bloodsuckers respond

Response to Elsevier’s spin doctor.

“It’s also unfortunate that they’re coming up now, when budgets are under pressure,” he said. “But not all universities are poor, and these certainly aren’t.”
–Eric Merkel-Sobotta, global director for corporate communications at Elsevier

Open Access News pointed to this article in Monday’s issue of Information World Review where the above quote came from. Merkel-Sobotta is referring to the decisions made by some major US higher education institutions to cancel Elsevier journal titles for 2004. He also downplayed what he called hype over these cancellations, saying that “The vast majority of this is about getting rid of duplicates, moving from paper to electronic editions only.” Mmm-hmm. Right. If you tell yourself that often enough, Eric, you might actually come to believe it.

My institution has had serious budget cuts for the past two years, and we’ve slashed our print subscriptions down to under 2,000 titles and reduced our book budget as far as it can go. When I looked into the pricing of online v. print subscriptions from Elsevier, there was no savings to go online only. They tout that on their website, but when we got into negotiations with them, we discovered that the online discount is almost exactly the amount they tack on for an electronic access fee. With our budget in shreds, we had no choice but to cancel some of our most expensive and under-used journal titles. Coincidentally, many of those happen to be Elsevier titles.

I think what ticks me off most about the above quote is the assumption that if a university has money, it would want to throw a disproportionate amount of it at one publisher. Any serious look at library literature on the topic of Elsevier and subscription pricing would reveal that more money goes to that publisher than any of its competitors. I applaud institutions like Cornell University and the University of California for standing up and saying to the Dutch Pirates, “No more!”

2 thoughts on “bloodsuckers respond”

  1. I hope you’re right. And I think maybe you are: I think we’ve reached a tipping point with Elsevier (in particular). Harvard + UC + Iowa + one or two others starts to sound like a chorus of “ENOUGH!”

    (I think California Digital Library’s public statement of $8 million, which–thanks to California law–couldn’t be prevented by a confidentiality clause, was a crucial point in this process.)

    And the growing level of nonsense from various E. people does sound a lot like a river in Egypt…

    I hope for a future with a blend of traditional print journals, loads of open access ejournals/”earticle sets,” and some number of toll ejounals…and, as a result, better health for monographic print collecting in academic libraries. That future (my dream, not based on hard analysis, and I haven’t put it in writing just yet) really doesn’t work without some…um…effects on certain publishers. (It ain’t just Elsevier, not by a long shot.)

  2. I would love to see free or low-cost, peer-reviewed alternatives like Public Library of Science take over the role filled by companies like Elsevier. Authors would be able to publish their work in a peer-reviewed, reputable forum, fulfilling the requirements for tenure, promotion, etc., without having to surrender their “ships” or “cargoes” to the “Pirates” who have commandeered the “sea” of academic serials. Time will tell —

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