Cultural Studies and the Economy of Journal Publishing

Fortune Global Forum 2013, China, June 6, 2013 | © Courtesy of Stefen Chow/Fortune Global Forum/Fortune Live Media/Flickr.
Fortune Global Forum 2013, China, June 6, 2013 | © Courtesy of Stefen Chow/Fortune Global Forum/Fortune Live Media/Flickr.

This essay aims to highlight the vexed relationship between cultural studies and the economy of the publishing industry.

A Blog Article by Izabella Penier.

Cultural studies, like other scholarly disciplines, relies on the publishing industry for the dissemination of its research results. Unlike these other disciplines, cultural studies (and humanities and social sciences (HSS) in general) publishes both journals and monographs, with the latter recognised (until recently) to be its publishing “gold standard” (Borgman, 2007, p. 181). Cultural studies commitment to monographs made its scholars, by and large, onlookers in the debate surrounding recent transformations in academic publishing and the so-called serials crisis that saw libraries struggle to pay for increasingly expensive institutional subscriptions. Nonetheless, in recent decades, we have witnessed a steady growth in the number of cultural studies journals and a decline in the number of published monographs (Miller, 2012, p. 51), which made it impossible for cultural studies scholars to turn a blind eye to the serials crisis.1

Since the inception of cultural studies in the 1980s, cultural studies journals have been mushrooming. The late 1980s saw the launch of such titles as Continuum: Journal of Media and Cultural Studies (1987), Cultural Studies (1987; founded in 1983 as the Australian Journal of Cultural Studies), New Formations (1987), Public Culture (1988) and Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies (1989). In the mid-1990s and early-2000s, there were new journals launched on average each year: The Cultural Studies Review (1995), Soundings (1995), Topia: Canadian Journal of Cultural Studies (1997), The European Journal of Cultural Studies (1998), The International Journal of Cultural Studies (1998), Inter-Asia Cultural Studies (2000), Cultural Studies; Critical Methodologies (2001), Feminist Media Studies (2001), Culture, Theory, and Critique (2002, founded as Renaissance and Modern Studies in 1957), Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies (2004),  and Rethinking Marxism (launched in 1988 by the Association for Economic and Social Analysis, published by Routledge since 2003, and by Taylor & Francis since 2005).  This proliferation of cultural studies journals and the gradual shift from a monograph to an article as a preferred method of scholarly communication has been a part of a broader trend in HSS (Cope and Phillips, 2014, p. 7). According to Phillips, “At present, the area of HSS is seen as attractive for the launch of new journals, with some part of the sciences seen as relatively saturated” (2014, p. 141).  These new developments made cultural scholars a somewhat reluctant party to the serials crisis dispute even though the prices of institutional subscriptions of journals in HSS cannot be compared with Science/Technology/Medicine (STM) journals.

Scholars and scholarly journals’ publishers are interdependent, but their relationship is unequal, not least because commercial benefits are situated mostly on the publisher’s side. Publishers rarely reward academic authors for their labour (for writing or reviewing journal articles); what is more, academics frequently have to pay to get published (Givler, 2002; Alonso et al., 2003 p. 31; Ware and Mabe, 2009 p. 5; Miller, 2012 p. 47). Moreover, in recent decades, the publishing industry has undergone many transformations which made the academic publishing industry even more profit oriented. These transformations include large investments in the electronic media, consolidation (acquisitions and mergers),2 experiments with new business models and concentration of knowledge.3 Due to these transformations, the scholarly journal market has grown in terms of the number of journals and revenues. As Miller has noted, “In 1986, … [libraries] bought more than thirty-two thousand books and fifteen thousand journals; in 2005, the figures were thirty thousand books and twenty-two thousand journals. Books went up in price over those two decades by 81 per cent; journals, by 302 per cent” (2012, p. 51). In short, journal publishing has become a multi-billion business, and this fact had profound ramifications for the dissemination of knowledge, also in the Humanities and, by extension, cultural studies.  With its long-standing focus on the politics of communication, cultural studies seemed predestined to critique the profit-intensive journal publishing industry. But, in fact, the scholars have been slow to acknowledge that they work at cross-purposes with commercial publishers.

Written by Izabella Penier

Edited by Pablo Markin


Alonso, Carlos J., Cathy N. Davidson, John M. Unsworth, and Lynne Withey, 2003. Crises and opportunities: the futures of scholarly publishing. Paper no. 57. New York: American Council of Learned Societies.

Borgman, Christine L., 2007. Scholarship in the digital age: information, infrastructure, and the Internet. Cambridge and London: The MIT Press.

Cope, Bill and Angus Phillips, 2014. Introduction.  The future of the academic journal. Oxford: Chandos Publishing, pp. 1-8

Givler, Peter, 2002. University press publishing in the United States. Scholarly publishing: books, journals, publishers and libraries in the twentieth century, edited by Richard E. Abel and Lyman W. Newlin. New York: Wiley, pp. 107–20.

Guedon, JeClaudeude, 2014. Sustaining the ‘great conversation’: the future of scholarly and scientific journals. The future of the academic journal. Oxford: Chandos Publishing, pp. 85-112.

Miller, Toby, 2012. Blow up the Humanities. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Panitch, Judith M. and Sarah Michalak, 2005. The serials crisis. A white paper for UNC-Chapel Hill Scholarly Communications Convocation.

Ware, Mark, and Michael Mabe. 2009. The STM report: an overview of scientific and scholarly publishing. Oxford, UK: International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers.

Featured Image Credits: Fortune Global Forum 2013, China, June 6, 2013 | © Courtesy of Stefen Chow/Fortune Global Forum/Fortune Live Media/Flickr.

Cite this article as: Izabella Penier, "Cultural Studies and the Economy of Journal Publishing," in Open Culture, 15/07/2018,


  1. The term refers to a dramatic increase in prices of scholarly journals. This crisis is caused by the inelasticity of the academic journal market forcing university librarians to make unfavourable concessions to large journal publishers to ensure continued access to “must have” periodicals.  Flagship journals publish unique research findings that cannot be replaced in an academic library collection by another title, such as a less expensive journal on the same subject. This situation makes it possible for a publisher to act as a monopolist in relation to academic libraries that have no leverage in negotiations (see: Panitch and Michalak, “The Serials Crisis,” January 2005). []
  2. For example, the 2007 merger of Wiley & Sons with Blackwell Publishing Ltd. []
  3. The concentration of knowledge has been described by the so-called Garfield’s concentration law, according to which “one could identify a set of core journals that ultimately underpinned a knowledge zone baptized as ‘core science’” (Guedon, 2014, p. 89). Initially, around 1,000 journals constituted the “elite” science. []

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