Elsevier fact sheet
Researchers around the world have signed their names to an Elsevier boycott 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 one of the largest publisher of scholarly journals in the world, publishing about 2,600 titles. Other large publishers are Taylor & Francis, Springer, and Wiley.
- RELX, the parent company of Elsevier, had revenues of US $9.8 billion in 2018. (Elsevier’s profits account for about 40% of RELX’s total profits.) By contrast, Informa, Taylor & Francis’ parent company, had revenues of US $2.3 billion in 2017.
- RELX reports its profit margins at 31.3% for 2018.
- In public accounts, Elsevier has described 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 concluded through his calculations (including price per citation) that 59% of Elsevier titles were considered a “bad value.” In comparison, the American Physical Society had 0 “bad value” titles based on the same calculations.
- Elsevier 2018 annual report
- Elsevier posting policies
- 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 that 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 nearly 700 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 $2.7 million per year, with an average cost per title of nearly $4K.
Anti-open access legislation
- In 2011, Elsevier supported the Research Works Act (RWA), a bill that would have made illegal the NIH Public Access Policy, along with any other similar government effort to make taxpayer-funded research openly accessible to the public. Following public outcry, including a boycott, Elsevier withdrew its support, just hours before the bill’s sponsors declared it 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) one of the sponsors of RWA.
- The MIT Press was the first to disavow the Association of American Publishers’ support of RWA. Nature and Science and several university presses followed MIT Press’ lead with disavowals of their own.
- Also in 2011, 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 web page. In comparison, competitors Springer, Wiley, and Taylor & Francis did not make public statements in support.
Author rights and author agreements
- Elsevier changed/clarified its policy so that authors at institutions with open access policies were prohibited from the kind of manuscript sharing that 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 36 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 firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions about these agreements.
Elsevier in the news
- University of California’s break with the biggest academic publisher could shake up scholarly publishing for good (The Conversation, March 7, 2019)
- The real cost of knowledge (The Atlantic, March 4, 2019)
- California tells Elsevier to take a hike (Science, March 1, 2019)
- Why UC split with publishing giant Elsevier (Berkeley News, February 28, 2019)
- UC terminates subscriptions with world’s largest scientific publisher in push for open access to publicly funded research (University of California press release, February 28, 2019)
- What’s the big DEAL and why is it so difficult to reach? (Elephant in the Lab, August 27, 2018)
- Dutch publishing giant cuts off researchers in Germany and Sweden, (Nature News, July 19 2018)
- Major German universities cancel Elsevier contracts (The Scientist, July 17, 2017)
- Elsevier wants $15 million piracy damages from Sci-Hub and Libgen (Torrent Freak, May 18, 2017)
- When is enough enough? (Commentary on Elsevier’s lawsuit against Louisiana State University, In the Open, May 8, 2017)
- Louisiana State University files suit against Elsevier (ARL Policy Notes, February 2017)
- Elsevier clamps down on academics posting their own papers online (Wired, December 17, 2013)
- Why scientists are boycotting a publisher (Boston Globe, February 12, 2012)
- As journal boycott grows, Elsevier defends its practices (Chronicle of Higher Education, January 31, 2012)
Page last updated: March 12, 2019