19 January 2011

Shame on Elsevier

The academic publishing industry is broken. Academics produce research, then give it to the publishers for free, who then make profits by restricting access to it.

Elsevier, publisher of the Lancet, have just revoked free online access to their journals for doctors from poor countries.

Shame on you Elsevier for this shameful move, and shame on your CEO Erik Engstrom and his £1.8 million salary.

All credit to the Editor of the Lancet for speaking up in opposition to this move.

But it is the whole industry that is broken. Private firms try to maximise their profits, that is what they do. We should not be surprised. And yet the fruit of research, information, is the ultimate public good. My "consumption" of a research paper in no way diminishes your ability to consume the very same paper. This absurd industry needs a wake-up call. Publishers should be offered a choice between making academic research available online everywhere for free or being outright nationalised.


JScarantino said...

Thanks for posting this about Elsevier. Gated academic publishing is a personal pet peeve of my own. I write about the need for Africa to develop its own system of open publishing here: http://josefscarantino.com/2011/01/11/africa-needs-an-open-publishing-manifesto-for-academia-the-time-is-now/

I can only hope they don't follow in the footsteps of today's publishers who restrict access and knowledge to the world in need.

Anonymous said...

The Lancet just published an article criticizing the move. Elsevier pulled a $787 US profit on a 6bil turnover in 2009... pretty good profit on commodifying knowledge.

Hard to imagine that any of the cash-strapped research institutions in the south will actually be able to afford the exorbitant prices of these subscriptions (often $20,000/yr). I have a hard time seeing the research cartels pulling any sort of profit here.

But its not just Elsevier. The four largest publishers participating in the WHO programme that provide(d) free access to these institutions are also pulling out.


Too bad doctors in the global south won't be able to read it.

Anonymous said...

I think you are right about the publishing system being broken, but I think they way out is to find a way so that the publishers can make their money "and" provide free access to all. A few thoughts on how on this blog inspired by your post:

Anonymous said...

For those interested in this topic here is Robert Darton's latest comment on the issue.

Here is a fantastic lecture by William St Clair on the history of copyright and intellectual property.

Here is the link to what could be the future of academic publishing; a not for profit, peer reviewed publishing house for the humanities and social sciences. Lower cost leads to wider access which in turn leads to greater dissemination of knowledge.

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