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Academic Publishing: How It Works and Why

An introduction to the industry of academic publishing, how it came to be, and how it works now.

The Record of Research

Academic publishing across all fields dictates the progress of a discipline and the current state of the work in that discipline. This guide explains how the process works for authors who seek to publish their research.


What Gets Published

The scientific article has essentially become the only way science is systematically represented in the world. … If you control access to the scientific literature, it is, to all intents and purposes, like controlling science. (Buranyi, 2017)


Academic Publishing Today



Informal survey of bibliometric data from 2018 (Scopus, owned by Elsevier): 2.08 articles published internationally in 2018

Most papers published by very few commercial publishers
  • Elsevier, Taylor & Francis, Wiley-Blackwell: published 41% of all papers in the Social Sciences and Humanities in 2013 (Larivière et al., 2015, p. 3-5)
  • Elsevier, Wiley-Blackwell, Springer Nature: published 47% of all papers in Natural and Medical Sciences in 2013 (Larivière et al., 2015, p. 3-5)
  • Also in the top 5 of academic publishers: Sage Publishing and ACS
  • Elsevier in 2018 (as per the RELX Annual Report 2018):
    • 1.8m articles submitted
    • 470,000 articles published
    • 2,500 journals managed by more than 20,000 editors
    • 9 new subscription and 45 full open access journals
    • 18% of the world’s scientific articles


  • For-profit publishing + researcher need to publish in high-impact journal = emphasis on exciting and positive, no attention paid to quotidian and negative
  • Monopoly on research: “one article cannot substitute for another” (Buranyi, 2017)
  • More articles published = greater rate of retraction (
  • Researchers trading copyright for convenience
  • Piracy: prohibitive access costs lead to greater piracy of academic research, both domestically and internationally