Wiley-Blackwell, in 2008 cost institutions US$19,935, or US$830.63/issue.1 The bad news is that, as with the rest of the journal publishing industry, subscription costs tend to increase relative to the size of the journal publisher. The average price of an institutional subscription to one of Taylor & Francis’ cultural studies periodicals, for instance, is more than three-and-a-half times that of Duke University Press—publisher of the least expensive cultural studies journals by far. In the case of Sage Publications, institutional subscribers can expect to pay five times more on average than they would for a Duke title. The gap closes somewhat when one compares New Left Review, which is an independent, “one-off” journal, to Taylor & Francis and Sage, with whom an institutional subscription costs on average one-and-a-half and two times more, respectively. Lawrence & Wishart, publisher of New Formations and Soundings, falls somewhere in between Duke and New Left Review in terms of journal pricing.

At least four conclusions may be drawn from this data. First, journals published by Taylor & Francis and Sage, who own the lion’s share of cultural studies titles, cost between 50% and 500% more than those at the bottom end of the pricing scale. There is a striking imbalance in the price of cultural studies knowledge goods (i.e., journals and journal articles), which in turn begs some obvious yet rarely asked questions: is their cost commensurate with their value? Is an article published in, say, The International Journal of Cultural Studies, really worth four times more than one appearing in Social Text? Is New Left Review only half as good as Cultural Studies←→Critical Methodologies? And so on. Second, the price imbalance cannot be attributed solely to corporate ownership, since Sage is a privately owned, and therefore independent, press. Third, and relatedly, “independent” can mean quite different things, depending on a firm’s size and its total number of assets. Finally, as McCabe notes, the size of a press’ journal portfolio is probably the most consequential factor when it comes to determining journal prices.2 Larger portfolios generally correlate with higher priced journals, and vice-versa. The only possible exception here would be New Left Review, whose moderately high cost is most likely attributable to its “one-off” status….

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