What the world learns through published textbooks and journals is controlled by just five companies according to a report published by the Public Library of Science (PLos), a nonprofit organization committed to ensuring scientific and medical literature is freely accessible to the public and scientists.
The study suggests it was time for researchers and scientists to make a move from major for profit publishers.
After analyzing 45 million Web of Science indexed documents, the authors of the study found five groups published more than 50 per cent of all academic papers in 2013. The five were
Sage, Springer, Reed-Elsevier, Wiley-Blackwell, and Taylor & Francis.
Some scientists have been questioning the need a for publishing houses as everything these days could be put onto the web, but it was not public knowledge till the Plos report just how much of academic publishing was by the big five publishers.
About 70 percent of published psychology, chemistry and social science papers were contained in journals owned by the big five and this was only available to those with paid subscriptions. In 1973 that figure was just 20 per cent and in 2006 that figure had grown to 50 per cent.
Only journals dealing with physics have escaped the control of the big five and that may be because there is not much money to be made from the science.
One of the biggest publishers Reed-Elsevier, reported earnings of $1.5 billion just for the first six months of 2014 from its medical, scientific and technical journals .
Recently 15,000 researchers called for a boycott of publishing house Elsevier because of the high cost of subscriptions.
PLos spokesperson Vincent Larivière said “Unfortunately, researchers are still dependent on one essentially symbolic function of publishers, which is to allocate academic capital. Young researchers need to publish in prestigious journals to gain tenure, while older researchers need to do the same in order to keep their grants.”
The study's authors wrote in their conclusion that it was "tempting" to think of a self-regulated science world with no big publishers charging subscriptions.
“What do we need publishers for? What is it that they provide that is so essential to the scientific community that we collectively agree to devote an increasingly large proportion of our universities budgets to them?” they wrote.