Home > economic journals, economics profession, education > Elsevier’s “licence to print money” is “absurd and unjust”.

Elsevier’s “licence to print money” is “absurd and unjust”.

from Edward Fullbrook

Few large circulation periodicals are more rightwing and committed to defending corporate interests   than The Economist.  But below is the opening paragraph from an editorial in their print edition. 

PUBLISHING obscure academic journals is that rare thing in the media industry: a licence to print money. An annual subscription to Tetrahedron, a chemistry journal, will cost your university library $20,269; a year of the Journal of Mathematical Sciences will set you back $20,100. In 2011 Elsevier, the biggest academic-journal publisher, made a profit of £768m ($1.2 billion) on revenues of £2.1 billion. Such margins (37%, up from 36% in 2010) are possible because the journals’ content is largely provided free by researchers, and the academics who peer-review their papers are usually unpaid volunteers. The journals are then sold to the very universities that provide the free content and labour. For publicly funded research, the result is that the academics and taxpayers who were responsible for its creation have to pay to read it. This is not merely absurd and unjust; it also hampers education and research.

The editorial which is subtitled “When research is funded by the taxpayer or by charities, the results should be available to all without charge“, then goes on to urge governments to mandate open access to state-funded research.  This is now a fast growing movement.  Not just governments, but also charitable foundations, like the Welcome Trust and Harvard University, are beginning to demand that research they fund must be published outside paywalls.  The movement has been sparked in part by a blog post of Tim Gowers, a Cambridge mathematician and recent recipient of the Fields medal.  A website “The Cost of Knowledge” has now been set up to enable academics to, like The Economist and other periodicals, take a stand against this monopoly rents industry and to bring forward the day when the billions it now takes annually are reallocated to education and research.  Already over 9,000 academics have signed up.  But a search of the list using “economi” turned up only 18 possible economists.  Hmmmmmm.

The Cost of Knowledge

  1. April 23, 2012 at 4:54 pm

    I’m sure an economist could talk about externalities: how academics, esp prominent academics, work at universitys where someone else (the library) pays the price;
    since all promient academics get all major journals for free, they have zero incentive to change.

    I’m in molecular biology/genetics/biochemistry, and the situation has been bad for a long long time, but has gotten worse over the last 20 years as elsivier has become a TBTF technology company; they also own science scitation index; luckily, http://www.patentlens.com is there for us.

    I remember reading in the 1970s, how this academic publishing was money for old rope, because the publishers knew that almost any journal would get subcriptions from a few places, eg harvard, columbia, etc would always subscribe to every journal, so there was very little risk in starting a new journal

  2. Ignacio
    April 24, 2012 at 3:11 pm

    It is not only that researchers provide the content for free but they also pay a fee depending on the number of pages and figures inthe article. On the contrary, if as a particular I ask for a copy of a particular paper in pdf format I will have to pay about 30-40$ depending on the editor (Elsevier, Wiley etc.). 30$! Come on, those guys are thieves.

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