Readersforum's Blog

March 2, 2012

A Significant Flinch

By Steve Kolowich

In an apparent concession to thousands of academics who have rallied against its “exorbitantly high pricing,” the scholarly publishing juggernaut Reed Elsevier on Monday withdrew its support of the Research Works Act, a bill that would have preempted the government from mandating public access to federally funded research published by commercial publishers.

“While we continue to oppose government mandates in this area, Elsevier is withdrawing support for the Research Works Act itself,” the company said in a statement on its website. “We hope this will address some of the concerns expressed and help create a less heated and more productive climate for our ongoing discussions with research funders.”

Hours later, the sponsors of the proposed Research Works Act — Representatives Darrell Issa, a California Republican, and Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat — pronounced the bill dead.

“The American people deserve to have access to research for which they have paid,” Issa and Maloney said in a joint statement. “This conversation needs to continue and we have come to the conclusion that the Research Works Act has exhausted the useful role it can play in the debate.”

Elsevier published another note, addressed to “the mathematics community,” announcing that it will reduce the price of access to articles in its math journals to no more than $11 per article. The company also said it will make the articles in “14 core mathematics journals” free to the public four years after they are first published. Math scholars have been the leading force behind a recent boycott of Elsevier based in part on pricing.

David Clark and Laura Hassink, the Elsevier senior vice presidents who signed the note, said these steps are “just the beginning” of the company’s efforts to win back the support of disaffected mathematicians.

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September 1, 2011

So when does academic publishing get disrupted?

    By Mathew Ingram

Anyone who has been following the travails of the publishing industry knows that the business is in the throes of widespread disruption, thanks to the rise of the web and digital publishing, and what Om has called the “democracy of distribution.” But as author and academic George Monbiot points out in a recent piece in The Guardian, there is one large publishing market that not only remains undisrupted but continues to produce huge returns for those who control it: the publishing of academic journals. Why has this market been able to resist the tide of change sweeping through the rest of the industry, and what will it take to finally disrupt it?

As Monbiot notes, while newspapers like the New York Times  and Rupert Murdoch’s Sunday Times  have erected paywalls that are aimed at charging readers pennies per copy for their digital content, reading a single article in an academic journal published by a company such as Reed-Elsevier or Wiley can cost you as much as $40. And it’s not just the end reader who pays: the libraries that subscribe to these journals and magazines have to pay tens of thousands of dollars a year for access to each title — in some cases as much as $20,000 for a single journal.

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