(Note: This post has been updated and expanded to match the post at the Graduate Center Library blog.)
You may have heard of the Cost of Knowledge, a site where researchers publicly express their upset with the business practices of the publisher Elsevier and commit not to contribute to Elsevier journals. As of today, 15,034 researchers have pledged to boycott Elsevier as an author, editor, and/or peer reviewer.
You might wonder: What has Elsevier has done to cause so many researchers to boycott them?
A primary complaint is their exorbitant product pricing — pricing that allows them to profit richly (with profit margins close to 40%) off nonprofit organizations such as academic libraries. (The Graduate Center Library pays dearly for its subscriptions to Elsevier’s Scopus database and ScienceDirect “big deal” journal package (which, yes, includes many essential journals but also includes many journals that are never used). So dearly that our other collection choices are severely constrained.)
Of course, as is the norm in scholarly publishing, Elsevier does not pay its authors — the creators of its journal content — for their work. So they’re reaping huge profits off free labor. And that brings us to another major complaint: their treatment of authors. Elsevier recently released a new article-sharing policy for authors, and it is not good for authors.
To their credit, sort of, they’ve corrected a horrifying problem with their earlier policy — namely, the bizarro policy of allowing authors at universities without open access policies to make their accepted manuscripts open access, but not authors at universities with such policies (i.e., “You retain the right to post if you wish but not if you must!”).
But…instead of introducing better terms across the board, Elsevier’s new policy imposes worse terms across the board. Specifically, their new policy imposes embargoes on ALL accepted author manuscripts, many of them 24- or 36-month embargoes, and some of them 48-month embargoes! This means that authors cannot broadly share (e.g., in CUNY Academic Works) their peer-reviewed manuscripts (we’re just talking about the final manuscript versions, not the publisher’s PDFs) until those very long embargo expires.
Needless to say, many researchers are very upset. The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), Confederation of Open Access Repositories (COAR), and 21 other groups have released this statement of opposition:
On April 30, 2015, Elsevier announced a new sharing and hosting policy for Elsevier journal articles. This policy represents a significant obstacle to the dissemination and use of research knowledge, and creates unnecessary barriers for Elsevier published authors in complying with funders’ open access policies. In addition, the policy has been adopted without any evidence that immediate sharing of articles has a negative impact on publishers’ subscriptions.
Despite the claim by Elsevier that the policy advances sharing, it actually does the opposite. The policy imposes unacceptably long embargo periods of up to 48 months for some journals. It also requires authors to apply a “non-commercial and no derivative works” license for each article deposited into a repository, greatly inhibiting the re-use value of these articles. Any delay in the open availability of research articles curtails scientific progress and places unnecessary constraints on delivering the benefits of research back to the public.
Furthermore, the policy applies to “all articles previously published and those published in the future” making it even more punitive for both authors and institutions. This may also lead to articles that are currently available being suddenly embargoed and inaccessible to readers.
As organizations committed to the principle that access to information advances discovery, accelerates innovation and improves education, we support the adoption of policies and practices that enable the immediate, barrier free access to and reuse of scholarly articles. This policy is in direct conflict with the global trend towards open access and serves only to dilute the benefits of openly sharing research results.
We strongly urge Elsevier to reconsider this policy and we encourage other organizations and individuals to express their opinions.
If you are also upset by Elsevier’s new policy, you can add your name to the statement.
And if the new policy has made you reconsider your willingness to contribute to Elsevier publications, you may want to consider signing the Cost of Knowledge pledge.