Splitting with Elsevier

Just time today to pass on a bit of Open Access news: the University of California has ended negotiations which academic publishing giant Elsevier and will no longer subscribe to Elsevier Journals. The negotiations broke down over two key points: a refusal by Elsevier to reduce its charges (currently $11M) and a failure to meet guarantees on Open Access. There’s another piece about this here.

The University of California should be congratulated on its firm position here, as should organizations in Sweden and Germany for their similar decisions last year.

I’ve made my views of the academic publishing racket very clear over a number of years so I won’t repeat that rant here. I’ll just remind readers of the staggering fact that the global revenues of the academic publishing industry amount to about, €22 billion per annum. This exceeds the global revenues of the recorded music industry. Profit margins for these publishers are much larger (up to 45%) than Apple, Google and BMW.

The research community is being fleeced, and the worst offenders are the `Big Four’: Elsevier, Springer, Wiley and Taylor & Francis. It’s taken a while but it seems many organizations are finally waking up to what is going on. I don’t think we need `for-profit’ publishers at all – there are far better and cheaper ways of disseminating scientific research in the digital era, such as the arXiv.

I’ll also make a small plea here. If there are any rich philanthropists out there who want to do something positive for science then let me suggest that instead of funding more prizes or awards they consider making a large donation to the arXiv? In my view that would do far more for science than throwing yet more money at a few eminent individuals!

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7 Responses to “Splitting with Elsevier”

  1. The publishers you mention do have some good journals with good articles in them. (At least some of them also have second-tier journals with much lower standards with a pay-to-publish model.) Not all of the stuff is on arXiv. Some can’t be, since it stems from the pre-arXiv days. Some was never put there, for various reasons. Also, in some fields, arXiv is not as ubiquitous as in astronomy.

    How can we avoid throwing the baby out with the bathwater? If proper open-access journals are successful, the commercial publishers will a) go broke and b) not be interested in helping the community which killed them.

    Also, not all stuff is at ADS.

    How will we be able to access what has already been published?

    Some examples: Elsevier has Studies in the History and Philosophy of Modern Physics, Springer has General Relativity and Gravitation, Living Reviews in Relativity, and Foundations of Physics. Wiley has Astronomische Nachrichten and Annalen der Physik. Good journals all.

    Even assuming that the OJA takes off, how wide should its remit be? Stuff on gravity not directly related to astronomy? History of astronomy? History of physics? Physics with no astronomy? Review articles?

    I would suggest making it clear that review articles and articles on the history of astronomy/astrophysics/cosmology are acceptable for the OJA. It would probably be too much to include the rest of physics, but perhaps the OJA page could have links to similar journals for other branches of physics, including regular articles, reviews, historical pieces, and stuff such as philosophical and foundational aspects.

    • telescoper Says:

      There are already a dozen or so arXiv overlay journals in Maths and Informatics so I imagine there’ll be a range of physics versions too. I’m already in discussion with particle physicists about helping them set up an OJPP.

      • Yes, maths have long been frontrunners in adopting overlay journals. Since the arXiv started out with particle physics, I’m sure that the OJPP will take off. I’m more concerned about journals for the history and/or philosophy of astronomy and/or physics and review journals. Many people who work in these areas are somewhat more conservative with regard to publishing, so this might be difficult to get off the ground.

  2. It’s not all that rosy:

    “In Sweden, the money that would have been spent on the Elsevier big bundle is being diverted to pay the charges for academics to publish in subscription-free open access journals. The National Library of Sweden will work out some kind of pay-per-view article arrangement with Elsevier.

    In Germany, there will be some kind of centralized arrangement based on inter-library loans and pay-per-view as well.”

    What really annoys me is the large number of people who say “Yes, we support open access” and pay huge amounts of money to journals in return for the journals making the articles open-access. This often happens at a multi-institutional or state level, and might actually be worse than subscription- and page-charge models, since the funding doesn’t directly come from something under the authors’ control.

  3. Jonathan Thornburg Says:

    Note that /Living Reviews in Relativity/ (published by Springer) is an open-access journal — all LRR articles are free to download or read online.

    • Right. I also believe that authors are not charged. It has an unusual history, started at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitation then transferred to Springer a few years later. There are some other (related) exceptions, with Springer stuff being available at no charge, neither to readers nor to authors nor to research councils or whatever. But these are exceptions. Also, Springer has many journals with much less quality control than the ones I mentioned, often with a pay-to-publish system. Maybe they will publish anything, and if anyone notices, retract it without admitting that they made a major goof.

      Elsevier, as well, has some flagship journals, and many, many low-quality ones, with the good ones often available only as a bundle with the bad ones.

  4. Anton Garrett Says:

    Well done California. It matters little to universities whether they pay by subscription or by publication charge; the point is that the cost to the research community to read its own work remains absurdly high. This is not symbiosis but parasitism, and OJA and its analogues are the way forward.

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