Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Kraftwerk: a postmodern consensual hallucination

Kraftwerk are the most important music group since The Beatles and no other band has had as much influence on pop culture since. This sentiment is echoed in an article in The Observer, which declared, ‘no other band since The Beatles has given so much to pop culture.’ According to Barr (1998:2), the story of Kraftwerk ‘began just as pop culture was beginning to take shape.’ It was through self-awareness and clever control and manipulation of their image, artistic strategy, and the circumstances of this cultural milieu, which enabled Kraftwerk to provoke ‘a paradigm shift in modern music that has been unparalleled since The Beatles’ (Barr 1998: 3). Remarkably, whilst most people may not have even heard of the band, or heard their music,

without Kraftwerk, the experience of urban youth in the 90s would be radically different. There would be no contemporary dance music as we know it; and thus none of the clubs which provide our gateway into a world of synthetic melodies and machine beats every weekend; our approach to technology…would be subtly but radically reshaped and the whole fabric of futurism – both utopian and dystopian – in contemporary media would be irrevocably altered (Barr 1998: 3).

Kraftwerk are often referred to as ‘the godfathers of electronic music’ and were pioneers in the genre, but they have also had considerable influence on disco, rap, electro, synth pop – and all the varieties of pop hybrids that have since developed from these scenes. From their home in Düsseldorf, Germany, they have created a lasting legacy that has had enduring effect and has informed the development of pop culture over the last forty years or more.

The two founding members Ralph Hütter and Florian Schneider met at a music improvisation course in 1968 in their home of Düsseldorf – a city closer to Belgium, Holland and France than the divided West and East Berlins. They played together in their first band Organisation; instead of playing guitars they played organ and flute. Their music was styled ‘on a heavily improvisational, sometimes chaotic, methodology which referenced jazz, high-brow avante-garde theory and the broad seam of sonic experimentalism that Aphex Twin and Squarepusher would mine more than two decades later’ (Barr, 1998: 49).

By 1970, Hütter and Schneider had set up their famous Kling Klang studio in an industrial estate in Düsseldorf ; it was this event which Hütter marks as the real beginning of Kraftwerk. According to Pattie (2011: 9), it was a fitting location for the band because, ‘in the midst of the soundscapes of the most technologically advanced area in Germany, the band created music which reflected, not the role of technology in the as-yet-unrealized future, but the integration of technology and human life in the present’ – an idea that would be properly articulated in their later concept of the Menschmaschine (man-machine). Furthermore, Pattie (2011: 9) notes, ‘Kraftwerk’s relationship to technology is bound up in their relation to their immediate environment; rather than using technology to map out an escape route towards the further reaches of the cosmos, it is used to recreate the mechanized soundscapes of the modern, industrialized city.’ This philosophy is reflected in the group’s name ‘Kraftwerk’ which means power station; the Kling Klang studio was set up almost opposite Düsseldorf ’s power station.

In the early 70s, Düsseldorf  was becoming an important hub of contemporary culture in Germany, and by the time the classic Kraftwerk line-up of Ralph Hütter, Florian Schneider, Karl Bartos and Wolfgang Flür  was established, the group

wasn’t dissimilar to that which existed around the Velvet Underground and Andy Warhol’s Factory. Painters, writers, performance artists, musicians and designers…were all part of the loose circle which orbited the band (Barr 1998: 7).

It was because of this artistic and creative environment that Kraftwerk were able to move ahead of other groups ‘in terms of conceptuals, musical structures and imagery’ (Barr1998: 7). This was also a particularly important time in the post-war experience of Germany, and ‘an immensely exciting period of psychological change in [the nation] as the first post-war generations struggled to imprint their own identity on mainstream culture.’

Throughout Kraftwerk’s rise to prominence, music journalists were preoccupied with their German identity and discussions generally focused on two factors – that they were from West Germany and they played electronic music. According to Albiez and Lindvig (2011: 15), ‘[t]hey picked up on and amplified the links between the band’s national status – or associated Germanic or Teutonic historical stereotypes – and their use of electronic technologies’. In discussing, Autobahn, music critic Lester Bangs (1975) argued, ‘Autobahn is more than just the latest evidence in support of the case for Teutonic raillery…It is an indictment of all those who would resist the bloodless iron will and order of the ineluctable dawn of the Machine Age.’ In this way, Kraftwerk and the music they played was positioned essentially as German.

According to Barr (1998: 90), Kraftwerk were well aware of how they were being represented and suggests that they ‘deliberately [played] up to the deadly serious, straight-laced stereotypical image of Germans’. In doing so, they also played on other clichéd stereoptypes ‘by referring to how they manipulated and controlled people through technology, to the mechanical nature of the German language and by mentioning the German mentality as being “more advanced”’ (Bangs 1975). This self-awareness and irony can be seen in the following quote in which Hütter and Schneider are clearly toying with widely held Nazi-related German stereotypes concerning technological control and mastery:

When you are aware that music is a process of brainwashing and manipulation, you realise it can go also in the direction of damage. We have the power to push the knobs on our machines this way or that and cause damage…It can be like doctors with patients (cited in Albiez and Lindvig 2011: 21).

However, Kraftwerk’s satire was lost on many media commentators and one critic went so far as to invoke Nazi-era clichés suggesting the band’s so-called ‘masterplan’ for ‘world domination’ (Goldstein in Albiez and Lindvig 2011: 21).

According to Albiez and Lindvig (2011: 25), Kraftwerk ‘knowingly addressed German identity through a self-reflexive and playful representation of clichéd stereotypes.’ This attitude is perhaps most apparent in their Autobahn album which they released in 1974. Hütter and Schneider were big fans of The Beach Boys and were ‘fascinated by their ability to encapsulate an entire slice of American life inside a three-minute single’ (Barr 1998: 82). They were interested in how they could make a German equivalent and ‘[b]y using their music to celebrate German culture they would simultaneously be re-appropriating it for their own generation’ (Barr 1998: 82-83). At ths time, the autobahn was the most visible symbol and a key signifier of modern Germany.

By the 1970s, the autobahn had become a ‘potent symbol’ of Germany’s ‘economic and industrial power, but [it] also conjured up connotations of the Nazi era’ (Albiez and Lindvig (2011: 27). When Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, he initiated the autobahn project. Not only was it to provide better road links between cities (and later enable faster deployment of troops), but it was also an effort to bring Germany into full employment following the depression years and high unemployment of the Weimar Republic. In this way, the autobahn lent itself as the perfect cultural symbol, which for the post-war generation ‘needed to be stripped of its past associations’ and celebrated instead (Barr 1998: 83).

The lead track off the album, ‘Autobahn’, can be read as a ‘sonic representation of a journey on the autobahn’ (Albiez and Lindvig 2011: 32). At just over twenty-two minutes in length, the track moves through two distinct tempos and through the hypnotic groove and use of sound effects, mimetically represents the experience of driving along and passing other cars on the autobahn. According to Barr (1998: 84), the ‘track combined the groups experimental past with their emerging commercial sensibilities.’ The influence of The Beach Boys is also evident in the lyrics and harmonies of the song, with the chorus “Wir fahren fahren fahren auf der Autobahn” echoing the American group’s “Fun, Fun, Fun”, although Hütter would no doubt suggest a more open interpretation.

Whilst most of their output happened between 1970-81, Kraftwerk still manage to attract sell-out shows whenever they perform. Following on from their appearance last year at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York, where they played an eight show exhibition “Kraftwerk – Catalogue 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8”, when it was announced they would be playing the same show at the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern in London, the demand was so strong it crashed the ticketing system resulting in a hordes of angry fans.

Recently, as part of Sydney’s Vivid LIVE, a 10-day celebration of popular music alongside the city’s annual festival of light (Vivid LIGHT) and ideas (Vivid IDEAS), Australian fans were invited to ‘explore one of the richest histories in global sound, image culture and popular music’ with Kraftwerk performing at the iconic Opera House (Vivid website). In a rare interview, Ralph Hütter, the 66-year-old and last remaining original member (Florian Schneider departed in 2008), described the concert as a Gesamtkunstwerk, a concept also used by Wagner, which translates as ‘a total work of art’ or ‘synthesis of the arts’. ‘[It is] a whole combination,’ he said. ‘We do all of this ourselves, programming videos and programming graphics, the lettering, all the lights, and we play the individual desks…where we play different instruments and computers…It is basically a living sculpture’ (cited in Miller 2013). The idea of combining audio and visual in their art isn’t new to Kraftwerk. Back in their early touring days they were already experimenting with different aspects of performance and were projecting the slide-shows of Emil Schult ‘to add visual interest and reinforce the idea of their concerts as artistic events’ (Barr 1998: 106). Schult has been a long-term collaborator with Kraftwerk, he co-wrote some of the lyrics and is responsible for creating most of their sleeve designs since 1973, including the iconic Autobahn sleeve, and it is his artwork that is being used in the concert.

Whilst the roll call of members has changed over the years, the same basic configuration of four control desks arrayed horizontally in line across the stage remains. In order of appearance on stage from left to right the current members include: Ralph Hütter (lead vocals, vocoder, synthesizers and keyboards); Fritz Hilpert (electronic percussion, sound engineering); Henning Schmitz (electronic percussion, live keyboards, sound engineering); and Falk Grieffenhagen (live video technician).

To avoid the ticketing issues that had plagued the London gig, fans had to participate in a ballot where tickets were granted by allocation only, which according to the organisers would ‘minimise the congestion through sales channels and…fairly distribute tickets to fans across time zones, states and countries’ (Vivid website). Similarly to the Düsseldorf , New York, London and Tokyo gigs (they only played a single show elsewhere), the band would present three decades of their most innovative music in a 3D audiovisual exhibition, which ‘has redefined traditional concert motifs.’ With two shows per night, the band would present eight shows across four nights celebrating their masterworks: Autobahn (1974), Radio-Activity (1975), Trans-Europe-Express (1977), The Man-Machine (1978), Computer World (1981), Techno Pop (1986), The Mix (1991) and Tour de France (2003). In the words of Fergus Linehan, festival director of Vivid LIVE, the ‘eight concerts are a mind-melting feast for the eyes and ears’ (Faster Louder).

As a dedicated fan of Kraftwerk, and having been involved in the electronic dance music scene for almost twenty years, I was quick to submit an application for the ticket ballot and was lucky to secure tickets for three shows: Trans-Europe-Express, The Man-Machine and Computer World. As we entered the Joan Sutherland theatre for the first show of the night we were given 3D glasses and directed to our seats in the loge which gave us an angled view down to the stage. At 7pm, the curtains were raised and the concert was efficiently underway; pity to those who were late. The four members led by Hütter and dressed in their iconic ‘Tron-esque’ suits stand in front of their respective control desks, which are outlined by neon lighting which changes colour in time with the music. At time, against the 3D backdrop of visuals the four members seem to be suspended in space.

From the first bars of ‘Trans-Europe Express’, the audience is swept away in a state of hypnotic machine-made synaesthesia and drawn into Kraftwerk’s ‘consensual hallucination’. Through the use of synthesised sound and ‘the combination of the repetition of simple motifs with new and interesting percussive elements and differing timbres and sonic effects’, the song propels the listener on a progressive journey through continental Europe (Toltz 2011: 184). Along with Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’, ‘Trans-Europe Express was one of the biggest disco hits of the time (Barr 1998: 126).

It was also partly responsible for Afrika Bambaata and the Soulsonic Force’s ‘Planet Rock’, which helped kick off the electro funk scene and cement rap, which would go on to inform the development and production techniques hip hop and electronic dance music. In 1982, Bambaata, who was one of the Bronx’s most influential and original DJs and who was already playing Kraftwerk’s records in his sets teamed up with Arthur Baker who had a reputation in the rap scene. Together they sampled ‘Trans-Europe Express’ from which they took the melody and put a rap over it, and with the help of a programmer, on a rented Roland drum machine, they copied the beat of ‘Numbers’. The record label was later sued for $100,000 for copyright infringement, which was simply absorbed by raising the price of the record (Barr 1998: 165-166).

Returning to the idea of a consensual hallucination, in his seminal work Neuromancer (1984), William Gibson prophetically coined the term ‘cyberspace’ well before the invention of the world wide web, which he described as a

consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators in every nation…A graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding… (67).

This quote perfectly captures Kraftwerk’s futurist aesthetic and modus operandi. As self-described ‘operators’ or ‘workers’ Kraftwerk masterfully manipulate their machines to produce a shared hallucination. In an interview with Lester Bangs, Hütter said, ‘We are manipulating the audience…That’s what it’s all about. When you play electronic music you have the control of the imagination of the people in the room and it can go to the extent where it’s almost physical’ (cited in Barr 1998: 91). This sentiment is further echoed in another interview in which Hütter suggested, Kraftwerk ‘find some energy in the environment of people who come to see us and who make us play in another dimension at a higher psychological level’ (cited in Barr 1998: 195).

The Menschmaschine, or man-machine, is a philosophical and acoustic concept with Kraftwerk functioning as the ‘power plant’ (Barr 1998: 90). As Hütter has claimed, ‘The machines are part of us and we are part of the machines…They play with us and we play with them. We are brothers. They are not our slaves’ (cited in Barr 1998: 136). The concept is also implicitly political which can be seen in ‘the Russian Constructivist sleeve imagery, the group’s uniform, their insistence on their role as “music workers” and their abhorrence of the star system coalesced into a kind of utopian urban communism’ (Barr 1998: 138). These ideas were given concrete form in The Man Machine album of 1978, which was the group’s ‘most determinedly futuristic album to date’ and ‘a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy that Kraftwerk were indeed the band of the future’ (Barr 1998: 134).

The album of 1981, Computer World, was the album that established the ‘blueprint for Detroit Techno’ and helped create the ‘template that was extrapolated into the future by a handful of black musicians and subsequently transmitted on to the dancefloors of the world by those they inspired’ (Barr 1998: 151). According to Sicko (1999: 24), ‘[m]any Chicago house pioneers cite the track ‘Home Computer’ as an early reference point. Likewise, electro and pre-techno artists in Detroit drew inspiration from the bizarre portamento riffs and lyrical minimalism of ‘Numbers’’, also off the album. Techno legend, Carl Craig, suggests that in Detroit the album was considered ‘a masterpiece, a work of art…Maybe it was the complexity of rhythms that made it so interesting but it worked. I think it was so stiff it was funky’ (cited in Barr 1998: 152).

Whilst the marketing pitch of the tour was that the band would be playing chronologically through each of the albums, the reality was quite different. Each show was only focused on a selection of the tracks from each respective album, with the remainder of the show taken up by greatest hits. Included in the greatest hits section of each show were tracks such as: ‘Autobahn’, ‘Radio-activity’, ‘The Robots’, ‘Man Machine’, ‘Space Lab’, ‘The Model’, ‘Neon Lights’, ‘Computer World’, ‘Numbers’, ‘Home Computer’, ‘Computer Love’, ‘Boing Boom Tschak’ and ‘Music Non-Stop’. Each show finished after each member played a solo, and left the stage one-by-one. Hütter was always the last leave, with the beat still running he would wish the audience “Good night, Auf Weidersehen”, then he too would walk to the end of the stage, bow deeply and stand with his hand across his heart as the audience continued it’s rapturous applause until the lights came on signalling the end of the trip. Over the three shows, inevitably there were repeats, but seeing Kraftwerk three times in one weekend, well who would complain?

The last word must go to Hütter which neatly sums up the democratic force of electronic dance music: ‘Electronics is beyond nations and colours,’ he said. ‘It speaks a language everyone can understand. It expresses more than just stories the way most conventional songs do. With electronics, everything is possible. The only limit is with the composer.’ Finally, ‘in front of the loudspeakers everyone is equal’ (Barr 1998: 126).

Note: this article was originally written for Plane Tree, the magazine published by the University of Melbourne's Graduate Student Association. You can view a shorter edited version of this essay herehttp://www.gsa.unimelb.edu.au/planetree/2013_Plane_Tree_No_2.shtml

Albiez, S. and Lindvig, K.T. (2011) ‘Autobahn and Heimatklänge: Soundtracking the FRG’ in S. Albiez and D. Pattie (eds) Kraftwerk: Music Non-Stop. New York and London: Continuum.

Bangs, L. (1975) ‘Kraftwerkfeature’, http://www.technopop-archive.com/interview_97.php, accessed 4 June 2013.

Barr, C. (1998) From Düsseldorf to the Future (with Love). London: Ebury Press.

Faster Louder (2013) ‘Kraftwerk to headline Sydney’s Vivid LIVE’, 20 February, http://www.fasterlouder.com.au/news/local/34965/Kraftwerk-to-headline-Sydneys-Vivid-LIVE, accessed 4 June 2013.

Gibson, W. (1993) Neuromancer. London: HarperCollins.

Miller, N. (2013) ‘Kraftwerk bring 3D electropop wizardry Down Under’, 20 February,

Pattie, D. (2011) ‘Introduction: The (Ger)man Machines’ in S. Albiez and D. Pattie (eds) Kraftwerk: Music Non-Stop. New York and London: Continuum.

Sicko, D. (1999) Techno Rebels: The Renegades of Electronic Funk. New York: Billboard Books.

The Observer (2013) ‘Why Kraftwerk are still the world’s most influential band’, 27 Jan, http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2013/jan/27/kraftwerk-most-influential-electronic-band-tate, accessed 4 June 2013.

Toltz, J. (2011) ‘Dragged into the Dance  - the Role of Kraftwerk in the Development of Electro-Funk’ in S. Albiez and D. Pattie (eds) Kraftwerk: Music Non-Stop. New York and London: Continuum.

Vivid website (2013) ‘Kraftwerk – The Catalogue 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8’, http://www.vividsydney.com/events/kraftwerk-the-catalogue-1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8/, accessed 4 June 2013.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Essay: The feminisation of witchcraft and rise of misogyny in late medieval and early modern Europe

The stereotype of the witch first appeared in Europe in the late medieval period. Whilst the figure of the witch had previously existed in popular and learned imagination, it was during the fifteenth century that the separate elements of witchcraft – harmful sorcery or maleficium, diabolism, heretic cultic activity, and nocturnal flight – were collapsed into the single concept of satanic witchcraft.[i] It was also during this period that the witch became gendered, with the term “witch” standing in metonymically for “female”. The aim of this essay is to examine the relationship between the feminisation of witchcraft and rise of misogyny in late medieval and early modern Europe. This will be achieved by looking at scholarship surrounding the impact of the witch-hunting treatises by Johannes Nider, and Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger, respectively titled, the Formicarius (1437), and the Malleus Maleficarum (1486). Alongside an examination of the perennial question: “why were witches women?”, I will argue that gender and misogyny are important issues in understanding what Barstow calls ‘sexual terrorism’ – the fact that ‘while witches were almost always women, they were invariably tried, judged, jailed, examined, and executed by men.’[ii]

At the outset any discussion of witchcraft is immediately brought into difficulty by the term “witch”, a word that is complicated by its polysemic baggage.[iii] In the early fifteenth century, the Latin word that Nider and other clerical authorities commonly used to signify “witch”, was maleficus (or malefica in the feminine), which translated to ‘a person who performed harmful sorcery, maleficium, against others.’[iv] Such acts included committing crimes such as ‘theft or murder by magical means, causing pestilence or disease, withering crops or afflicting livestock, and conjuring lightning and hail.’[v] However, during the late fifteenth century and into the great witch-hunts of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, a very specific image of the witch emerged, and the practice of witchcraft involved a crime far greater than maleficium; that is, the crime of diabolism, in which a witch obtained their powers to work their magic through a demonic pact with the devil.[vi] As demon worshippers and servants of Satan, witches were thought to be part of a large, organised conspiratorial cult, headed by the Prince of Darkness and in opposition to the Church itself, which both ecclesiastical and secular authorities sought to extirpate.[vii]

According to Kieckhefer, this new obsession with diabolism was also related to the spread of theological texts of the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, which ‘set forth all the elements of diabolism in great, pornographic detail.’[viii] As will be demonstrated shortly, it is through the notion of diabolism – the belief that magic involved pacts with demons, and ultimately the worship of demons or the devil – that witchcraft during this period became feminised.[ix] According to Brauner, until the fifteenth century, ‘witchcraft was not considered gender-specific’, with ‘women believed to be no more likely than men to be witches.’[x] Gender, therefore, is clearly central to understanding the witch-hunts, and the way in which women were essentially constructed as witches.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word ‘misogyny’ (from the Greek root misogynia) simply refers to ‘hatred or dislike of, or prejudice against women’.[xi] However, misogyny is a much more complicated concept than this description would indicate. In fact, as suggested by Gilmore, misogyny means ‘an unreasonable fear or hatred of women that takes place on some palpable form in any given society.’[xii] He notes further that misogyny is a feeling of enmity toward the female sex, a ‘disgust or abhorrence’ toward women as an undifferentiated social category, which ‘finds social expression in the concrete behaviour: in cultural institutions, in writings, in rituals, or in other observable activity.’[xiii] Misogyny, then, is a ‘sexual prejudice that is symbolically exchanged (shared) among men, attaining praxis.’[xiv], This practiced misogyny, fuelled by the dissemination of learned clerical literature, reached its searing heights in the witch craze of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

For the purposes of this discussion, it is important to understand that ‘misogynists are “essentialists”, positing a stereotypical “essence” in women, a basic, immutable, and evil nature allowing for no individual variation.’[xv] It is through such an essentialist move that the authors of the Formicarius, and the Malleus Maleficarum, connected ‘the operations of magic to female weakness and then set about prosecuting women for the resulting crime of witchcraft.’[xvi] According to the figures compiled by Kieckhefer, in the early fourteenth century, men comprised 70% of the proportion of those accused in trials of sorcery or diabolism, and by the first half the fifteenth century, that figure dramatically shifted, with women comprising roughly 60-70% of those accused in witchcraft trials.[xvii]

In his Formicarius (The Ant Heap), written around 1437, Johannes Nider, a Dominican theologian and reformer, was ‘the first clerical authority to argue that women were more prone to become witches than men’.[xviii] Fifty years later this had significant influence on Kramer, who incorporated whole sections of Nider’s text into his diatribe on female tendency to evil. According to Bailey, ‘[t]hrough Nider we have access to the idea of witchcraft at almost the very moment it first appeared’.[xix] Taking the form of a dialogue between a Dominican theologian and student, the Formicarius described in detail ‘most of those aspects of witchcraft that would in following centuries become standard elements of the witch stereotype.’[xx]

Nider describes the supposed activities of the new sect of heretics, known as malefici or witches, ‘who combined the performance of harmful magic with ceremonies at which they allegedly rejected their Christian faith and performed various horrific acts.’[xxi] Such acts were the standard tropes of the witches’ Sabbath, which were already in place; for example, cannibalistic infanticide, the renunciation of Christianity, the appearance of a demon in the shape of a human being, and instruction in the use of harmful magic.[xxii] The accounts in the Formicarius were seen as depicting an early and undeveloped concept of the Sabbath. However, whilst the idea of nocturnal flight does not appear in Nider’s account, he does draw attention to the danger of this new heretical sect.[xxiii]

According to Bailey, Nider was the first clerical authority ‘to argue explicitly that more women than men were inclined toward witchcraft’, a model that Kramer copied in his Malleus.[xxiv] After a discussion of Joan of Arc and other similar ‘rebellious women supposedly guilty of witchcraft’, the student in the dialogue exclaims: “I cannot wonder enough how the fragile sex should dare to rush into such presumptions.”[xxv] He then provides an explanation of female proclivity for witchcraft, basing his argument on ‘longstanding Christian conceptions of the physical, mental, and spiritual weaknesses of women, and their greater susceptibility to the temptations of the devil.’[xxvi] Nider also believed that women had ‘the potential for extreme good, however, when they did not reach this potential, they sank into the ‘worst of evils.’[xxvii] Both Nider and Kramer offered evidence cited from authoritative sources for their arguments about the extent of women’s propensity to evil. However, these ideas were not new and borrowed heavily from a long tradition of western misogyny.[xxviii]

This connection between women and witchcraft was further developed and disseminated through the publication in 1487 of the turgidly misogynistic text, the Malleus Maleficarum (The Hammer of the Witches). Written primarily by Kramer, with assistance from Sprenger, both were Dominican theologians who were influenced by the theological and political views of their order, and its long history of persecuting heretics.[xxix] The Malleus is divided into three parts: the first explains the nature of witches, the second describes the harm they do, and the third prescribes the best way to prosecute them.[xxx] The treatise was a massive success, and during the period of the witch-hunts there were between twenty-five and thirty-five editions, with at least eight appearing by 1500, and thirteen by 1520, ten of which were in Germany alone.[xxxi] Reprinted in 1580, the Malleus was deeply influential on both the Protestant and Catholic witch-hunters in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.[xxxii]

Regarded as the most famous late-medieval text dealing with witchcraft, this influential witch-hunting manual spread the idea that the ‘insatiable womb’ led women to ‘consort with devils’ and practice witchcraft, whereas God had ‘preserved the male sex from so great a crime.’[xxxiii] Kramer linked witchcraft to supposedly uncontrolled female sexuality, arguing that ‘all witchcraft comes from carnal lust, which in women is insatiable.’[xxxiv] The argument is developed around female frailty in which Kramer says, ‘since [women] are feebler in both mind and body, it is not surprising that they should come more under the spell of witchcraft.’[xxxv] He also compares woman to the first temptress Eve, who was ‘formed from a bent rib’, so was therefore, ‘an imperfect animal’.[xxxvi] Kramer even goes so far as to suggest an etymology of the Latin word – ‘for Femina comes from Fe and Minus, since she is ever weaker to hold and preserve the faith.’[xxxvii] Therefore, he argues, ‘a wicked woman is by her nature quicker to waver in faith, and consequently quicker to abjure the faith, which is the root of witchcraft.’[xxxviii]

Whilst the learned misogyny of the Malleus wasn’t original, the arguments that witches tend to be women, not men, and the witches’ pact with the devil is explicitly sexual, were new ideas.[xxxix] And it was through woman’s natural frailty that she became seduced by the devil, entering into a pact that was consummated sexually.[xl] According to Broedel, ‘just as the devil’s power is greatest where human sexuality is concerned, so too is woman’s greatest weakness, for she is naturally more sexual than men.[xli] And as Kramer says, this natural weakness, ‘that she is more carnal than a man’, is made clear ‘from her many carnal abominations.’[xlii]

Kramer was also the first to raise maleficium, which was traditionally the jurisdiction of secular authorities, to the criminal status of heresy, which allowed judges to prosecute ‘with the same vigour as would the Inquisition in prosecuting a heretic.’[xliii] Moreover, the Malleus insisted that the death penalty for convicted witches was the only guaranteed remedy against this heretical sect, who posed the greatest danger of the time – ‘the extermination of the Faith’.[xliv] In the process of the feminisation of witchcraft, the crime of witchcraft was also feminised[xlv]

It is argued that because misogyny has been so permanent a part of western culture that it cannot be deployed as a cause of so specific an event as the witch-hunts.[xlvi] However, taking this dismissive line of reasoning fails to account for why, in some areas of Europe, between 80-90% of the victims persecuted were women. [xlvii] Some scholars have gone so far as to blame women. For example, Midelfort suggests that ‘women seemed also to provoke somehow an intense misogyny at times’.[xlviii] Similarly, Quaife argues that gender was not the important element in the witch-hunts, or perhaps, not a factor at all, ‘misogyny was the negative side of man’s attitude to women and in most cases did not dominate.’[xlix] The disavowal of misogyny as an issue continues in the work of Clark, and also Larner, who both shifted the paradigm by suggesting that witches were accused not because they were women, but because they were witches.[l] Briggs also agrees that the witch-hunts were against witches, not women.[li]

It has also been argued that because women accused other women, misogyny was not the prime factor.[lii] However, it should be pointed out that patriarchy divides women; that is, ‘patriarchy functions so as to encourage women to enforce patriarchal norms against other women in order to strengthen their own precarious position in that order.’[liii] Therefore, if we are to understand the feminisation of witchcraft, which developed into witch-hunting that was primarily targeted at women, the dynamic nature of patriarchy, where ‘continuity of inequality between men and women relies on changing forms of oppression over time’, must also be taken into consideration.[liv]

What seems to be sadly lacking in any of these elisions of misogyny, is an acknowledgement that the female sex ‘seems to have taken on a new significance as a marker for “deviance” in the early modern period which it did not possess earlier.’[lv] The witch-hunts were part of a continuing tradition of male hatred against women, and it is hard to deny the fact that the most distinctive factor of the witch-hunts, was the fact that most witches were women.[lvi]

In conclusion, this essay has provided a discussion of the relationship between the feminisation of magic and misogyny in the late medieval and early modern periods of Europe. Examples were provided from the Formicarius, and Malleus Maleficarum, which demonstrated the development of clerical misogyny and the way that women were more essentially suited to witchcraft than men. The arguments were based on diabolism, in that witches obtained their power through sexual submission to the devil, and as women were deemed to be weaker, they were more susceptible to his seductions. Whilst scholars have argued against the importance of misogyny in understanding the witch-hunts, the fact that in most areas women were the primary victims, it is hard to deny that the witch-hunts were anything but a demonstration of male hatred against women.

List of primary references
Kramer, H. and Sprenger, J. The Malleus Maleficarum, trans. Rev. Montague Summers. New York: Dover Publications, 1971.

List of secondary references
Bailey, M.D. Battling Demons: Witchcraft, Heresy, and Reform in the Late Middle Ages. Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania University Press, 2003.

Bailey, M.D. “The Feminization of Magic and the Emerging Idea of the Female Witch in the Late Middle Ages”. Essays in Medieval Studies, 19 (2002), 120-134.

Bailey M.D. “The Medieval Concept of the Witches’ Sabbath”, Exemplaria: A Journal of Theory in Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 8, (1996), 419-439.

Barstow, A.L. “On Studying Witchcraft as Women’s History: A Historiography of the European Witch Persecutions”, Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, 4, no.2 (1988): 7-19.

Barstow, A.L. Witchcraze: A New History of the European Witch Hunts. San Francisco and London: Pandora Books, 1994.

Brauner, S. Fearless Wives and Frightened Shrews: The Construction of the Witch in Early Modern Germany. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1995.

Briggs, R. “Women as Victims? Witches, Judges and the Community”, French History, 5, no.4 (1991): 438-450.

Broedel, H.P. The Malleus Maleficarum and the Construction of Witchcraft: Theology and Popular Belief. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003.

Clarke, S. “The ‘Gendering’ of Witchcraft in French Demonology: Misogyny or Polarity?”, French History, 5, no.4 (1991): 426-437.

Gilmore, D.D. Misogyny: The Male Malady. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001.

Kieckhefer, R. European Witch Trials: Their Foundations in Popular and Learned Culture, 1300-1500. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976.

Kieckhefer, R. “Witch Trials in Mediaeval Europe” in The Witchcraft Reader, edited by Darren Oldridge. London and New York: Routledge, 2002.

Larner, C. “Was Witch-hunting Woman Hunting?” in The Witchcraft Reader, edited by Darren 

Oldridge. London and New York: Routledge, 2002.

Levack, B.P. The Witchcraft Sourcebook, New York and London: Routledge, 2004.
Midelfort, H.C. Eric. Witch Hunting in Southwestern Germany 1562-1684. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1972.

Oxford English Dictionary (OED), http://www.oed.com.ezproxy.lib.monash.edu.au/view/Entry/119829?redirectedFrom=misogyny#eid, accessed 15 September 2011.

Quaife, G.R. Godly Zeal and Furious Rage: The Witch in Early Modern Europe. London and Sydney: Croom Helm, 1987.

Russell, Jeffrey. R. Witchcraft in the Middle Ages. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1972.

Whitney, E. “The Witch “She”/The Historian “He”: Gender and the Historiography of the European Witch-Hunts”, Journal of Women’s History, 7, no.3, (1995), 77-101.

[i] Michael David Bailey, “The Feminization of Magic and the Emerging Idea of the Female Witch in the Late Middle Ages”, Essays in Medieval Studies, 19 (2002): 120; Jeffrey Burton Russell, Witchcraft in the Middle Ages, (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1972), 23-24.
[ii] Anne Llewellyn Barstow, Witchcraze: A New History of the European Witch Hunts, (San Francisco and London: Pandora Books, 1994), 142.
[iii] Russell, Witchcraft in the Middle Ages, 13-19.
[iv] Michael David Bailey, Battling Demons: Witchcraft, Heresy, and Reform in the Late Middle Ages, (Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania University Press, 2003), 29.
[v] Ibid.
[vi] Ibid.
[vii] Ibid., 30.
[viii] Richard Kieckhefer, “Witch Trials in Mediaeval Europe” in The Witchcraft Reader, ed. Darren Oldridge, (London and New York: Routledge,  2002), 127.
[ix] Michael David Bailey, Battling Demons: Witchcraft, Heresy, and Reform in the Late Middle Ages, (Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania University Press, 2003), 32; Bailey, “The Feminization of Magic and the Emerging Idea of the Female Witch in the Late Middle Ages”, 121.
[x] Sigrid Brauner, Fearless Wives and Frightened Shrews: The Construction of the Witch in Early Modern Germany, (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1995), 3.
[xi] OED website: http://www.oed.com.ezproxy.lib.monash.edu.au/view/Entry/119829?redirectedFrom=misogyny#eid.
[xii] David D. Gilmore, Misogyny: The Male Malady, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001), 9.
[xiii] Ibid.
[xiv] Ibid.
[xv] Ibid., 14.
[xvi] Bailey, “The Feminization of Magic and the Emerging Idea of the Female Witch in the Late Middle Ages”, 128.
[xvii] Richard Kieckhefer, European Witch Trials: Their Foundations in Popular and Learned Culture, 1300-1500, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976), 106-147.
[xviii] Bailey, “The Feminization of Magic and the Emerging Idea of the Female Witch in the Late Middle Ages”, 120).
[xix] Michael David Bailey, Battling Demons, 30.
[xx] Bailey, “The Feminization of Magic and the Emerging Idea of the Female Witch in the Late Middle Ages”, 121-122.
[xxi] Brian P. Levack, The Witchcraft Sourcebook, (New York and London: Routledge,  2004), 52.
[xxii] Ibid.; it should be noted that Nider never used the term ‘Sabbath’, which appeared only in the late fifteenth century. For more on the characteristics of the Sabbath described in late-medieval sources, see Michael D. Bailey, “The Medieval Concept of the Witches’ Sabbath”, Exemplaria: A Journal of Theory in Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 8, 1996, 419-439.
[xxiii] Michael David Bailey, Battling Demons, 47; Levack, The Witchcraft Sourcebook, 53.
[xxiv] Michael David Bailey, Battling Demons, 49.
[xxv] Nider in Bailey, “The Feminization of Magic and the Emerging Idea of the Female Witch in the Late Middle Ages”, 122; my emphasis.
[xxvi] Ibid.
[xxvii] Ibid.
[xxviii] Elspeth Whitney. “The Witch “She”/The Historian “He”: Gender and the Historiography of the European Witch-Hunts”, Journal of Women’s History, 7, no.3, (1995): 86.
[xxix] Brauner, Fearless Wives and Frightened Shrews, 31.
[xxx] Ibid., 32.
[xxxi] Ibid.
[xxxii] Ibid.
[xxxiii] Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger, The Malleus Maleficarum, trans. Rev. Montague Summers, (New York: Dover Publications, 1971), 47.
[xxxiv] Ibid.
[xxxv] Ibid., 44
[xxxvi] Ibid.
[xxxvii] Ibid.
[xxxviii] Ibid.
[xxxix] Brauner, Fearless Wives and Frightened Shrews, 33.
[xl] Hans Peter Broedel, The Malleus Maleficarum and the Construction of Witchcraft: Theology and Popular Belief, (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003), 25.
[xli] Ibid.; original emphasis.
[xlii] Kramer and Sprenger, Malleus Maleficarum, 44.
[xliii] Brauner, Fearless Wives and Frightened Shrews, 34.
[xliv] Ibid., 34; Kramer and Sprenger, Malleus Maleficarum, 48.
[xlv] Christina Larner, Witchcraft and Religion: The Politics of Popular Belief, (New York: Basil Blackwell, 1984), 60.
[xlvi] Whitney, “The Witch “She”/The Historian “He””, 78.
[xlvii] Anne Llewellyn Barstow, “On Studying Witchcraft as Women’s History: A Historiography of the European Witch Persecutions”, Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, 4, no.2 (1988), 7.
[xlviii] H.C. Eric Midelfort, Witch Hunting in Southwestern Germany 1562-1684, (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1972), 196.
[xlix] G.R. Quaife, Godly Zeal and Furious Rage: The Witch in Early Modern Europe, (London and Sydney: Croom Helm, 1987), 106.
[l] Stuart Clarke, “The ‘Gendering’ of Witchcraft in French Demonology: Misogyny or Polarity?”, French History, 5, no.4 (1991), 427); Christine Larner, “Was Witch-hunting Woman Hunting?” in The Witchcraft Reader, ed. Darren Oldridge, (London and New York: Routledge, 2002), 275.
[li] Robin Briggs, “Women as Victims? Witches, Judges and the Community”, French History, 5, no.4 (1991), 443-445.
[lii] Whitney, “The Witch “She”/The Historian “He””, 88.
[liii] Ibid.
[liv] Marianne Hester, “Patriarchal Reconstruction and Witch-Hunting” in The Witchcraft Reader, ed. Darren Oldridge, (London and New York: Routledge,  2002), 279.
[lv] Whitney, “The Witch “She”/The Historian “He””, 86.
[lvi] Ibid.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

A licence to print money? The high cost of academic publishing and access to knowledge in Australia


Although scholarly communication and academic debate had previously been taking place in personal communication between scholars such as Isaac Newton and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, the first academic journals didn’t appear until the seventeenth century. The first journal Le Journal des Sçavans was published in France in 1665, followed by Philosophical Transactions, which was published later that year by the Royal Society in London. As of today, it is estimated that there are more than 50 million scholarly articles in existence (Jinha, 2010). The academic journal is important in the system of knowledge because it ‘defines the social processes through which knowledge is made, and gives tangible form to knowledge’ (Cope and Kalantzis, 2009: 15). Furthermore, as an important disseminator of knowledge, the academic journal ‘lies at the heart of [the] system of scholarly communication and has stood the test of time’ (Cope and Phillips, 2009: 1).

Throughout three and a half centuries or so, the growth of the academic journal has led to the library fulfilling an important role as ‘a formal archive of the scholarly record’ (Davies, 2009: 224). In the digital age, now more than ever, libraries are ‘playing an even more important role in ensuring access to, and the preservation of, a comprehensive collection of scholarly output’ (Davies, 2009: 214). This is because once created, articles are rarely destroyed and can always be reactivated or retrieved through electronic databases and ‘through citation, each article occupies a position in the architecture that researchers can continue to build upon’ (Jinha, 2010: 258).

Since the 1960s, as commercial publishers have realised the potential profitability of journals, they have sought to selectively acquire the best journals that were previously being published by not-for-profit (or ‘society’) scholarly publishers (McGuigan and Russell, 2008). According to Edwards and Shulenberger (2003: 14), ‘the commercial publishers, which recognized the relative inelasticity of both supply and demand, acquired top-quality journals, and then dramatically raised prices, expecting that they would lose relatively little of the market.’ An expectation which has unfortunately held true ever since.

This acquisition strategy, combined with subsequent merger and consolidation activity, has resulted in ‘a highly concentrated industry’ in which firms that control large portfolios of journals ‘have an incentive to charge higher prices’ (McGuigan and Russell, 2008; McCabe, 2002: 261). In a study for the American Research Libraries (ARL), McCabe (1998) noted that ‘prices are indeed positively related to firm portfolio size [i.e., number of journal published by a firm], and that mergers [of firms] result in significant price increases.’ All of this has resulted in what is widely described as a ‘serials crisis’ whereby libraries have simply been unable to afford the continuous price rises, which has had deleterious effects on library acquisition budgets (Cope and Kalantzis, 2009: 24). In some cases, libraries ‘have been forced to reallocate dollars from monographs to journals, to postpone the purchase of new journal titles, and in some cases, cancel titles’ (Kyrillidou in McCabe, 2002: 259).

According to Shipp (2006: 37), scholarly publishing is ‘an industry unlike any other’. It is an industry characterised by a large number of producers (academics and researchers) who supply a relatively small market which consists of academic and research libraries. He notes, ‘there is little direct competition between the individual products of each supplier and in many respects it has been an undiscriminating marketplace’ (Shipp (2006: 37). The academic community produces the goods, provides editorial and peer review services, and gives away its scholarly content to commercial publishers (Steele, 2012). The publishers then impose restrictive copyright regulations and sell the content back to university libraries at great profit – from the work the universities originally created (James, 2011: 189; Steele, 2012). In the digital age where access and distributions costs are low, the logic of this transaction is no longer tenable (Steele, 2012).

Aims and Objectives

The aim of this essay is to explore international and local debates surrounding the high price of access to knowledge in Australia with reference to the wider international environment. In particular, it will seek to understand how and why academic journal publishing comes at such a high price to the consumer. This will be achieved by looking at the structure of the academic journal publishing sector, the economics of journal publishing, and arguments against the current ‘free labour’ business model. Ultimately, the research will seek to answer the question posed – is academic publishing a licence to print money? Although important issues, this research will not be interested in arguments surrounding open access models, or the fate of scholarly monograph publishing and its implications and challenges for libraries and university presses.

The state of play

The academic journal industry includes both for-profit and not-for-profit publishers (McCabe, Nevo and Rubinfield, 2006: 5). Traditionally, academic journals have been a highly profitable sector of the publishing industry. In 2011, Elsevier, the largest publisher of academic journals made a massive profit of 37%. Springer’s Science+Business Media made 34%, John Wiley & Sons (including Blackwell Publishing) made 42%, and the academic division of Informa plc made 32% (SV POW, 2012). Over time, consolidation through merger and acquisition has led to the industry being dominated by a small number of publishers, which has meant that ‘more and more content [is] in the hands of fewer and fewer firms, thus increasing their market share’ (Moghaddam, 2009: 149). This has particularly been the case in the most lucrative sector of science, technical and medicine (STM) publishing (McCabe 2002: 262). According to Shipp (2006: 38). ‘where there is a high correlation between research and its commercial application’, publishing tends ‘to be dominated by a relatively small number of companies which each publish a large number of refereed titles and often also control the main indexing and abstracting services.’

In a 2006 report on scholarly journal publishing, the Research Information Network (RIN) estimated that approximately 20,000-25,000 peer-reviewed scholarly journals were being published globally, and at that time, had been growing at an annual rate of 3-4% over the past 100 years (RIN, 2006: 5). In its annual report for 2012, Elsevier reported that it published more than 330,000 articles in more than 2,000 journals. According to Springer’s website, it published over 2,200 journals; and in its 2011 annual report, John Wiley & Sons reported that it published 1,600 journals.

In the Library Journal’s ‘Periodicals Price Survey 2013’, it noted that these publishers dominated more than half of their titles (Bosch and Henderson, 2013). In a report on scientific publishing in 2002, Morgan Stanley suggested that academic journals had been ‘the fastest growing media sub-sector over the past fifteen years’ (Morgan Stanley, 2002). This fits with the UK Office of Fair Trading’s report in 2002 that ‘the overall profitability of commercial STM publishing is high, not only by comparison to “non-profit” journals…but also by comparison to other commercial journal publishing.’

Whilst the data is more than a decade old, Houghton (2001: 169), suggests that ‘scholarly content creation in Australia involves up to 200,000 contributors whose activities are supported by annual expenditures in excess of $10 billion, much of which is funded by the government. He estimates that around 25,000 journal papers are written each year. As will be seen, due to bundling practices by commercial publishers and nondisclosure agreements with libraries, it is not possible to estimate how much Australian libraries spend on journal subscriptions; however, Houghton (2001: 170) estimates that in 1998, Australian university libraries spent $94 million on their subscriptions.

Shipp (2006: 38) notes that, ‘[b]etween 1986 and 1998, the median cost of journals purchased by Australian university libraries rose by 226%’, whilst the Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose 57% for the same period – that is almost an incredible four times inflation! The situation is similar in the United States, where according to Edwards and Shulenburger (2003: 11), for the fifteen years between 1986 and 2001, scholarly journal prices increased by 8.5% per year, whilst the CPI rose by 3.5% per year, ‘which means that journal prices jumped by 215% over the entire period, while the CPI rose by just 64%.’

Knowledge as a public good

It is generally argued that scholarship, and therefore the content of scholarly journals, is a public good (Edwards and Shulenburger, 2003: 12; Odlyzko 1997; Panitch and Michalak, 2005). According to Edwards and Shulenburger (2003: 12-13), a ‘public good is one for which one consumer’s use of the good is not competitive with, or exclusive of, another consumer’s use of the good.’ In this way, a public good ‘is a commodity whose use is non-rivalrous and non-excludable (Dasgupta, 2007: 52). Amongst economists it has long been recognised that ‘public goods cannot be organized efficiently through the private market’ (Edwards and Shulenburger, 2003: 13). The only way to overcome this inefficiency is through collective action in one of two forms: public provision, or publicy-subsidised private provision (Dasgupta, 2007: 52).

So, if scholarly communication is a public good, there should be scepticism over whether an unregulated market is the most efficient means to distribute its product. As has already been discussed, the entry of the big commercial publishers into the system has not only consolidated the industry and raised prices, but

This transformation has largely destroyed the old, university-based system for the provision of a public good (knowledge) and replaced it with an inappropriate (and inefficient, in the technical sense) private market, which lacks any provision for handling knowledge as a public good (Edwards and Shulenburger, 2003: 13).

Free labour?

In recent times, the excessive profits earned by commercial publishers have become the fuel for outrage among scholars who are no longer prepared to support the profits that the large academic publishing houses are extracting from publicly-financed knowledge; that is, public goods. The argument is that commercial publishers should not be making profits off the ‘free labour’ of academics. In Australia, and elsewhere around the world, academics and scientists at government-funded universities and institutions carry out research and write journal articles about their findings. The paper is then peer-reviewed by other state-funded academics and scientists, and then edited and laid out by institutional or university staff. The article is then most likely submitted to one of the large commercial publishers who publishes the paper, and then charges the same taxpayer funded institutions exorbitant fees for subscriptions to academic journals in which the publisher’s contribution to the value-adding process is small in comparison (Hartwich, 2009).

Essentially, the whole process – the research, reviewing and editing – is publicly funded and publishers are selling taxpayer-funded research back to academics and researchers via journal subscriptions. It is an unsustainable model in which taxpayers fund the research, and then have to pay again to read it. According to Gusterson (2012), the inconsistencies in this model originally made sense:

Academic journals, especially in the social sciences, were published by struggling, nonprofit university presses that could ill afford to pay for content, refereeing, or editing. It was expected that, in the vast consortium that [the] university system constitutes, our own university would pay our salary, and we would donate our writing and critical-reading skills to the system in return.

In a plea to the academic community, Gusterson (2012) suggests that the ‘archaic notions of unpaid craft labor’ should be abandoned, and insists on ‘professional compensation for scholarly expertise.’ He also contends that publishers should pay ‘a modest fee to acquire our intellectual content if they publish our articles’ and that the professional associations ‘could recommend standard fees for refereeing articles and for compensating authors of articles.’

Welcome to the Academic Spring

These ill feelings towards the commercial publishers are now spreading across the globe. In 2012, Tim Gower, a respected Cambridge mathematician commented on his blog that he would ‘refuse to have anything to do with Elsevier journals’. This then gave birth to the Cost of Knowledge (2013) website, in which scholars are so fed up, that at the time of writing, almost 14,000 academics have declared a boycott against Elsevier – refusing to publish, referee and perform editorial work. In frustration with what they perceive as a broken system, academic have been putting words into action and resigning their positions from the editorial boards of Elsevier’s journals. Just recently, Greg Martin, a number theorist at the University of British Columbia, declared his resignation and added his name to the petition. In the words of one commentator: welcome to the ‘Academic Spring’ (Jha, 2012).

A licence to print money?

As can be seen by the above mentioned profits, academic journal publishing is a lucrative business for publishers, and because of ‘free labour’, some would argue it is a licence to print money. In the United States, an annual subscription to Tetrahedron, a chemistry journal, costs libraries US$20,269, and a year’s access to the Journal of Mathematical Sciences, costs US$20,100 (Open Sesame, 2012). Unfortunately, there is little data on the cost of access to academic journals in Australia (Hollier, 2012). The problem with such exorbitant pricing is that library acquisition budgets – particularly in relation to humanities publications – are put under extreme pressure as libraries are forced to purchase subscriptions in the areas of science, technology and medicine (Hollier, 2012).

Budget pressures

In a memorandum in 2012, the world’s richest academic institution, Harvard University, said that it could no longer afford the high cost of academic journal subscriptions. The university told its members, ‘Many large journal publishers have made the scholarly communication environment fiscally unsustainable and academically restrictive. This situation is exacerbated by efforts of certain publishers…to acquire, bundle, and increase the pricing on journals.’ It noted further that:

Harvard’s annual cost for journals from these [publishers] now approaches $3.75M. In 2010, the comparable amount accounted for more than 20% of all periodical subscription costs and just under 10% of all collection costs for everything the Library acquires. Some journals cost as much as $40,000 per year, others in the tens of thousands. Prices for online content from two providers have increased by about 145% over the past six years (Harvard, 2012).

In an interview for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC, 2012), Robert Darnton, director of Harvard University Library, stated that, ‘at the time of the great financial crisis of 2008 here at Harvard, the library funding was cut back 10%, and in that same year most journal prices went up by 10%.’ In the same interview, he suggests that many academic and university departments are ‘complicit in the current system of journal publishing because they expect library services but they don’t necessarily know the full costs.’

False consciousness

In this way, there is an extraordinary irrationality built into the heart of the academic journal publishing system. As already mentioned, academics provide the ‘free labour’ from which the publishers extract their large profits, and then sell the product of the academics’ labour back to them through libraries at extravagant prices. Darnton (ABC, 2012) refers to this in Marxist terms as a collective ‘false consciousness’ among researchers and professors, ‘because they don’t ask where is the money coming from for this article that I must read, and who is the publisher, and how did it reach me?’

More so, these comments suggest a form of commodity fetishism, which according to Marx, is ‘a definite social relation between men…the fantastic form of a relation between things’ (Marx n.d:n.pag). This fetishism ‘attaches itself to the products of labour, so soon as they are produced as commodities’, and has its origin ‘in the peculiar social character of the labour that produces them’ (Marx n.d:n.pag). In this way, the conditions under which journal articles are produced and sold back to the academic community are reified.

Lack of price signals

The system is also irrational because it does not allow for price signals to feed back to the consumer (Houghton 2001: 173). According to Edlin and Rubinfield (2005: 442), there is an inherent inability in the system ‘to effectively monitor faculty use.’ Because of this disconnect between the consumers of the product (researchers and academics) and the purchasers (librarians) sensitivity to price is lowered, which results in a market characterised by low price elasticity; or, in other words, consumer behaviour is not sufficiently affected by price signals. Publishers, then, are able to continue to raise prices without having to worry about losing revenue from cancelled subscriptions. When librarians go to cancel a title due to cost concerns they rarely find support from their academic colleagues, thereby making academics complicit in the current system (Pinfield, 2013: 86).

Monopoly on prestige

Consolidation among publishers, combined with the relative price inelasticity of the market, has allowed commercial publishers considerable power to keep raising their prices (Phillips, 2009: 91). Once established in its field, an academic journal becomes a ‘must have’ title for other academics through the reputation that it has accrued. In this way, the articles published in the journal cannot be obtained from any other source, and so the journal ‘operates as its own mini-monopoly in the market.’ 

This means that when prices are increased there will still be a demand for the title because it is not able to be substituted, which adds another factor to the low price elasticity of demand in the market (Pinfield, 2013: 86). The importance of prestige is also important in the promotion and tenure system, with tenure committees only recognising contributions from specified lists of (mostly) top-tier journals (Moghaddam, 2009:150). According to Odlyzko (1997), as the writers of journal articles, scholars

determine what journals their work will appear in, and thus how much it will cost society to publish their work. However, scholars have no incentive to care about these costs. What matters the most to them is the prestige of the journals they publish in.

As has already been discussed above, academics are finding this system untenable. The commercial publishers will only be able to retain their prestige and subscription base so long as they have the support of the academic community.

Electronic panacea?

These days, the majority of academic journals are disseminated online. In 2008, the ratio of print to electronic subscriptions at QUT was 5:95, down from the 30:70 split of 2001 (Cleary, 2009: 373). According to Strieb and Blixrud (2013), in 2012, with the exception of a single publisher, ‘no [ARL] libraries reported that they retained corresponding subscriptions for their complete journal bundles.’ Although there are certain cost advantages to the library in terms of storage, maintenance, photocopying and reshelving, there are additional costs such as the cost of equipment, software, communications and training staff to provide expertise in accessing electronic journals online (Tenopir and King, 1999: 256).
Whilst the digital revolution has brought about the ‘digitization of text, image and sound and the sudden emergence of the internet as a universal conduit for digital content’, it has not brought about cheaper prices for online journals (Cope and Kalantzis, 2009: 18; Tenopir and King, 1999: 256). Given the lower production and distributions costs afforded by technology, it might have been expected that the move to digital forms of subscription would have allowed for publishers to offer lower prices. Unfortunately, this has not been the case.

A case study of ecology journals by Bergstrom and Bergstrom (2006: 488) showed no reduction in prices for online-only journals. According to Cope and Kalantzis (2009: 24), publishers are still basing their fees on the economies of traditional print publishing. Not only are the profits of the commercial publishers excessively high, but so too are their cost structures, which adds further argument that the market is characterised by monopolistic inefficiencies and demonstrates a complacency which comes from controlling the ‘must have’ prestige titles demanded by academics.

In an examination of the economics of journal production, Odlyzko (1997) estimated that the average cost of producing a journal article is US$4,000. This is calculated on the total costs of preparing the first copy of an article and is referred to in the literature as a ‘first-copy cost’ (Moghaddam 2009: 150). According to King (2007: 90), considering the total cost, 70-80% of the production cost is first-copy cost. When most of the primary work is being done with ‘free labour’, this cost is inexcusably high (Cope and Kalantzis, 2009: 24).

What is the ‘Big Deal’?

Another reason prices are hard to monitor is because of what is known in the industry as the ‘Big Deal’, or ‘bundling’ (Moghaddam, 2009: 149). According to Cleary (2009: 364), a ‘Big Deal’ is defined as ‘an aggregation, package, or bundle of online journals, often the entire collection of a commercial publisher, licensed to libraries for a fixed period of years, via a contract negotiated as a standard price’ (Cleary, 2009: 364). The problem with these deals is that ‘in signing on to the package of journals, the libraries [lose] the freedom to drop individual journal subscriptions for a period of time (generally three years)’, it also obligates them to an inflationary fixed price structure for the package, which is often 7% for the life of the contract (Edwards and Shulenburger, 2003: 14).

In its survey, ‘The State of Large-Publisher Bundles in 2012’, the ARL noted that the ‘the ability to share information about contract terms, as well as pricing information…is dependent on the knowledge of what is in the agreements’ (Strieb and Blixrud, 2013). The difficulty, however, is that the commercial publishers force a nondisclosure clause on libraries, such that there can be no sharing of information between stakeholders. This has been the reason for the establishment of consortium groups which are able to more favourably negotiate the terms of the ‘Big Deal’ for thier members.

Whilst there are advantages in these ‘Big Deals’, for example, increased access to information, purchasing cost-effectiveness, budget predictability, and streamlined workflows, these arrangements are ‘a choice forced on libraries by those with sufficient market power over them’ (Edwards and Shulenburger, 2003: 14). Furthermore, once a library has signed the contract the publisher practically has carte blanche power to continually raise prices above the rate of inflation and exert further market pressure. Even if libraries were able to raise budgets to keep in step with the commercial publishers, due to the inelastic nature of demand in the market, prices would simply be increased to absorb the additional funds available in library budgets – all that would occur is a continual vicious circle of ‘virulent price inflation’ (Edwards and Shulenburger, 2003: 15).

The libraries are trapped because generally it is not possible to substitute one journal for another. Given that faculty members tend to demand the top-tier titles, the only way a library has of responding to increased prices is to reduce spending across the lower-tier titles and purchase fewer monographs (Edwards and Shulenburger, 2003: 15). Unfortunately, what is lost in the transaction is the potential for access to new ideas that are not being disseminated through top-tier journals. In this way, library holdings ‘are less reflective of innovation and more focused on established research in mainstream areas’ (Edwards and Shulenburger, 2003: 15).

Increasingly, the ‘Big Deals’ are negotiated on behalf of libraries by consortia (Phillips, 2009: 91). According to the website of the Council of Australian University Libraries (CAUL) consortium, which represents university and research libraries in Australia, a key objective is ‘maximising the information resources available to researchers, and the facilitation of their access.’ Similarly, the Great Western Library Alliance (GWLA) is a consortium of thirty-three research libraries located in the central and western United States, designed to deliver ‘cost-effective and high-quality information services and resources to its member institutions and their clientele’, and it states that one of the benefits of membership is ‘cost savings related to cooperative negotiation of discounts and licensing terms and conditions.’

According to Strieb and Blixrud (2013), ‘research libraries have been spending millions of dollars per year licensing collections of journals published by just a handful of publishers’, and that ‘there is no question that these [bundles] are the most expensive purchases research libraries are making with their materials dollars.’ Edlin and Rubinfield (2005: 441), argue that, ‘[b]undling can be seen as a device that erects a strategic barrier to entry.’ In other words, ‘Big Deal’ contracts leave libraries with little left over to purchase journals from new entrants.

In 2001, it was predicted that ‘Big Deals’ would result in price increases to already highly priced commercial journals and that ‘an annual price increase of 7% [would] double the cost’ of these deals over a decade’ (Frazier, 2001). According to Cleary (2009: 368), this forecast is ‘only slightly above the 6% average increase’ experienced by the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) on its four major deals during the five-year period to 2009. At the time, she noted that the university’s

Big Deals are incrementing at a rate higher than the increases for the library’s resource budget, which has grown by 35% between 2001 and 2008. The budget increase falls well short of the 42% required to keep up with average Big Deal expenditure and erodes the Library’s ability to acquire new resources and formats (Cleary, 2009: 368).

Given the continuous price rises for journals and the competing demands upon library resource budgets, ‘libraries have afforded Big Deals in a trend that cannot be sustained’ (Cleary, 2009: 378). Libraries will need to conduct research into the costs and benefits of unbundling their ‘Big Deals’ from the commercial publishers, and through better use of usage statistics, decide which resources they really need and how much they can afford to pay for them.


In conclusion, this essay has provided a discussion surrounding arguments over the high cost of knowledge in Australia with reference to the wider international context. In particular, it sought to understand how and why academic journal publishing comes at such a high price to the consumer. This was achieved by looking at the economics, structure and market dynamics of journal publishing. It is clear from the above that due to low price elasticity of demand, the big commercial publishers have been able to maintain and extort the market to substantial financial gain. However, this system can only survive so long as it has the support of those who provide the ‘free labour’, which at present seems tenuous and a possible threat to the traditional model of commercial publishing. Whilst this paper has not been focused on arguments over open access business models, if managed correctly, these models could offer some relief to library budgets as access to scholarly knowledge becomes more easily affordable, and in some cases, free. There is also further opportunity for more detailed research into the Australian situation, as most of the data available is dated. Ultimately, whilst their hegemonic business practices are allowed to continue, commercial publishers will continue to reap significant rewards from the system, and until there is significant change, they will continue to operate with a licence to print money.

List of references

ABC (2012) ‘Academic Journals and the Price of Knowledge’, Future Tense, radio program transcript, Radio National, 10 June, http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/futuretense/academic-journals-and-the-price-of-knowledge/4053070#transcript, accessed 14 June 2013.

Bergstrom, C.T. and Bergstrom, T.C. (2006) ‘The Economics of Ecology Journals’, Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 4 (9): 488-495.

Bosch, S. and Henderson, K. (2013) ‘The Winds of Change: Periodicals Price Survey 2013’, Library Journal, http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2013/04/publishing/the-winds-of-change-periodicals-price-survey-2013/, accessed 14 June 2013.

CAUL (2013) ‘About CAUL’, CAUL website, http://caulweb01.anu.edu.au/about-caul, accessed 14 June 2013.

Cleary, C. (2009) ‘Why the “Big Deal” Continues to Persist’, The Serials Librarian, 57: 364-379.

Cope, B. and Kalantzis, M. (2009) ‘Signs of Epistemic Disruption: Transformations in the Knowledge System of the Academic Journal’ in B. Cope and A. Phillips, The Future of the Academic Journal. Oxford, Cambridge and New Delhi: Chandos Publishing: 13-61.

Cope, B. and Phillips, A. (2009) ‘Introduction’ in B. Cope and A. Phillips, The Future of the Academic Journal. Oxford, Cambridge and New Delhi: Chandos Publishing: 1-9.

Dasgupta, P. (2007) Economics: A Short Introduction. New York and London: Oxford University Press.

Davies, E.D. (2009) ‘Libraries and the Future of the Journal: Dodging the Crossfire in the e-Revolution, or Leading the Charge?’ in B. Cope and A. Phillips, The Future of the Academic Journal. Oxford, Cambridge and New Delhi: Chandos Publishing: 213-223.

Edlin, A.S. and Rubinfield, D.L. (2005) ‘The Bundling of Academic Journals’, AEA Papers and Proceedings, May 2005, http://www.law.berkeley.edu/faculty/rubinfeldd/Profile/publications/bundlingofacademicjournals.pdf, accessed 14 June 2013.

Edwards, R. and Shulenburger, D. (2003) ‘The High Cost of Scholarly Journals (And What to Do About It)’, Change, 35: 10-19.

Frazier, K. (2001) ‘The Librarian’s Dilemma: Contemplating the Costs of the “Big Deal.”’ D-Lib Magazine, 7(3), http://www.dlib.org/dlib/march01/frazier/03frazier.html, accessed 14 June 2013.

Gower, T. (2012) ‘Elsevier – my part in its downfall’, weblog post, 21 January, Gowers’s Weblog, http://gowers.wordpress.com/2012/01/21/elsevier-my-part-in-its-downfall, accessed 14 June 2013.

Gusterson, H. (2012) ‘Want to Change Academic Publishing? Just Say No’, Chronicle of Higher Education, 23 September, http://chronicle.com/article/Want-to-Change-Academic/134546/, accessed 14 June 2013.

GWLA (2013) ‘About GWLA’, GWLA website, http://www.gwla.org/about-gwla, accessed 14 June 2013.

Hartwich, O. (2009) ‘Let Internet Replace Journals’, The Australian, 25 November, http://www.theaustralian.com.au/higher-education/opinion/let-internet-replace-journals/story-e6frgcko-1225803425489, accessed 14 June 2013.

Hollier, N. (2012) ‘Reflections on Academic Humanities Publishing‘, weblog post, 24 September, Monash University Publishing, http://publishing.monash.edu/blog.html, accessed 25 March 2013.

Houghton, J.W. (2001) ‘Crisis and Transition: the Economics of Scholarly Communication’, Learned Publishing, 14: 167-176.

James, S. (2011) ‘Flogging a Dead Book? Prospects for the Scholarly Book and the University Press in Australia’, Journal of Scholarly Publishing, 42 (2): 182-204.

Jha, A. (2012) ‘Academic Spring: How an Angry Maths Blog Sparked a Scientific Revolution’, The Guardian, 9 April, http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2012/apr/09/frustrated-blogpost-boycott-scientific-journals, accessed 20 April 2013.

Jinha, A.E. (2010) ‘Article 50 million: an Estimate of the Number of Scholarly Articles in Existence’, Learned Publishing, 23: 258-263.

John Wiley & Sons (2011) Annual Report 2011, http://www.wiley.com/legacy/annual_reports/ar_2011/10kWiley2011.pdf, accessed 14 June 2013.

King, D.W. (2007) ‘The Cost of Journal Publishing: a Literature Review and Commentary’, Learned Publishing, 20: 85-106).

King, D.W. and Tenopir, C. (1999) ‘Evolving Journal Costs: Implications for Publishers, Libraries, and Readers’, Learned Publishing, 12: 251-258.

Martin, G. (2013) ‘Elsevier Journals: Has Anything Changed?’, http://gowers.wordpress.com/2013/05/27/elsevier-journals-has-anything-changed/#more-4931, accessed 14 June 2013.

Marx, K. (n.d) “The Fetishism of Commodities and the Secret Thereof” in Capital, Vol. 1, 13. No publisher details: not paginated.

McCabe, M. (1998) ‘ARL 200: The Impact of Publisher Mergers on Journal Prices: A Preliminary Report’ http://staff.washington.edu/tabrooks/510.course/ARL/MergersPrices.htm, accessed 14 June 2013.

McCabe, M.J. (2002) ‘Journal Pricing and Mergers: A Portfolio Approach’, The American Economic Review, 92(1): 259-269.

McCabe, M.J., Nevo, A. and Rubinfield, D.L. (2006) ‘The Pricing of Academic Journals’, Berkeley Program in Law and Economics, Working Paper Series, http://mccabe.people.si.umich.edu/MNR.pdf, accessed 14 June 2013.

McGuigan, G.S. and Russell, R.D. (2008) ‘The Business of Academic Publishing: A Strategic Analysis of the Academic Journal Publishing Industry and its Impact on the Future of Scholarly Publishing’, Electronic Journal of Academic and Special Librarianship, 9(3), http://southernlibrarianship.icaap.org/content/v09n03/mcguigan_g01.html, accessed 14 June 2013.

Moghaddam, G.G. (2009) ‘Why Are Scholarly Journals Costly Even With Electronic Publishing’, Interlending and Document Supply, 37(3): 149-155.

Morgan Stanley (2002) Scientific Publishing: Knowledge Is Power, http://www.econ.ucsb.edu/~tedb/Journals/morganstanley.pdf, accessed 14 June 2013.

Odlyzko, A. (1997) ‘The Economics of Electronic Journals’, The Economics of Electronic Journals, 2(8), http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/542/463, accessed 14 June 2013.

Panitch, J.M. and Michalak, S. (2005) ‘The Serials Crisis’, A White Paper for the UNC-Chapel Hill Scholarly Communication Convocation, http://www.unc.edu/scholcomdig/whitepapers/panitch-michalak.html, accessed 14 June 2013.

Phillips, A. (2009) ‘Business Models in Journals Publishing’ in B. Cope and A. Phillips, The Future of the Academic Journal. Oxford, Cambridge and New Delhi: Chandos Publishing: 87-103.
Pinfield, S. (2013) ‘Is Scholarly Publishing Going from Crisis to Crisis?’, Learned Publishing, 26(2): 85-88.

Reed Elsevier (2012) Annual Report 2012, http://reporting.reedelsevier.com/media/174016/reed_elsevier_ar_2012.pdf, accessed 14 June 2013.

Research Information Network (2006) ‘UK Scholarly Journals: 2006 Baseline Report: an Evidence-based Analysis of Data Concerning Scholarly Journal Publishing’, http://www.rin.ac.uk/system/files/attachments/Journals-baseline-report.pdf, accessed 14 June 2013.

Shipp, J. (2006) ‘Commercial Scholarly Publishing: the Devil Incarnate or Divine Saviour’, History of Economics Review, 32: 37-45.

Springer (2013) ‘Key Facts’, Springer website, http://www.springer.com/about+springer/company+information/key+facts?SGWID=0-175806-0-0-0, accessed 14 June 2013.

Steele, C. (2012), ‘Scholarly Licence to Print Money’, The Australian, 25 January, http://www.theaustralian.com.au/higher-education/opinion/scholarly-licence-to-print-money/story-e6frgcko-1226252771554, accessed 25 March 2013.

Strieb, K.L. and Blixrud, J.C. (2013) ‘The State of Large-Publisher Bundles in 2012’, Research Library Issues, 282: 13-20.

SV POW (2012) ‘The Obscene Profits of Commercial Scholarly Publishers’, weblog post, 13 January 2012, Sauropod Vertebra Picture of the Week (SV POW), http://svpow.com/2012/01/13/the-obscene-profits-of-commercial-scholarly-publishers/, accessed 20 April 2013.

The Cost of Knowledge (2013), The Cost of Knowledge website, http://thecostofknowledge.com/, accessed 14 June 2013.

The Economist (2012) ‘Open Sesame’, 14 April, http://www.economist.com/node/21552574, accessed 20 April 2013.

The Faculty Advisory Council (2013) ‘Major Periodical Subscriptions Cannot Be Sustained, Harvard University, memorandum, http://isites.harvard.edu/icb/icb.do?keyword=k77982&tabgroupid=icb.tabgroup143448, accessed 20 April 2013.

The Office of Fair Trading (2002) The Market for Scientific, Technical and Medical Journals: a Statement by the OFT, http://www.oft.gov.uk/shared_oft/reports/media/oft396.pdf, accessed 20 April 2013.