Mission or money?

Trends in scholarly publishing since c.1850





academic publishing, history, financial models


Watch the VIDEO.

Keynote presentation.

The current debates about the future of academic publishing have generated much discussion about the most appropriate way to support financially the widespread circulation of knowledge. Yet there have been debates about this since at least the 1890s. Drawing upon my historical research, I will describe how scholarly publishing has a long history of not making money. Indeed, until the mid-twentieth century, its costs were frequently sponsored (i.e. subsidised) by learned societies, by universities, by government and by private donors. It was only in the early Cold War years, in a time of expanding output of research, that mission-driven publishers began to seriously focus on sales income as a means of covering costs; and then, later, as a means of generating income. Should publishing be treated as mission, or as a means to mission? My talk will seek to untangle the historical relationship between publishing, money-making and scholarly mission.

Author Biography

Aileen Fyfe, University of St Andrews

Aileen Fyfe is a historian of science, technology and publishing, and Professor of Modern History at the University of St Andrews, UK. Her current research investigates the history of academic publishing from the seventeenth century to the present day, including the financial models underpinning scientific journals, their editorial and reviewing processes, and the role of learned society publishers. She is lead-author of the 2017 briefing paper Untangling Academic Publishing: a history of the relationship between commercial interests, academic prestige and the circulation of research.