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posted by Fnord666 on Saturday February 15 2020, @05:09PM   Printer-friendly
from the what-the-market-will-bear dept.

Arthur T Knackerbracket has found the following story:

A quiet revolution is sweeping the $20 billion academic publishing market and its main operator Elsevier, partly driven by an unlikely group of rebels: cash-strapped librarians.

When Florida State University cancelled its “big deal” contract for all Elsevier’s 2,500 journals last March to save money, the publisher warned it would backfire and cost the library $1 million extra in pay-per-view fees.

But even to the surprise of Gale Etschmaier, dean of FSU’s library, the charges after eight months were actually less than $20,000. “Elsevier has not come back to us about ‘the big deal’,” she said, noting it had made up a quarter of her content budget before the terms were changed.

Mutinous librarians such as Ms. Etschmaier remain in a minority but are one of a host of pressures bearing down on the subscription business of Elsevier, the 140-year-old publisher that produces titles including the world’s oldest medical journal, The Lancet.

The company is facing a profound shift in the way it does business, as customers reject traditional charging structures.

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  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by Booga1 on Saturday February 15 2020, @06:57PM (8 children)

    by Booga1 (6333) on Saturday February 15 2020, @06:57PM (#958573)

    So, we have one gateway to knowledge fighting the other gateway to knowledge. I think there's a quote somewhere about someone who wishes to deny people access to knowledge...

    I've not paid to access any articles, but I've definitely hit paywalls when trying to get more information on a subject. Anything that removes barriers to information is a plus in my book.

    Don't get me wrong, journals provide a service. Well reviewed articles with peers versed in their subjects are valuable. I'm just not sure where the balance is between vetted science contributions and flat out money grubbing leeches.

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  • (Score: 4, Insightful) by Runaway1956 on Saturday February 15 2020, @07:05PM (1 child)

    by Runaway1956 (2926) Subscriber Badge on Saturday February 15 2020, @07:05PM (#958581) Homepage Journal

    Well, let us consider school children. Pre-teens, maybe, but teens definitely. Whether they take on a project, or an assignment, or they're just curious, school kids should be able to research just about anything. Are the school kids around you welcome at the library? I know that I was made very welcome, all through school, and after I left school. I'm still welcome at the community college library. I've never been turned away by a librarian, anywhere - east coast, west coast, Alaska or middle America.

    Elsevier? Maybe I can't define the point at which Elsevier becomes a parasite any better than you can. But, it's pretty obvious that they're a lot more parasite-like than any library in the US. Elsevier most definitely does not welcome curious school children, unless those school children have a whole lot of lunch money to spare.

    Sorry, I can't address libraries outside of the US.

    Make an actual interesting, germane, and relevant point and you may get away with Flamebait - 'Zumi
    • (Score: 2) by Booga1 on Saturday February 15 2020, @07:14PM

      by Booga1 (6333) on Saturday February 15 2020, @07:14PM (#958584)

      Fair point, and that's part of why I left my comment ambiguous. Leaving a little bit of thinking up to the reader can be helpful.
      The librarians are stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place. They only have budgets to support bringing in $X dollars of new material. If Elsevier is sucking up 25% of that and they could get more material for the same money, then the choice is an easy one to make.

  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by HiThere on Saturday February 15 2020, @09:21PM

    by HiThere (866) on Saturday February 15 2020, @09:21PM (#958604) Journal

    Yeah. But if I'm remembering correctly Elsevier is the company that took money to print a journal for the pharmacological industry that hid the fact that all the reviewers were paid for by one particular company.

    Having the name Elsevier on it doesn't raise my level of trust anymore. Each journal has to stand on it's own, and face the competition separately.

    Javascript is what you use to allow unknown third parties to run software you have no idea about on your computer.
  • (Score: 5, Interesting) by nishi.b on Sunday February 16 2020, @01:05AM (4 children)

    by nishi.b (4243) on Sunday February 16 2020, @01:05AM (#958646)

    As a researcher, I can say the following on journals:
    - authors work, write the manuscript and have to follow submission rules that basically ensures there is almost no editing work left to do (e.g. Latex templates)
    - the editors (only ones getting paid) select a few researchers who published in the same domain and send them a request to review the paper
    - the researchers review the work for free
    - the editor takes a decision (accept, accept with minor revision, accept with major revisions, reject)
    - the authors pays a small article processing fee
    - the journal publishes the file on the web, something like a 5 MB file.
    - everyone has to pay through university libraries or with per-article fees to read the articles

    For Open Access articles, it's the same but the article processing charges are much higher (e.g. 3000 $), and nobody pays for access.
    Many researchers including myself push for this, but grants and career development often depend on publications in well-known journals, which are obviously the old ones.

    This is slowly changing, as many funding agencies are now requiring open-access publications as an output, thus prompting even the likes of Nature and Elsevier to propose open-access options for publication in some of their journals.

    As for the article here, I must say that when we cannot access a relevant article, we either ask the authors directly to send a copy (works most of the time) or use preprint servers (where researchers publish their work before formatting for the journals). Last solution is sci-hub (illegal in most countries and regularly blocked where I work in a whack-a-mole chase).

    • (Score: 5, Interesting) by Coward, Anonymous on Sunday February 16 2020, @03:50AM

      by Coward, Anonymous (7017) on Sunday February 16 2020, @03:50AM (#958681) Journal

      There are already respected zero-fee open access journals like Chemical Science [], sponsored by an academic society. I expect that in the future, journals like this will gain prestige, because getting published there is equivalent to winning a several thousand dollar prize (the cost of publishing in a run-of-the-mill open-access journal). Academics love prizes. Even though such a journal loses money for the publisher, it can work economically as a loss-leader.

      In that future, the best journals will be zero-fee and open access, while authors of lesser work will need to pay a publication fee. But that fee will drop as scientists push for lower pricing, and publications become more efficient. The current system where much of the publication cost is born by one group (libraries) while another group (authors) decides where to publish leads to perverse economics. That's why the journals like it so much.

      Publishers like Nature may be planning for this already with the huge number of Nature Specialization journals they started in the last 15 years. Researchers submit their best work to Nature, and rejection letters often include the option to forward the paper to one of those specialized journals, which is easy because the manuscript is already in the system. In the future, those specialized journals with their huge article count will be the money makers, and Nature, which doesn't accept many articles anyway, can be zero-fee.

    • (Score: 3, Informative) by Booga1 on Sunday February 16 2020, @04:13AM

      by Booga1 (6333) on Sunday February 16 2020, @04:13AM (#958690)

      Thank you for this informative comment. As a non-academic with my research days long in the past, it is always interesting to hear about the current state of affairs.
      I had considered mentioning "pirate" publication sites, but I wasn't sure if they were in common use. Frankly, I find it encouraging that they are. Sci-hub is far more valuable to humanity than any movie or music pirate site.

    • (Score: 5, Insightful) by sgleysti on Sunday February 16 2020, @04:34PM

      by sgleysti (56) on Sunday February 16 2020, @04:34PM (#958826)

      Last solution is sci-hub

      Whenever someone would ask, "Who is your personal hero?", I never used to have an answer. Then I read about Alexandra Elbakyan (founder of sci-hub), and now I have an answer :)

      It's so funny how people express the opinion that sci-hub is a stepping stone or a stopgap or a symptom of a broken publishing system, and then Alexandra publishes posts like [] explaining that she has already opened access to research, and that this should be legal.

    • (Score: 4, Informative) by bzipitidoo on Sunday February 16 2020, @06:31PM

      by bzipitidoo (4388) Subscriber Badge on Sunday February 16 2020, @06:31PM (#958865) Journal

      I am also a researcher, and have gotten more than my fill of the problems with the current state of affairs. I am furious with the journals for paywalling research, both my own and the research of others that I want to read. They don't even pass along to the researchers any of the profits from their dastardly system. Nor of course do they feel in the least obliged to keep authors informed of the profit they manage to suck out of interested parties, so there's no telling how much or little that may be. Consequently, I am more than happy to give out free copies of any of my research works that anyone wants, and damn the academic publishers and their strongarming of the transfer of all rights from researchers to them in exchange for the "favor" of being paywalled. I dare them to sue me for violating the copyrights they extorted from me, when I distribute copies of my own works.

      Most of all, these academic publisher scum and fellow intellectual property extremists in the entertainment and software industries have delayed by years the great drive to digitize everything, and truly bring us to the full flowering of the Age of Information. Our public libraries should be freed of the burden of having to house so damn many bulky copies. Digital storage now takes a fraction of the space of paper, and is way, way, way more searchable, and copyable. Can now get an entire wall full of books onto one thumb drive. There are a lot of old papers I'd like to be able to access without either having to find out which library has a copy and then traveling there, or asking for an interlibrary loan and waiting weeks. Why should anyone have to travel to a library at all, why can't we just download copies of books and "papers" from the nearest, handy Internet connection?

      It's coming, slowly, but it is coming. For instance, many of the works of one of the most famous mathematicians of the 18th century, Euler, are freely available online. Of course, works that old are long out of copyright, so no problem there. However, Euler wrote his papers in ... Latin! Oof. I actually had some Latin in middle school, but even if I remembered it, it would be of little help with something that technical. But in another glorious stroke of progress, scholars specializing in the history of sciences have translated many of these papers into English and freely offered their translations.

      Another area of growth is, with so much more data storage capacity, the inclusion of complementary materials that in the past were routinely excluded from publication, things such as source code and gobs of data.

      Another thing in need of much change is peer review. The quality is very spotty, and perfectly good articles are routinely misunderstood, and summarily rejected. The worst cases are those very few groundbreaking papers that while correct, were so radical they weren't believed. Sure, there's a lot of spam and crap too, but these high flying journals are too damn picky and proud of their exclusivity, and for what? To save on that oh so valuable page limit that really isn't important any more?

      Further, much of the formatting requirements are just ridiculous. It's frivolity. Of course there's merit in keeping things neat, organized, readable, and comprehensible, but beyond that, it's just a distraction. It's like hoping the medical doctor will evaluate you as healthier because you wore a suit to your checkup. Even if you can't impress the doc with that, maybe you can wow the other patients in the waiting room.

      A final word about that author pays publication model: Yeah, that's okay for those researchers fortunate enough to be employed by a patron who will foot those bills for them. For the rest of us researchers, it's a raw deal. Not good for the small time patron either, to have to pay again for what the public has already paid.