Academics call for boycott of Elsevier

Academics have called for a boycott of publisher Elsevier, saying it is involved in "the exploitation of a monopoly position" in overcharging for its online journals. But the publisher has said they have got their facts wrong and asked them to reconsider. 

Over 2,000 academics and researchers thus far have signed a petition supporting a boycott, on www.thecostofknowledge.com, on the grounds that the publisher charges "exorbitantly high prices" for journals, and adopts the practice of selling journals in bundles, so "libraries must buy a large set with many unwanted journals, or none at all". The petition also protests against Elsevier's support of measures such as the Research Works Act that "aim to restrict the free exchange of information". 

Signatories include academics from leading universities across the world including Oxford, Cambridge, Yale, Harvard, McGill, University College London and University College Dublin. 

Tim Worstall, a fellow at London's Adam Smith Institute, writing in a blog on Forbes.com, said the publisher had "leveraged" its ownership of papers from the last 50 to 60 years into the power to make college libraries pay "eyewatering" amounts for subscriptions. He said the petition, and further blogs on the topic, will "lead to some fairly major changes in the way that Elsevier is able to run its journal publishing division. At least, I rather hope so, for the entire cost base and financial structure is outmoded in this internet age". 

British mathematician Tim Gowers has stated his plan to boycott the publisher, saying: "I am not only going to refuse to have anything to do with Elsevier journals from now on, but I am saying so publicly. I am by no means the first person to do this, but the more of us there are, the more socially acceptable it becomes." 

Gowers argued: “We [academics] have much greater bargaining power than we are wielding at the moment, for the very simple reason that we don’t actually need their services...In brief, if you publish in Elsevier journals you are making it easier for Elsevier to take action that harms academic institutions, so you shouldn’t.” He adds: “One final remark is that Elsevier is not the only publisher to behave in an objectionable way. However, it seems to be the worst.” 

In a statement, Elsevier said the facts on which the petition was based were not correct. “Access to published content is greater and at its lowest cost per use than ever. The reality is that (1) our price increases have a actually been among the industry’s lowest for the past ten years, (2) the introduction of optional packages have added enormous access at fractions of the list prices; and (3) Elsevier was the first and largest contributor to the NIH (Pubmed central). We look forward to working further with our communities to advance scientific knowledge together, and we believe this is best achieved without government mandates.” 

The statement went on: “We respect the freedom of authors to make their own decisions. We hope the ones who sign the boycott reconsider their position however, and we are keen to engage to discuss their concerns. We absolutely value the contributions authors, reviewers and editors make to journals, and we are also proud of our role in making research more accessible and discoverable while ensuring the integrity of the scientific record.”