My impression is that Elsevier is a company locked into the past by a couple of decades. The leadership that I spoke with seemed to have worked in publishing for a very long time. And, probably because of that, they had an old-school publishing mentality with regards to how to reach their customers, provide value, and create revenue.
I sensed that many in the technology team seemed frustrated with their leadership. They had new visions for how to evolve the publishing model to reflect the rise of sci-hub and changes in the industry. However, they were stymied by a very bureaucratic, well-entrenched, and siloed organization.
I expected that the leadership would have some strategy for dealing with this, but it seemed like they were aloof, probably grown fat from decades of near-monopoly. They had a net profit margin of 37% in 2017! Talk about a business ripe for disruption.
Elsevier has been around a very, very long time (wikipedia says 1880), and it shows. I can't imagine getting anything done within that company. So, it's no surprise that some of them are finally leaving to try out a new model. Let's hope for the best.
(Which they're doing somewhat, btw, but probably not in the way those in that team would envision. They're transforming into an analytics company, primarily by buying up others in that space. The best asset Elsevier has, currently, is money, not its technologists.)
I really wonder, especially because they're so old (around since 1880) and so profitable (37% profit margin!)
Usually when a company faces issues like this it is very difficult to adapt because existing power structures within the company benefits from the status quo. Usually you need an external force to destabilize the existing system. It has been discussed here on HN that this is very difficult to do in scientific community because of the network effects of scientific publishing : more scientists publishing in currently established journals gives other scientists incentives to publish in the same established journals for the sake of reputation.
Reputable editors starting a new open access journal could improve this situation
For Elsevier, that's simply unlikely to be possible. Even if they manage to successfully transform into an analytics business, the margins they'd be able to achieve would be far lower, because prices would no longer be artificially inflated.
But yes, there are external forces now pressurising them, and I think that's why they're transforming into an analytics company - to survive afterwards. But they're holding on to the old model as long as possible, because they're going to take a loss.
Afaik, Kodak could adapt, because its issue was technological change at its core.
With Elsevier, the issue is that institutions that actually benefited from being the only one able to pay those high prices (and thus less rich scientific institutions being disadvantaged even more) are not benefiting from that anymore and rebel.
The world of academic publishing is very strange, almost inconceivably so. The publishers push off most of the substantive work to unpaid academics (reviewers, editors, and of course the actual paper authors) but then charge thousands of dollars for the results. It is a wonder their profit margin is not 100%.
Currently UC Berkeley is negotiating their elsevier subscription, if I were cal, I would put that sort of a policy on the table.
I suspect Elsevier's upper management layer is dominated by the PPE set of the Oxbridge upper class.
Of course, that has to be weighed against the productivity cost associated with encouraging people to visit Derek Lowe's blog for the first time...
That's an understatement.
Elsevier (and other typical big journal publishers) operate on a model of bundling where institutions must subscribe to many journals they do not want to get access to journals which they do want.
The big negotiating consortium will go to Elsevier to negotiate. Elsevier will demand a massive price hike. The consortium will push this down, potentially threatening to not subscribe at all, Elsevier will reduce this to merely a large price hike, with maybe some undesired extra journals bundled in. The consortium will not be happy and will consider not subscribing to any Elsevier journals. They will conclude that this is too scary and potentially bad for science, and grudgingly accept the “deal.”
I understand that in Germany relatively recently such a group did in fact refuse Elsevier’s offer and Elsevier essentially continued their online access for free from fear that they might discover that they do not need Elsevier very much.
Some fields need these subscriptions more than others. For example medicine has lots of journals like this which matter whereas in mathematics or computer science most preprints go up on the arXiv and big results may be expanded on long before the paper is even published. Elsevier seems less necessary there, and the value they provide is almost entirely in the prestige of the journal name and the editors who work on the journals.
Furthermore, many funding groups (eg governments) are requiring more and more open access for published research they fund. One can sometimes pay Elsevier a large fee to make a paper published there open access so they can potentially be paid almost entirely for their current assets (a journal name and board of editors) and not for any services they provide (like printing or typesetting)
I really do not want to know how much we are paying for that.
I've wondered if there is some cognitive dissonance between the strong feelings I have that scientific journals should be open access and my willingness to buy and use closed source software (even though I run an open source software foundation). But I don't think so.
Fundamentally, I think authors have the right to determine how their work is used. If they want it to be used and available as widely as possible, they should publish it under an open source license and in an open source journal. But when for-profit companies like Elsevier control the journals in which publication is necessary for getting tenure, they are restricting information flow and harming science with no countervailing benefits. Furthermore, many journal articles are supported by government grants, and it's just appalling to me not to have access to the results of research that I am paying for. (If not for https://sci-hub.tw/ obviously.)
I'm optimistic that the author-pays model of funding copy editing will work out and that for-profit journals will be seen in another couple decades as akin to leeching and phrenology.
Fundamentally, I think TAX PAYERS have a right to access all funded research!
Just that the public should demand that all research using public money is done openly, so all data and papers are accessible to the public in perpetuity.
Researchers are welcome to refuse to accept that deal, just so long as they don't take any public money.
In some countries this is basically enshrined in law: there's a big table of journals ranked from high to low, and you need a certain number of publications in the high-ranked journals to keep your job with a public institution. Many of the high-ranking journals are closed access, for-profit.
NIH Public Access Policy 2008 (Within 12 months the public must have access of all publicly funded research. (NIH = National Institute of Health)
The law is bellow:
"The Director of the National Institutes of Health shall require that all investigators funded by the NIH submit or have submitted for them to the National Library of Medicine's PubMed Central an electronic version of their final, peer-reviewed manuscripts upon acceptance for publication, to be made publicly available no later than 12 months after the official date of publication: Provided, that the NIH shall implement the public access policy in a manner consistent with copyright law."
The NIH Public Access Policy is an open access mandate, drafted in 2004 and mandated in 2008, requiring that research papers describing research funded by the National Institutes of Health must be available to the public free through PubMed Central within 12 months of publication. PubMed Central is the self-archiving repository in which authors or their publishers deposit their publications. Copyright is retained by the usual holders, but authors may submit papers with one of the Creative Commons licenses.
Three times Congress has tried to over turn this rule and academic protest keep the law in place. Sadly I still think most don't know about it.
Ironically, it's only the CS/Math-type journals where there's lots of people doing OA advocacy where this is more of a pain because I have to remember to do it myself.
And from the researcher end, if it's not in PMC, I can't claim credit for it on grants.
Pretty much any developed country. Research funding is guided by metrics and publishing is a very strong component. As anyone can create their own personal journal, only the leading and established ones count.
Is this true? Most Elsevier journals in mathematics (my field) do not have publication fees. In fact, I think of publication fees as one of the hallmarks of an open-access model.
Because if all my data needs to be made available, identifiable health data is part of that.
Which is why you can find all of my "preprints" online.
It is incredibly silly that it's legal for taxpayer-funded research papers to be hidden behind a paywall, which sends money to a corporation that did not fund the authors of the paper.
Usually the new Journals are not even available in digital for anywhere from 12 to 48 months. So we still had to buy the journals at full price (Looking at you Nature (It's over $100 a month) then pay thousands to get access to journals that would not have ever made a profit before.
Main reason I left the field is Librarian would defend these parasites and bad mouth Open Source projects. I would pay $150,000 for my content management system and portal for version releases and about $40,000 a year maintenance fee. It averaged about $0.50 a year per book to have them in a maintained database and public portal. These systems were absolutely garbage technically (I had to reboot my servers daily according to contract) and the interface was backwards. So glad I left what should have been a position to champion for fair use and equal access but found out that librarian for the most part were the police of copy right and closed source projects. Rant Over
By "some copy editing", what you surely mean is "a blind search and replace that introduces last-minute errors", which is the main effect of this copy-editing that I've seen.
I know at least for research funded by the Department of Energy, after 1 year any published articles become freely available regardless of the publisher's access policy (excepting classified material, of course).
In my view, to think that an individual is the sole author of his intellectual product is a bit egotistic, which is sort of normal given a prevailing culture of "you are what you make". In my opinion, my intellectual product is a product of everyone and everything that's influenced me. An important part of that influence was someone sharing.
Elsevier, Springer etc. are just syndicates sitting between researchers and consumers.
They have no place in today's world.
However, even if you were to pay the people behind the journal for their work it should be fairly inexpensive as long as they did as little as Elsevier does.
(Disclaimer -- I'm co-author on a paper published at JCGT and have been a collaborator with a few members of its editorial board. It's still a highlight of my career have published with Tom Duff of "Duff's Device" fame and had the paper get a nice twitter mention from John Carmack: https://twitter.com/ID_AA_Carmack/status/846525438797086720)
A journal is not an easy task to manage.
Suprisingly little coverage, but things aren't looking great for Elsevier.
The editors of Topology resigned over the high price (apparently it was $1558 in 2004: https://pages.uoregon.edu/dps/journals.php), and started Journal of Topology which at the time of announcement (https://www.lms.ac.uk/sites/lms.ac.uk/files/About_Us/news/20...) was said would be published by LMS (in partnership with OUP), and priced at $570. Looking at the page now, it is still published by LMS (in partnership with Wiley now), and I can't figure out the pricing. It is fully possible that the price has increased, but there has been no change from free to non-free. Back in 2006, "free" was not one of the conventional options for a journal. Now it is.
As for "a journal is not an easy task to manage", my favourite article is about the Journal of Machine Learning Research, the leading journal in the field of machine learning: https://blogs.harvard.edu/pamphlet/2012/03/06/an-efficient-j...
You are right, this move might just be a strategic measure to get more money from the publisher.
Is there a list of "zombie journals" somewhere? Would be interesting to see them all laid out.
>Unfortunately, unless black and white lists are updated continuously, they can never keep up with changes in the publication industry. [...] So, the quick answer to the question ‘where shouldn’t I publish?’ is that [...] researchers need to engage in critical enquiry and reflection about a potential publisher. This should not come as a shock – the same advice would have been true long before the end of Beall’s List.
While I guess it's not technically a journal as there's no editorial or review process for what gets published (and absolutely no prestige associated with publishing on it), everything is assigned a DOI number which you could use to uniquely identify it for citation purposes.
The story behind it, as off-handedly told to me by the then-project manager back in 2015 when I was working on it, is that it was created after the EC had mandated that some percentage of EC-funded research results be published in open-access and the instutions which received such funding complained that there existed no proper open-access alternatives for them to publish in.
We're part of a group trying to address some of the larger ecosystem problems in knowledge creation and ownership discussed in this thread called the Knowledge Futures Group (https://kfg.mit.edu/). We've just setup a discourse forum for folks interested in working with us (https://discourse.knowledgefutures.org).
The problem is not creating the software. The problem is getting academics, and the people funding them, to recognise alternative publishing outlets as valid, as long as the research they publish is valid.
(Disclosure: I'm working on something addressing that.)
It's still early days and we're still testing the concept, but I think there's potential. I've got a newsletter that I haven't sent a mail to for a while, but if you're interested I'll eventually send an update there when there's more to share: https://tinyletter.com/Flockademic
Forks are similar to citations in a way. It's not the same, there are many differences, but there are some similarities in my opinion. By the way, wouldn't it be great to be able to contribute to papers, and their assets (figures, code, equations) ? I don't know how a system like that might work in practice, it must be non trivial to govern, like any other sizable community - but I can see how it could work.
Does science really need to pay for recognition and prestige today ? It used to be the these journals allowed more people to have access to quality research, now it restricts them. Non free journals are dead a parellel universe Nietzsche might write.
I don’t believe that there is an equivalent in academia, one that would capture the h-index dynamic (copied by PageRank) that a star from a prestigious professor is worth a lot more. It’s trivial to build, but “growth hacking” for lack of a better word, is hard, especially in areas where actual growth hacking would be frowned upon.
That’s why, for instance, Facebook celebrates its billion of users so much: it’s genuinely hard to make that. Hosting them too, but not in the same way.
There's still ways to go, but I think we're on the right track. But you're right: it's really hard, and it took me a year to even get here.
It's also worth considering when someone starred a project. In my experience, people don't usually won't go and update their old stars, so it shouldn't be taken as endorsement. You don't know what state the project was in at the time it was starred. It's common for project to evolve over time, and it's not always for the positive.
The significance of starring a project is also poorly defined. Many people use GitHub stars as a form of bookmarking. You generally don't know the reason why someone starred a project. For example, just because someone has starred a library doesn't mean that they'd use it in production.
I am on Github and have been active in FOSS for years and yet I rarely star any projects at all, Github stars to me seem like vanity (just like likes on Facebook) indicative of perhaps hype but not of value.
Arxiv.org is very successful for pre-prints, at least in some fields like computer science. Maybe a modern "journal" offering review and editing could be built on top of that? It would utilize open reviews instead of the traditional anonymous private reviews. Once a certain bar has been reached with reviews, the paper can be nominated for appearing in a journal, which editors can decide on.
for manuscript submission systems, github has a dozen of projects. Elseviers manuscript system is not sophisticated in any way.
but that is not enough to make a new journal successful
Your idea has merit however, if a well known name such as google offered something like a "free journal platofm"
I am very much against the "huge and stringest" requirements that journals have about formatting. It is a huge time waster for researchers and their students that offers next to zero benefit. About time we switch to HTML formatting & simple microdata for references.
But doesn't that translate to other "industries"? Or, is it recognition that science has a fundamentally greater importance to humanity ... it's that true though, arts are pretty fundamental too, medicine certainly is, housing, food, water supply, sewerage, ... Why do we accept rent-seeking and profiteering and excessive wages and whatever in these other things?
Aside: Seems to me "science must seize [some of] the 'means of production'" is pretty communist.
When the research is funded by the state it seems reasonable.
Then there's the premise that "private property is theft", so perhaps all industries that use land ownership or natural resources owe their utility to the public too?
There appear to have been multiple complaints:
1. Ownership of the journal is non-negotiable.
2. Article Publishing Charges (APC) are non-negotiable. APC is the charge paid by an author to get an article published under the journal's current Open Access policy.
3. Unwillingness to participate in an initiative to freely publish article citation data (I4OC): https://i4oc.org
Many journals have instituted author-pays Open Access policies. In my view, this model is just as unsustainable as reader-pays (or more accurately, library-pays).
The crux of this entire problem is that nobody knows how much it really costs to run a journal in the digital age. Or at least they're not telling. I'm not talking about costs excluding unpaid volunteers. I mean the full cost.
I suspect the board of JOI will find out for sure. It will be interesting to see: (a) whether it charges APCs; and (b) if it does, how they compare to those Elsevier charges.
I know you're asking about the full cost including the time of the people working for free, which you're right, is an impossible number to get. But I fail to fully see your point. The new journal that's going to be run by MIT Press isn't going to start paying editors and reviewers any differently than Elsevier (meaning not paying them).
To answer one of your questions, the article mentions they are indeed going to try to charge less for APCs ($600-800 instead of $1,800), and they're going to be fully OA, but those are the only major changes.
But to part of your question about the cost of publishing, PLOS publishes their financials , as does eLife . eLife published 1,307 papers in 2017 and had total expenses of 5.3m GBP (~6.9m USD) for an average per-article expense of $5,244. PLOS published ~27,000 articles in 2016  and had total expenses of $42.8m USD for an average per-article expense of ~$1,500. These of course aren't apples to apples comparisons, since what they're trying to do with this journal isn't the same as what PLOS does or what eLife does. But I think those are some good ballparks to understand what the range kind of looks like.
I'm working on something that would VERY much benefit from open access journals:
With Polar you maintain all your research in one place and can annotate and share with other users.
One thing I want to add is the ability to sync up with open access sources to fetch PDFs, get metadata for them, find related PDFs and research, etc.
Going to go heads down into this today.
It catalogues Open Access links given a DOI, provides an API, and also provides links to direct PDFs (or web pages containing the complete article, if available).
Two journals that use our software:
https://www.surveypractice.org (OA journal published by American Association for Public Opinion Research)
https://discreteanalysisjournal.com (arxiv overlay journal started by Fields Medal winner Tim Gowers)
Also tell them that when they apply for funding only scientific research which is available in open journals will be considered.
You'd then get people not only submitting new research in open journals, but making all their backlog available as well to increase their odds of getting funding.
That would chip away even more at the moat of companies like Elsevier since presumably much of their funding is from universities who'll need access to historical research for a long time.
In my field, the average OA field is probably around $3000.
Assuming a five year project that produces 5 papers a year (not unreasonable), you get $75,000.
That's almost exactly what it costs, with salary, tuition, and fringe, to support two graduate students. So funders would have to accept getting less productivity from the same projects.
It also favors large labs with senior PIs that have the funding to absorb those costs.
The only effective way I see to get around this is for granting agencies to start putting massive caps on what they are willing to pay for journal articles. If they mandate $200 max per article, no one is going to be able to afford a $5000 article anymore. Journals would be forced to adapt.
Also, putting something on Github or Arxiv isn't publishing. Peer review or it didn't happen.