Elsevier and Open Access Journals

November 10, 2015

As reported in Inside Higher Education, there is evidence of fed-up academics taking a harder line against increasing journal prices: “All six editors and all 31 editorial board members of Lingua, one of the top journals in linguistics, last week resigned to protest Elsevier’s policies on pricing and its refusal to convert the journal to an open-access publication that would be free online. As soon as January, when the departing editors’ noncompete contracts expire, they plan to start a new open-access journal to be called Glossa.”

Peter McPherson, president of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, describes a situation that has prevailed in academe for some time now. Universities pay scholars to research and publish. Then libraries are forced to buy back that research at prices that are rapidly becoming unsustainable. To compound injury with insult, university libraries must also buy journals they don’t want in order to gain access to one they do—hardly a savings, and hardly a convenience. More important, this state of affairs compromises the ability of scholars to do their work.

Elsevier’s prices have been outrageous for scientific journals for a long time; now that’s spread to the social sciences. Both are a consequence of a lack of ownership: content creators giving away their rights, thereby forcing their institutions to lease them back. Madness.

The answer is open access: using the same peer-reviewed talent that establishes and maintains a journal reputation to establish an alternative journal, whose business model favors not the publisher but the creator of knowledge. Under Elsevier, potential purchasers couldn’t even tell you what they paid for Lingua, although it appears to have been around $2,000 for a university of about 10,000 students to have shared access, and about that much for a print copy. Under the new model, a subscription to the replacement journal will cost about $300, with a one-year embargo before it is available to all. Alternatively, those published in the journal can pay $400 for immediate open access availability.

At this point, most universities surely have the IT capacity to host a journal. Of course, some will see this seizing of the means of distribution by the workers as outright socialism. But if the alternative is oppression…