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

Donat Agosti agosti at amnh.org
Wed Apr 30 08:08:50 UTC 2014

Here the link to the latest Elsevier annual report http://www.elsevier.com/about/annual-reports

Few highlights:

Scientific, Technical & Medical achieved good volume growth in
primary research submissions and usage, and in databases &
tools, across scientific, technical & medical markets. Journal
quality, as measured by Impact Factor, continued to improve.
Electronic revenues, which now account for 72% of total revenues,
grew strongly across all segments.

The latest version of
SciVal, our scientific, technical & medical segment’s
tool for universities and other institutions to assess
their relative performance, runs on HPCC Systems
technology. SciVal provides analysis of over 30m
pieces of content and 350m citations from 4,600
institutions in 220 countries. The business is deploying
HPCC Systems on ScienceDirect, its primary research
database, aimed at recommending related articles.
The scheme increased click-throughs by 65%.

Scientific, Technical & Medical 2013, £m 2,126
Adjusted operating profit
Scientific, Technical & Medical 2013, £m 826


The University of Leeds Library includes three
campus facilities, which together house around
3m volumes as well as countless individual
manuscript and archival items. The Library
provides access to over 35,000 electronic journal
titles as well as an increasing number of
electronic databases and monographs.

AND in Comparisons Elsevier

ScienceDirect is one of the world’s
largest databases of peer-reviewed
full-text scientific, technical and
medical content. Over 11m researchers,
healthcare professionals, teachers,
students and information professionals
around the globe rely on ScienceDirect
as a trusted source of over 2,000
journals and 26,000 book titles.
ScienceDirect supports research and
education with interactive elements in
articles such as audio, video, graphs,
tables and images, and offers tools so
users can easily set alerts. With over
12m content pieces available,
ScienceDirect is a premier platform for
discovering the world of research.


From: open-science [mailto:open-science-bounces at lists.okfn.org] On Behalf Of Ross Mounce
Sent: Wednesday, April 30, 2014 9:43 AM
To: Frantsvåg Jan Erik
Cc: open-science; open-access at lists.okfn.org; alangsmello at gmail.com
Subject: Re: [open-science] [Open-access] Elsevier: some facts, by Tim Gowers

Thanks Jan Erik for challenging my too modest assumption - I was hoping someone would.

I completely agree that Elsevier journal subscription income is probably 1 billion USD (or more), much more than 500,000,000 USD as I had early suggested.

This only goes to show the massive shortfall in our understanding of where this total comes from?
We have data from Brazil, data from Russell Group universities in the UK... we need far to more data to get a clearer picture of how Elsevier is amassing its largesse of income from academic journal subscriptions.

I note that there are over 9000 universities in the world (http://univ.cc/index.html) - not that all of these will pay Elsevier taxes.
Not to mention the countless (anyone have a sensible figure?) non-university research institutes & businesses that have journal subscriptions. I know from experience that many natural history museums, by necessity have journal subscriptions e.g. the Natural History Museum (London), the AMNH (NY), the Field Museum (Chicago)...

1 billion spread across 10,000 universities + research institutes + businesses is only 100,000 USD per year per entity.

Thus > 1 billion USD income from Elsevier journal subscriptions alone would seem (sadly) very plausible to me.

This wasted sum represents our complete failure to collectively bargain for fair & equitable access to knowledge.
Without doubt we could provision this knowledge, open access for everyone, for at least 1/2 to 1/10 of its current inflated cost!

On 30 April 2014 07:24, Frantsvåg Jan Erik <jan.e.frantsvag at uit.no<mailto:jan.e.frantsvag at uit.no>> wrote:
Yes, an assumption of USD 500,000,000 would seem to be unreasonable – as in unreasonably low.

Off the cuff: I did some calculations on Elsevier’s 2012 annual reports, this is cited from memory. There they reported operating profits of about 1.1 billon USD on their scientific publishing activities. This being a profit margin not far from 40 per cent, their income should be a bit higher than 2.5 billion USD – at least. How much of this is journal subscriptions? Probably more than half, so I think you could safely double your numbers. Trebling wouldn’t seem to be blatantly wrong, either.

Jan Erik

Jan Erik Frantsvåg
Open Access adviser
The University Library
UiT The Arctic University of Norway
phone +47 77 64 49 50<tel:%2B47%2077%2064%2049%2050>
e-mail jan.e.frantsvag at uit.no<mailto:jan.e.frantsvag at uit.no>
Publications: http://tinyurl.com/6rycjns

Fra: open-access [mailto:open-access-bounces at lists.okfn.org<mailto:open-access-bounces at lists.okfn.org>] På vegne av Ross Mounce
Sendt: 25. april 2014 14:12
Til: Rafael Pezzi
Kopi: open-science; open-access at lists.okfn.org<mailto:open-access at lists.okfn.org>; alangsmello at gmail.com<mailto:alangsmello at gmail.com>
Emne: Re: [Open-access] [open-science] Elsevier: some facts, by Tim Gowers

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 provided.

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

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