Some people include a few notable bloggers are saying that we should all boycott Elsevier who publish science journals and sell them at a good profit margin. Does this make sense? I wont answer that question but Iwill make this point: Elsevier is a profit making business who can set its margins according to how well it can persuade people that its products have good value (e.g. by attracting good authors to give it a high impact factor), and how well it can keep its costs down (e.g. by attracting unpaid reviewers) Elsevier have been doing this a little bit better than some of its rivals. If a boycott now reduces these margins they will increase them for any other publisher that is used instead by those authors and reviewers. Result: back to square one.
Of course there are non-profit organisations that publish journals, but the cost of their journals is not really that much better and they are not necessarily better at being open access either. If they were, then there would be no publishers making profits. So is there a real solution to the problem? If scientists don’t want to pay a high price for someone to organize their peer-review they have to find an efficient way to do it themselves. They have already found efficient ways to do the publishing and distribution (e.g. arXiv). Now they have to do the same for the more difficult task of peer-review. Until they do that any boycotts will be a futile game of pushing lumps and scientists will have to continue paying the market price for a commercial service.
That is my opinion, what do you think?
Update: John Baez has posted another follow-up discussing what else can be done to replace journals for peer-review. Apparently the life sciences are now ahead of maths and physics on this!