Academic journals don’t pay writers, excluding scholars who can’t afford to work for free from getting published. Here’s why that’s a problem.

Elline Lipkin.
Elline Lipkin

Elline Lipkin is an author and research scholar with UCLA’s Center for the Study of Women.
Throughout her career, she says she’s often written articles for academic journals without payment.
When journals don’t pay writers, Lipkin says scholars with fewer financial resources are edged out.
See more stories on Insider’s business page.
After nearly 15 years as an independent academic, I always appreciate the impact of an eye-opening statement like: "Did you know most adjunct faculty, working full time, even with a doctorate, earn under $40,000 a year?"
Recently, I watched mouths drop during a weekend Zoom seminar on freelance writing when I held up a copy of a book, freshly published by a major university press, to which I’d contributed a chapter, and explained my "payment" consisted of two free copies of the volume. Then I casually mentioned that a recent book review I completed – for a prominent scholarly journal – would yield zero dollars.
The would-be journalists shook their heads, as most professionals do since payment for their labor, in dollars, is considered standard – which is to say pretty much all other fields.
Not so in academia.
To further drive my point home to the freelance writers, I held up the two books I’ve solo-authored and explained that one yielded an advance of exactly $1,000 and the other $4,000, since they were marketed as academic and literary work.
Pulling back the curtain on academic exploitation gets a great reaction every time. And after I began to directly question the gatekeepers of this system, the shock began to come from the other side.
Simply asking to be paid for your work in academia comes across as heresySome people act as if money taints the lofty ideas and intellectual labor of academic work.
"It’s just not done," one editor said to me when I asked why I couldn’t be compensated for a recent article. "Since we’re an academic journal, we never pay."
Another editor moved from initial confusion to outrage at my audacity for even asking to get paid.
The trouble with this archaic system – where ‘it’s just not done’ – is who it systemically leaves outIt’s no secret that if you’re inside the academic system – that is, lucky enough to land a tenure-track job – you’re in for approximately seven years of intense ladder-climbing in which publication by a vetted journal equals the golden ticket to tenure, which secures a job, benefits, and retirement, for life.
For scholars on this path, each article, conference presentation, or book is another rung climbed to the promised security at the top.
This path is reliant on the fact that tenure-track faculty receive full-time salaries, and often use additional travel and grant money to support their work. As a result, not receiving a penny for an article is considered acceptable, since this work is underwritten by their departments and the expectation to publish is built into the very definition of their jobs.
This model – to work for free to net the ‘currency’ of a publication credit – works only for salaried academicsThe trouble is that tenure track jobs have shrunk exponentially, leaving everyone else who wants to participate in their field – adjuncts, lecturers, and independent academics – to essentially self-fund their own labor.
Also, it reinforces a system where separating labor from actual currency is acceptable, while others (literally) profit from it – all without questioning what it costs people to work for free and makes a level of economic privilege a baseline to participate within academia.
In the world of independent academics, some can afford to work for free, most likely because they’re supported by a partner or other means. Then there are those, like myself, who continue to do this work because we want to contribute to our fields. Why should our voices be barred from the intellectual conversation?
Without payment for our work, the scholars most likely to stop participating are those with the fewest financial resourcesThis is a demographic which I suspect breaks down along race and class lines. What loss is there to the profession when swathes of scholars are edged out or chased from the conversation because they dared to think they should be paid for their work?
When I surveyed junior academics who were outside the tenure track, the concept of "choice" came up repeatedly. If you’re adjuncting and want to make yourself competitive for a tenure-track job, most argued, it’s a choice to put in the time during late nights and weekends to keep submitting to journals.
The reality of this is undeniable, but this argument seems suspiciously close to one I’ve heard for years about women opting out of the workforce simply by "choice." While people with economic privilege can exercise their "choice" to work for free, those who are worrying about rent, bills, and in all likelihood, mountains of student loans, have no actual choice at all.
The journal to which I contributed my article is available for purchase through its distributor Taylor & Francis – for $303 an issue. My article is downloadable for $45.
I refrained from asking the editor-in-chief if the printing paper was donated or if workers at the production plant were asked to work off the clock while they put together this issue.
I know the answer. If everyone else gets paid – an actual wage – for creating this volume, why are those whose labor make up its essential content asked to work for free?
Imagine it – money being exchanged for labor, even the intellectual kind. That this idea would come as a jolt to those within academia, who pay mortgages, bills, and need to eat, yet expect ideas to circulate in a kind of intellectual aerie – is itself shocking.
Read the original article on Business Insider

Source: https://www.businessinsider.com/problem-academic-journals-not-paying-writers-scholars-2021-5

Join the Discussion

Back to top