Elsevier Fact Sheet

Faculty around the world have been signing their names to an Elsevier boycott that is directed at Elsevier’s pricing practices and their support for legislation that would put limits on open access to research. This fact sheet provides background on Elsevier for those interested in the debate.

• Elsevier is the largest publisher of scholarly journals in the world – it publishes almost 2000 titles; its next largest competitor, Taylor & Francis (T&F) publishes about 1000. Other large publishers are Springer and Wiley.
• According to The Economist, Elsevier made $1.1 billion in profit in 2010 with a profit margin of 36%, which grew to a reported profit margin of 39% in 2013, and 37% in 2014. T&F’s profit margin was 25% in 2010, per T&F.
In public accounts, Elsevier describes the value they add to publications through their investment, including “coordinating the review, consideration, added text and references, and production and distribution mechanisms.” In contrast, UC economist Ted Bergstrom concludes through his calculations (including price per citation) that 59% of Elsevier titles are considered a “bad value.” In comparison, The American Physical Society has 0 titles that are “bad value” based on the same calculations.

Subscription Models:
• Many universities subscribe to what is often referred to as “the big deal” or a bundle, which includes a large portion of Elsevier’s journal corpus. While this allows universities access to a large number of titles at a discount, it also means they typically subscribe to and pay for many journals which are less targeted to their communities.
• MIT does not participate in a “big deal” with Elsevier. We have instead negotiated title-by-title subscriptions and currently subscribe to over 650 titles, about 25% of their complete title list. While this means we are paying more per title than if we bought a “bundle,” the title-by-title model allows MIT to target purchases to those titles of most value to the community. We pay a premium for this flexibility. Our payments to Elsevier are over $2M per year, with an average cost per title of well over $3K.

Anti-Open Access Legislation:
• Elsevier supported the Research Works Act (RWA), a bill which would make the NIH Public Access Policy, along with any other similar government effort to make taxpayer-funded research openly accessible to the public, illegal. Following public outcry, including a boycott, Elsevier withdrew its support, just hours before its sponsors declared the bill dead. In their statement, Elsevier indicated they would still “continue to oppose government mandates in this area.”
• Elsevier and its senior executives made 31 contributions to members of the House in 2011, of which 12 went to Representative Maloney (NY) who is a sponsor of RWA.
Elsevier supported the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which threatened free speech and innovation, in part by enabling law enforcement to block access to entire internet domains for infringing material posted on a single webpage. In comparison, competitors Springer, Wiley, and Taylor & Francis did not make public statements in support.
The MIT Press was the first to disavow the Association of American Publishers’ support of SOPA. Nature and Science and several university presses followed MIT Press’ lead with disavowals of their own.

Author Rights and Author Agreements:
• Elsevier changed/clarified their policy so that authors on campuses that had open access policies were prohibited from the kind of manuscript sharing other authors were allowed. This policy was revised again in 2015, lifting that distinction about campuses with open access policies, but making others, in what amounts to a “direct attack on [campus] repositories” according to Kevin Smith, of Duke University.
• Authors now can share their manuscripts on their “personal homepage or blog,” but sharing via campus repositories must be internal only prior to the end of embargo periods that can extend up to 48 months. The MIT Libraries signed a 2015 petition by the Coalition of Open Access Repositories protesting these latest changes in Elsevier’s posting policies.
• Responses to these policy changes are available from Duke, with commentary on the updated policy as well; the National Library of Sweden; and the Confederation of Open Access Repositories.
• Elsevier’s author copyright agreement includes language that authors “must obtain an express waiver” from open access policies on their campuses.

Because publisher agreements and policies do change, MIT authors should carefully read and retain a copy of their copyright agreements. Contact copyright-lib@mit.edu with any questions about these agreements.

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