With the annual meeting of the Royal Geographical Society / Institute of British Geographers coming up next week, this seems like an opportune time to present a challenge to the RGS/IBG and other learned societies regarding the ongoing transformation of the academic publishing industry. Although debates have raged throughout the academic blogosphere concerning open-access publishing and changing pricing (and access) models, few have directed their attention to learned societies, even though they have played a significant role in creating the current situation. It seems to me that if societies had a role creating the status quo, they can play their part in getting us out of it and forging a new future in academic publishing that increases access while putting decision-making in the hands of the scholarly community. After all, the learned societies are our organizations; we should be able to get them to work for us. And they potentially wield a powerful weapon in academic publishing debates: ownership of flagship journals.
Last year, the Geographical Society of Finland asked me to contribute to a debate in their journal Terra regarding the future of the society’s publishing ventures. Terra is unusual in that it publishes only in Finnish and Swedish, has very limited on-line distribution, and is published in-house (without the involvement of a commercial publisher). Finnish geographers are debating whether it makes sense to keep publishing under that model. In the course of the piece, I explore more generally the relationship between learned societies and commercial academic publishers and whether there might be alternatives to this (unholy?) alliance. These are points that could be relevant regardless of discipline or nationality.