A message to the research community: Elsevier, access, and the Research Works Act

NOTE: ELSEVIER WITHDREW SUPPORT FOR THE RESEARCH WORKS ACT ON 27 FEBRUARY 2012. BELOW IS THE ORIGINAL STATEMENT ELSEVIER PUBLISHED ON 3 FEBRUARY 2012.

In recent weeks we have heard a wide range of views and reactions to Elsevier’s support of legislation introduced in the U.S. Congress. Much of the discussion has painted a very misleading picture. It’s time to correct that distortion and clear the air.

Elsevier supports the principle that the public should have access to the output of publicly funded research. We encourage researchers to make their datasets and reports and draft manuscripts available as widely and as soon as is possible. We are committed to the broadest possible dissemination of published research as well.

The costs of publishing services need to be met and are in addition to the costs of doing the research. Publishers invest heavily to add value to research reports and draft manuscripts through the publishing process. Academics do too through the peer review process, but without publishers and peer reviewers the 3 million manuscripts submitted each year would not be transformed into the 1.5 million articles published each year. Researchers function more efficiently and effectively because of the value that is added by all of us through publishing processes.

Elsevier is happy to work with any sustainable business model for publishing services. We are happy with models where funding is provided on the author-side or the user-side of the publishing process, or hybrids of the two. To be clear, we already publish through gold open access models in addition to our traditional subscription and transactional business models. We also provide free access in a wide range of countries that cannot afford any of these options. While green open access is not a business model, as it has no revenue stream, we are happy to work with this approach in combination with one or more sustainable business models (e.g. gold open access and/or subscriptions). We are happy to work with funding bodies, government agencies, and other stakeholders of all kinds to broaden and widen access.

Why then do we support this legislation? We are against unwarranted and potentially harmful government laws that could undermine the sustainability of the peer-review publishing system. The RWA’s purpose is simply to ensure that the US government cannot enshrine in law how journal articles or accepted manuscripts are disseminated without involving publishers. We oppose in principle the notion that governments should be able to dictate the terms by which products of private sector investments are distributed, especially if they are to be distributed for free. And private sector means not just commercial publishers like Elsevier, but also not-for-profit and society publishers.

Governments are simply not in a position to be able to know what is sustainable for individual journals whose dynamics vary significantly. As those who invest to deliver the publications, we believe that we should and must be involved in these decisions particularly when governments seek to distribute for free what we have paid to develop.

Elsevier’s support for the RWA does not mean that we are opposed to open access. We will continue to publish open access journals, and offer authors open access options in our subscription journals. We will continue to permit posting in sustainable ways. We will continue to work with funding bodies and institutions to forge agreements that allow authors who are subject to mandates to comply with their requirements. We feel we have no choice but to support the Research Works Act and oppose legislation that would dictate how journal articles or accepted manuscripts are disseminated without involving publishers. That said, it is our sincere wish to de-escalate from the constant cycle of legislation and lobbying that has marked the scholarly communication landscape for many years, and accelerate collaborative work in partnership with other stakeholders.


Publication date: 03 February 2012