A journal’s editorial board has withdrawn its threat to resign en masse after its publisher publicly apologised for its handling of a debate on the future of academic publishing.
Earlier this month, Times Higher Education reported that the publication of the debate in the Taylor & Francis journal Prometheus: Critical Studies in Innovation was delayed by eight months after the publisher demanded large cuts from the “proposition” paper.
The paper, “Publisher, be damned! from price gouging to the open road”, by four academics from the University of Leicester’s School of Management, was critical of the behaviour and profit margins of commercial publishers, including Taylor & Francis’ parent company, Informa.
Taylor & Francis eventually settled for more minor edits, including the removal of the names of publishers, but the authors and editors were incensed by a long subsequent delay to publication and the addition to each debate paper of a disclaimer warning that “the accuracy of the content should not be relied upon”.
THE’s story about the stand-off went viral on social media and the proposition paper is now the most read paper in the journal’s online history, according to its website.
Stuart Macdonald, Prometheus’ general editor and a visiting professor of economics at Aalto University in Finland, said the attention had helped convince the publisher to submit to his demand for a public apology.
He has now received a letter from David Green, global journals publishing director at Taylor & Francis Group, which – with the publisher’s knowledge – he passed on to THE. It states that “in our concern to avoid legal and copyright problems, we were overzealous in the changes we sought in the content of the journal’s debate. Publication of the issues was delayed and we failed to communicate clearly with the editors. We apologise for these failings.”
It adds: “We accept that there must be a crucial divide between the roles of the academic publisher and the editor, and that this must be maintained. We look forward to re-establishing our previous amicable working relationship with the editors of Prometheus.”
Professor Macdonald said it had taken “hours” to agree a version of the letter with which he was satisfied and which avoided words the publisher was unwilling to use, such as “sorry”, “mistake” or “censorship”.
“But it is extremely rare to get a public apology from a publisher, so this is fine,” he said, adding that the editorial board had withdrawn its resignation threat.
A spokeswoman for Taylor & Francis said the publisher had nothing to add to the letter.