As most of you know we have featured the Elsevier boycott as the Hot Topic of the Week on the ATG NewsChannel. In fact, it’s so hot we have featured it twice – with updates. Now, in this Multigrain Discussion piece, Chuck Hamaker adds his perspective to the ever-growing list of viewpoints on the Elsevier boycott. Drawing on his personal experience as Associate University Librarian – Collection Development and Electronic Resources at UNC – Charlotte, Chuck responds to Rick Anderson’s recent Scholarly Kitchen post “Mysteries of the Elsevier Boycott.” below. (And as always, feel free to join in the discussion.)
Another Response to the Elsevier Boycott
by Chuck Hamaker
So what’s actually going on in the big picture of serials pricing for academic libraries. ? Is it just authors and peer reviewers who should be engaged in outing Elsevier? If you read Rick Anderson, a librarian at the University of Utah in the Scholarly Kitchen, you’d think there is really no beef with Elsevier just with publishers in general. (See his “Mysteries of the Elsevier boycott” posted Feb. 2, 2012.
Let’s look at the three complaints of Elsevier protestors and a different approach than Rick’s.
1. Elsevier charges exorbitantly high prices for their journals. Well, yes, says Rick, but so do others. In truth, there is not another large collection of high priced journals in the world that compares to Elsevier. Furthermore, Elsevier’s claim that the average download cost per article worldwide is $2.00 is astounding. See “Scientists sign petition to boycott academic publisher Elsevier.” Elsevier doesn’t provide libraries current year download statistics for the current year of any journal. They count ALL years of a journal’s downloads, I suspect, to reach $2.00. Take as a case in point, Thin Solid Films, which has a list price of $14,952.00 for 24 issues for 2012. Last year my library had 665 article downloads from the FULL RUN of the journal. On a straight subscription basis that would be $22.48 an article or even more if previous years are excluded from the statistics. Those articles come from all issues of the journal volumes the library has already purchased and has archival access rights to. We’ve been paying full subscription price since1995. We have paid about $170,000.00 for that journal– $55,000 in the last 4 years. So our experience is ten times more than what Elsevier says is “normal”. And for 17 years, the subscription price paid reaches about the cost of a fairly nice home!
2. Bundling. It’s disingenuous of both Rick and Elsevier to imply there are reasonable alternatives to bundling. Does $36.00 an article for copyright fee use of an article for Interlibrary loan from the Copy Right Clearance Center for an article from Thin Solid Films seem reasonable to anyone but Elsevier for content they received for free, peer reviewed for free? Are there other options besides bundling, subscription, or CCC fees that libraries can pursue to experience a reasonable cost for Elsevier articles? If not, then yes, it’s most likely many libraries will feel they are being forced into a less than desirable option. After 115 or so downloads of an article from Thin Solid Films, Elsevier’s gotten $3,000 worth of value from the article, which is about equivalent to paying an Open Access fee. Couldn’t an individual article with that use level from paying customers then be free to anyone in the world? Now that would be revolutionary!
3. Finally, Elsevier’s “support” for SOPA, PIPA and the Research Works Act. Well it’s a bit more than “support”. Again Rick’s response: “Why is Elsevier being targeted specifically?” How about because they paid for, lobbied for, and claimed that somehow their money machine will be destroyed if the legislation isn’t passed? (See MapLight.org figures.) Clearly Elsevier has been one of the major leaders in this attempt to impede open access to research taxpayers have paid for.
So what’s the take away? The Leopard’s spots have not changed. Elsevier is still the chief leopard in scholarly research.
Tom is originally from Brooklyn N.Y but has spent his entire professional career in South Carolina, most recently as Head of Reference Services at the College of Charleston. As part of the Against the Grain and Charleston Conference team, he serves as the associate editor of the print ATG as well as the co-editor of the webpage. Tom’s conference duties include coordinating the Penthouse Suite interviews as well as the conference poster sessions.
He received his MLS from the University of Buffalo, SUNY and a second master’s in public administration from the College of Charleston and the Univ. of South Carolina. His wife Carol and he live in downtown Charleston and she is an artist and a tour guide offering historic walking tours of the city.