Elsevier on pricing and California open-access legislation

Elsevier’s spokesman discusses the company’s approach to being pro-open access — but against inflexible mandates

Tom Reller (<a href='http://twitter.com/tomreller' target='_blank'>@TomReller</a>) is VP of Global Corporate Relations at Elsevier. On May 2, The Daily Californian, an independent, student-run newspaper for the University of California, Berkeley and its surrounding community, published an article “Campus joins movement demanding access to research.” The reporter emailed me a set of questions I was happy to respond to (see breakout box below).

Here are some excerpts from the section quoting me on the rising costs of publications:

“Journal price increases reflect increases in global research budgets and outputs, said Tom Reller, Elsevier’s vice president of Global Corporate Relations, in an email. He noted that countries around the globe are investing more in research, which in turn has resulted in more articles being submitted to and published in journals.” “I don’t think those costs have ‘shot up so much’,” Reller said. “In fact, on an article-by-article basis, the costs per download have declined each year as electronic dissemination continues to proliferate and improve.” Reller emphasized that Elsevier supports open access, citing the company’s nearly 40 fully open-access journals and more than 1,600 hybrid titles that accept open-access articles.

Pro-OA, yet opposed to AB 609?

The story also reports that our parent company is opposed toAB 609along with theAssociation of American Publishers.We think the bill is unwise because legislative mandates such as the inflexible, one-size-fits-all post-publication embargo periods proposed in AB 609 are not economically sustainable for publishers and will undermine the peer review system that helps ensure the quality and integrity of scientific publications.

Elsevier has almost 40 fully open-access journals, and 1,600+ hybrid titles that accept OA articles.

For example, an embargo set at one year may be fine for journals in disciplines where a significant element of the value to subscribers is in the immediacy and timeliness of the content. Cell, one of our Cell Press flagship titles in the biomedical sciences, for example, began making all research articles freely available one year after publication in 2005. But for fields like the physical sciences or humanities, where the dynamics of usage are different and take longer to build up, a one-year embargo would adversely affect the viability of the journal.

So yes, we do feel that it is quite fair and reasonable to be pro open access — and develop such mechanisms in partnership with the community and in flexible ways that meet the various needs of different journal fields — yet oppose government efforts to impose inflexible mandates that do not meet such needs.

And while policy makers are an important partner for publishers to work with, we question the need for legislation that reshapes an ecosystem that is dynamic, innovative and competitive. Publisher’s expansion of gold (author/funder-pays) open access is a good example of this in practice. The introduction of a wide range of new competitors and publishing business models is another. Authors have more choices in how and where to publish than ever, and purchasers similarly have more options for what, from whom, how, and how much they pay to access the high-quality content they need to serve their own research community.

But more importantly, at Elsevier we believe partnership and engagement with relevant stakeholders to find consensus solutions is the best way to promote science. We may have learned this the hard way last year. We’ve taken it to heart and are closely engaged in a wide array of very constructive conversations and initiatives and pilots and stakeholder processes to advance open access.

Publishers want and should be part of the dialogue about increasing access to research, particularly that which the taxpayer funded. Indeed, PubMed Central itself was an initial success because of the high voluntary participation rates from publishers well before mandates were introduced.

Publisher insights into field-specific author behavior and article use are critical to ensuring the long-term sustainability of journals, particularly for learned societies and smaller publishers.

We look forward to continuing this dialogue. [note color="#f1f9fc" position="center" width=800 margin=10]

The reporter’s questions

1. Where does Elsevier stand on government policies relating to open access? Does it see open access as a good policy for its business model? Or will it hurt Elsevier’s profits too much?

2. What does Elsevier think about Obama’s recent directive that mandates federal agencies that fund research to develop plans to make freely available the published results of that research within one year of publication?

3. Does Elsevier’s embargo period on works it publishes conflict with the one-year period established by this policy?

4. How much does it cost for Elsevier to publish its biggest journals?

5. What sorts of costs does that include?

6. Why do some of Elsevier’s journals cost so much more than other journals?

7. Why has the price of scientific journals in general shot up so much recently?

Our response

In regard to your questions, Elsevier supports open access; in fact we have almost 40 fully OA journals, and 1,600+ hybrid titles that accept open access articles. You can read more about our positive outlook and approach in ouropen access section on Elsevier Connect, our online community. You’ll findan article therethat speaks specifically to the OSTP/White House policy announcement. That article references embargo periods and links to other policy statements if you’re so inclined to dig deeper.

In regard to costs for our biggest journals, that’s a rather complex question since we don’t isolate costs per journal, they are shared across all our journals, and other technology and management costs are again further shared across the company and Reed Elsevier, our parent company. I think the best I can do is refer you to a recent article in Nature that explored this in more detail and references the kinds of costs that publishers incur. In regard to our Journals pricing, that’s a fairly broad and subjective assertion. I’m sure we have some journals that are priced comparatively high, and others comparatively low. Generally speaking our journals do well in the two primary areas that drive prices, quality and volume. That is, our journals generally have high impact factors, and per journal volume is high. Another broad factor I think you’ll be interested in is that generally speaking, journal price increases reflect increases in global research budgets and outputs. Countries around the globe are investing more in research, roughly 4-5% growth each year, which in turn is resulting in more articles being submitted to, and published in journals. So customers have access to more content each year. I don’t think those costs have “shot up so much”, by the way. In fact, on an article by article basis, the costs-per-download have declined each year as electronic dissemination continues to proliferate and improve.

Coincidentally, the Scholarly Kitchen, an authoritative source on STM publishing, posted a blog yesterday you may find interesting as it covers some of the topics you’re interested in —http://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2013/04/29/the-law-of-unintended-consequences-pays-a-visit-to-the-ostp/. It also references a key point that is too often lost in the debate – the research report. It is important to note that while the government funds some research, the peer-reviewed literature, online environment, customer services, and related applications are, however, not funded by the government. They are a result of investment by publishers. [/note] [divider]

The Author

As VP and Head of Global Corporate Relations at Elsevier, Tom Reller (@TomReller) leads a global team of media, social and web communicators for the world’s largest provider of scientific, technical and medical (STM) information products and services. Together, they work to build on Elsevier’s reputation by promoting the company’s numerous contributions to the health and science communities, many of which are brought to life in our new online community and information resource: Elsevier Connect.

Reller directs strategy, execution and problem-solving for external corporate communications, including media relations, issues management and policy communications, and acts as a central communications counsel and resource for Elsevier senior management. Additionally, he develops and nurtures external corporate/institutional relationships that broaden Elsevier’s influence and generate good will, including partnerships developed through the Elsevier Foundation.

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1 Archived Comment

Mike "Elsevier" Taylor May 29, 2013 at 12:35 pm

Tom, thank you for this article, and also thank you for your rebuttal of the NetChoice debacle, as reported in the Times Higher Education Supplement at http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/news/elsevier-distances-itself-from-open-access-article/2004055.article

One thing that I feel doesn't come across clearly in the debate around AB609 is that when we talk about being against mandatory deadlines for publicly releasing peer-reviewed articles, we're talking about subscription articles, and that articles published under "Gold" arrangements (where the author / funder pays the publisher) are, of course, freely available from the moment of publishing (and that they are also freely available for text/data mining, and that the author may choose the license they prefer).


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