More than 20 Kansas University faculty members have joined an online petition agreeing to boycott Elsevier, the international publisher of academic journals, because of its “exorbitant” prices and other business tactics.
KU Libraries have been spreading the word of the boycott across the university, and getting more faculty to sign up.
Elsevier is a major player in the world of academic publishing, where professors share and distribute their work. Publication in a prestigious journal can make or break a junior faculty member’s career.
Subscriptions to such journals, which faculty members depend on to keep up on the latest developments in their fields, can be costly.
Lorraine Haricombe, KU dean of libraries, said KU spends $4.5 million on journal subscriptions today, about $750,000 of which goes to Elsevier.
The people who are boycotting the publisher have four main complaints:
• The high prices charged for its academic journals.
• The company’s support of measures such as the Research Works Act that would prohibit agencies such as the National Institutes of Health from having an open-access policy that would mandate that federally-funded research be made available online for free 12 months after publication.
• The selling of journals in large bundles, pairing high-demand titles with many unwanted academic journals.
• That the company puts more restrictions on sharing articles from faculty that come from institutions with an open-access policy. KU is one of about 30 such institutions in the country, Haricombe said.
Open access supporters argue that research funded by taxpayer dollars should be freely available for any taxpayer who wants to see it. And also that an open-access policy could save universities a lot of money in subscription costs.
Elsevier has responded to the boycott in an online open letter on its website, elsevier.com.
The company argues, among other things, that it does have some open access journals and that libraries aren’t forced to accept “bundles” of journals.
“We’re listening to all the concerns expressed and redoubling our substantial efforts to make our contributions to that community better, more transparent, and more valuable to all our partners and friends in the research community,” the company said in the letter.
KU’s University Senate Executive Committee heard a presentation on the boycott this week, but took no official action, said Megan Greene, KU’s University Senate president.
Still, several individual faculty members are signing on, and refusing to publish or referee articles in Elsevier journals, including Danny Anderson, dean of KU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
Joey Sprague, a professor of sociology at KU, is one of the more than 4,700 signatories online, at thecostofknowledge.com.
She’s been a strong open access supporter.
“To create walls is undemocratic and it seems like a ripoff,” she said.
After all, pointed out William Comer, associate professor and chairman of the Slavic languages and literatures department, the authors and their work are what makes money for the publisher in the end. So Elsevier probably has some motivation to address the concerns being raised by people who publish there. In theory at least, authors could go form their own journals.
“Then, Elsevier has killed the goose that laid the golden egg,” Comer said.