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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 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.
  • Elsevier 2014 annual report
  • Elsevier posting policies

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

Author rights and author agreements

Because publisher agreements and policies do change, MIT authors should carefully read and retain a copy of their copyright agreements.

Contact with any questions about these agreements.

Elsevier in the news