The ROI of Academic Publishing

Problem of ROI in publishing

The return on investment (ROI) of academic publishing is absolutely terrible.

Think of it – thousands of hours spent correcting formatting, spellings, rephrasing, and so on. All this after the actual insight of the research has been accomplished. In all seriousness, 10% of time spent doing research and 90% writing and rewriting cannot be thought of anything else but waste.

Why should we care?

The inefficiency of the current way of doing it – as in combining doing research and writing about it under the same name of “doing research” – is horrible waste of intelligence and human resources. It inflates the cost of doing research, and also makes scientific progress slower than if 90% was spent on research and 10% on writing.

Root cause

Some might say it’s a perverse outcome of letting staff go – nowadays even professors have to do everything  by themselves because there is so few assistants and administrators. Why is this perverse? Because at the same time more people need work. It’s also perverse, or paradoxical, because letting the help go is done to increase efficiency but in the end it actually decreases efficiency as the research staff shifts their use of time from doing research to fixing spelling errors. There is a large misunderstanding that letting people go would lead to better efficiency – it may save costs but exactly at the cost of efficiency.

My experiences

The thought for this article came to mind when me and my colleague received yet again some minor edit requests for an article to be published in a book – the book material was ready already last year, but all these people are working to fix small minor details that add zero substance value. What a waste!

And I’m not alone in this situation; most if not all academics face the same problem.


Two solutions readily come to mind:

  • report the data and that’s it
  • use editors to fix all minor errors instead of forcing the high-thinkers to waste their time on it

The latter one is much better, as the first option misses the importance of interpreting the results and theorizing from them (the whole point of doing research).

What is ROI of research?

Efficiency, such as ROI of research, should be defined as learning more about the world. This will never be accomplished by writing reports but going out to the world. At the same time, I don’t mean to undermine basic research – the ROI of research is not the same as its immediate usefulness, let alone its immediate economic potential. ROI in my argument simply refers to the ratio of doing research vs. writing about it, not the actual quality of the outcome.

The author works as a university teacher in the Turku School of Economics