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

Peter Murray-Rust pm286 at cam.ac.uk
Wed Apr 30 18:12:09 UTC 2014

I separate the two issues:

1 are Elsevier (or anyone else) making inappropriate profits or charging
excessive amounts?
2 are Elsevier (or anyone else) :
  * failing to deliver what was paid for
  * apparently breaking contracts or laws
  * asserting ownership or control inappropriately

I will support people on (1) but my main concern is (2). In my experience
Elsevier have apparently transgressed much more that other publishers, fail
to rectify problems and also appear publicly unrepentant.

I have criticised at least the following publishers:
  * NPG/Nature news (for unbalanced reporting of TDM)
  * Springer (for claiming ownership of Open images
  * Various publishers for charging for permissions on CC-BY material
  * Taylor+Francis for their "survey" finding that authors prefer CC-NC

However Elsevier have had many more serious breaches than others. These
  * APC material behind paywalls
  * seriously mislabelled OA / licences
  * a dangerous "click-through" for TDM
  * serious breaches of Rights through Rightslink.

There are over 20 blog posts on http://blogs.ch.cam.ac.uk/pmr relating to

On Wed, Apr 30, 2014 at 5:07 PM, P Kishor <punk.kish at gmail.com> wrote:

> Hi Stuart, I understand your logic (hence the "possibly" and "the two
> could be related" in my email). I should have asked more clearly -- is it
> better to focus on the profit margins or on the abuse of the monopoly
> position? My benighted guess would be the latter.
> Let's step back a bit -- Elsevier have a monopoly position because we, the
> people, give them that. We publish with Elsevier. No one puts a gun to our
> heads and makes us do it. Yet we do it. We do it knowing (perhaps not all
> of us know that) that we will suffer later in terms of access.
> If using Elsevier's profit margins to convince folks to not publish with
> Elsevier is the goal, well ok. Otoh, focusing on the difficulties one might
> face down the line accessing the papers, for example, for text and data
> mining, that might make the issues more real for at least a segment of
> researchers.
> Not arguing against or for anything -- just throwing out things worth
> thinking about.
> On Wed, Apr 30, 2014 at 8:58 AM, Stuart Lawson <stuart.a.lawson at gmail.com>wrote:
>> the two are definitely related; Elsevier charge whatever they can get
>> away with because of their monopoly position with regards to owning
>> content. if you don't like apple, you can buy an android; it's different,
>> but is similar enough for most people's needs. so there is genuine
>> competition. if you need to read an elsevier article, you (or your library)
>> have no choice but to pay (unless there's a green open access version, or
>> #icanhazpdf etc). elsevier et al's profit margins are a symptom of a
>> dysfunctional market.
>> On 30 April 2014 16:41, P Kishor <punk.kish at gmail.com> wrote:
>>> This conversation seems to have wandered from Elsevier abusing its
>>> (possibly monopoly) position to Elsevier's profit margin. While the two
>>> could be related, are us folks concerned that Elsevier is making money
>>> hands-over-fist, or that they are not providing us with a satisfactory
>>> solution? am curious. Case in point -- Apple's margins are around the same
>>> as Elsevier's yet I have little to complain about and happily buy their
>>> products in spite of alternatives (just not as good, in my view) of my my
>>> own volition.
>>> On Wed, Apr 30, 2014 at 8:37 AM, Song, Stephen <stephen.song at gmail.com>wrote:
>>>> On 30 April 2014 12:08, Graham Triggs <grahamtriggs at gmail.com> wrote:
>>>>> On 30 April 2014 14:45, Bjoern Brembs <b.brembs at gmail.com> wrote:
>>>>>> Someone needs to do an infographic on that and compare these margins
>>>>>> to other industries...
>>>>> What, you mean like this? (Comparison, rather than infographic. And
>>>>> yes, it's a couple of years out of date)
>>>>> http://seekingalpha.com/article/269679-oil-industry-profit-margin-ranks-fairly-low-there-are-bigger-fish
>>>> Here is a long list from the Internet Information Provider world.
>>>>  There is quite a variance.
>>>> http://www.macroaxis.com/invest/marketScreener/stockIndustry/operatingMargin/Internet_Information_Providers
>>>> ..
>>> --
>>> Puneet Kishor
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> --
> Puneet Kishor
> Manager, Science and Data Policy
> Creative Commons
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Peter Murray-Rust
Reader in Molecular Informatics
Unilever Centre, Dep. Of Chemistry
University of Cambridge
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