[open-science] [Open-access] Elsevier: some facts, by Tim Gowers

Ross Mounce ross.mounce at gmail.com
Fri Apr 25 12:12:09 UTC 2014

Fantastic work everyone!

Now that we have data coming in for US, Brazil, UK, Germany, and many
more... it's crucial we think about this as a combined total. It costs them
almost nothing more to make the *same* digital content/platform/service
available to extra countries and institutions.

Would it be unreasonable to suggest that a very minimum Elsevier get paid
(globally) at least $500,000,000 USD for journal subscriptions, PER YEAR.

Their ScienceDirect platform only makes available access to ~12,500,000
articles (some of which are freely accessible anyway).

May I suggest a very rough back of the envelope calculation...

The length of Elsevier's copyright monopoly over scientific content they
'own' will be 70 years in most jurisdictions. This means they can continue
to have the exclusive right to rent out content for 70 years after it's
first production.
They get approximately $500,000,000 USD per year (globally) for renting
digital access to this content. PLUS single article purchase fees typically
at $40 USD per person.

70 years * $500,000,000 USD / 12,500,000 articles = $2800 USD over the
subscription-lifetime per article

With a standard PLOS ONE APC of $1350 USD per paper, we'd get all the
benefits of open access at less than half the lifetime cost relative to
Elsevier's subscription model. Even cheaper with a SciELO*, or Journal of
Machine Learning Research** (JMLR), Peer J*** , or Ubiquity Press ****
style model.

It's clearer than ever to me that with a little bit of long-term thinking -
RENTING access to research literature is extremely expensive, relative to
'buying' lifetime open access upfront for a one-off fee for the services

I also can't hesitate to point out that publishers are constantly
*increasing* the subscription prices they charge, at an above inflation
level and have been doing so for years (google 'serials crisis'). Renting
access to research has got to stop.

* $200 - $600 "The SciELO Open Access: A Gold Way from the South" (2010)
p123 http://ojs.library.ubc.ca/index.php/cjhe/article/view/479/504
** http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/pamphlet/2012/03/06/an-efficient-journal/
*** https://peerj.com/pricing/
**** http://www.ubiquitypress.com/about

Dr Ross Mounce, postdoc
Fossils, Phylogeny and Macroevolution Research Group
University of Bath, 4 South Building, Lab 1.07
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