Editors, mad as hell, resign en masse from Elsevier journal over price gouging

I’ve long complained about the Dutch publisher Elsevier’s price-gouging behavior, involving exorbitant costs for academic libraries to get its journals (either hard-copy or electronic), its blocking of public access to scholarly articles (often funded by the public), and its “bundling” policies, forcing libraries to subscribe to groups of journals, often at very high costs (my earlier post on this issue showed Elsevier to be the most rapacious academic publishing, sometimes charging more than a million dollars a year to libraries at top-flight research universities!). I’ll reproduce one table I put in my earlier post, which gives bundle prices charged by different publishes for different for three grades of university libraries:


This is unconscionable. Academics are mad as hell and aren’t going to take it any more. Inside Higher Ed has now reported that some academics are voting with their feet: all six editors and 31 editorial board members of Lingua, a highly reputed linguistics journal that has the misfortune to be published by Elsevier, have resigned in protest of high library and bundling fees and of Elsevier’s refusal to convert the journal to open access. As the website reports, “As soon as January, when the departing editors’ noncompete contracts expire, they plan to start a new open-access journal to be called Glossa.”

And check out how much they pay the editor for two to three days work per week:

Johan Rooryck, executive editor of the journal until his resignation takes effect at the end of the year, said in an interview that when he started his editorship in 1998, “I could have told you to the cent what the journal cost,” and that it was much more affordable. Now, he said, single subscriptions are so expensive that it is “unsustainable” for many libraries to subscribe. Rooryck is professor of French linguistics at Leiden University, in the Netherlands, where academic and government leaders have been sharply critical of journal prices.

Rooryck said Lingua and most journals publish work by professors whose salaries are paid directly or indirectly with public funds. So why, he asked, should access to such research be blocked?

By quitting his position, Rooryck will give up his current compensation from Elsevier, which he said is about 5,000 euros (about $5,500) a year. He said the pay is minimal for the two to three days a week he works on the journal. “I would be better off going to flip burgers in that time,” he said.

You can read Elsevier’s lame response on the IHE site, and learn that other linguists are expressing solidarity with what these editors did. I do, too. I denounce Elsevier’s profiteering involving taxpayer-funded research, and have publicly refused to publicize them, review for them, or do anything to help that company. You can, too: just sign the petition at The Cost of Knowledge, which now has 15,306 researchers vowing that they won’t support any Elsevier journal until they change their nefarious practices.

h/t: P. Puk


  1. Posted November 5, 2015 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    Signed, sealed & delivered. Am urging colleagues to do the same.

  2. Eli Siegel
    Posted November 5, 2015 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    Many years ago a university librarian told me that when someone complained to Elsevier about costs & said that his library might have to cut some journals the Elsevier representative said that they did not care. They would just increase the price to the universities that continued to receive the

  3. EvolvedDutchie
    Posted November 5, 2015 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    I’m glad Rooryck hasn’t lost his sense of humour. Seriously though, it’s about time something is being done.

  4. Posted November 5, 2015 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    The way round this is quite simple: all major research funders should declare that, as a condition of funding, all research funded by them must be open-access.

    The UK government is currently not far from that, and is moving towards open access being required within three months of publication.

    • eric
      Posted November 5, 2015 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

      Such a move would be extremely hypocritical. Most of these same Universities take public research funds and use it to develop patentable products that they then license or spin off for profit.

      It didn’t used to be this way; the federal government gave them this ability in the 80s or 90s I believe. But since that time, most research Universities have been as aggressive about profiting from publicly funded research as the journal publishers.

      • Mark Sturtevant
        Posted November 5, 2015 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

        That should be only a tiny fraction of the research done at universities. And they provided the facilities.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted November 6, 2015 at 2:42 am | Permalink

        “most research Universities have been as aggressive about profiting from publicly funded research as the journal publishers.”

        I do see a difference. The universities (if I’m not mistaken) can only use their profits for university purposes. They don’t have owners / shareholders to give the money to.
        The publishers such as Elsevier, on the other hand, can just pocket their profits.


        • eric
          Posted November 6, 2015 at 7:58 am | Permalink

          When they want to pay out the money to stakeholders, they simply spin off a business to do that. Here is an example. The university staff involved in the effort as well as other before-IPO stakeholders are reaping publicly unavailable benefits from publicly funded research. Exactly like Elsevier.

          What’s more, this ignores the fact that other researchers must pay to use the publicly funded yet patented technology. This is detrimental to open science and of very poor service for the public, whose tax investment is not being made open and available to taxpayers as a whole. This is also directly analogous to having to pay to read someone’s publicly-funded research.

  5. Mark R.
    Posted November 5, 2015 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    Signed…though I have no “affiliation”. Should I have made one up? I assume no affiliation makes my signing insignificant.

  6. Jim Knight
    Posted November 5, 2015 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    Any of us who publish should add our names to this rebellion against Elsevier. Their charges have always been ridiculously high, but they thought they could continue to get away with it because of their product. Good for the people who started resigning and lit these fires.

  7. V. Amarnath
    Posted November 5, 2015 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    As a chemist and a member of the American Chemical Society, I wish all disciplines followed the example of ACS in publishing quality journals so there would be no need for Elsevier. ACS publishes some forty journals covering all aspects of the field. Yes, there is a nominal page charge, but it is not required for publication.

  8. Posted November 5, 2015 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    A year ago I agreed to review a paper in an Elsevier journal, it was completed before I knew all this. Next time I will definitely decline.

    Jerry, I remember reading your response to an Elsevier journal declining a review, but I can’t seem to find it now. Is my memory correct and if so where might I find this letter?

  9. Pabs
    Posted November 5, 2015 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    I’m only a grad student, but my name’s on the list now too.

  10. eric
    Posted November 5, 2015 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

    I expect that they know they are dinosaurs and the open access comet is coming, and they’re just squeezing out as much profit as they can before it hits. With the massive shifts in the book and newspaper publishing industry, e-readers, and so on already in the past, I can’t imagine they’re blind to what’s coming.

  11. bob
    Posted November 5, 2015 at 11:50 pm | Permalink

    While it is nice that linguists are joining this fight, scholars in other fields, e.g. mathematics, were doing this many years ago. E.g. http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress/?p=442
    But I haven’t seen evidence that Elsevier has become any less rapacious.

  12. Diane G.
    Posted November 6, 2015 at 3:28 am | Permalink


  13. Posted November 6, 2015 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    Good for this group.

    Ironically, publishers are one area where the US is more progressive than Europe – lots of university presses (the semi-equivalent of Elsevier, Springer, etc.) in the US are apparently run at almost-cost recovery. Whereas the big European publishers are for-profit.

  14. jimbo
    Posted November 6, 2015 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    That’s it, no more publishing in Cell for me.

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