Reed Elsevier gives in on free research

By Saeed Shah

03 June 2004
The Independent

Reed Elsevier [the parent of LexisNexis] has allowed academics who submit articles for publication in its science journals to make the research available for free on their personal or institutional websites.

The move was seen as a major concession to the "open access" lobby - a movement among academics and university librarians that argues that published research should be made available to all scientists free. Academic libraries have complained that subscriptions to leading science journals, such as those published by Reed Elsevier, are cripplingly expensive. The company has responded that it acts as a guarantee of quality.

Arie Jongejan, the chief executive of the science & technology division of Elsevier, insisted the company's policy on publication was already much more "liberal" than opponents suggested. He said the latest concession was "what our critics and authors want".

The change means that scientists would now be able to make available for free the version of their research paper that has been through Reed's peer review and editing process. The papers can appear on a website before publication in the Reed journals but they can only ever be put on the academic's personal website or the website of their employer.

But Reed's rivals said the company had not gone far enough. Natasha Robshaw, at BioMed Central, said academics would not be allowed to point other researchers to their papers from central scientific databases. "This is a step in the right direction but only true open access is the solution," Ms Robshaw said.

Reed hit out at its open access rivals and insisted the debate was now moving in its favour. Open access requires the academics or their employer to pay for publication, which is then made available for free to all researchers. Reed contends that receiving payment for publication compromises the integrity of the editorial process and shuts out researchers who cannot afford the publication fees. Publication is free in Reed's journals - revenues are earned, instead, from library subscriptions and charges for downloading the articles.

Last year, Reed Elsevier's science and medical publishing division made revenues of 1.4bn, with profits of 467m on an operating margin of 34 per cent.

A parliamentary committee is investigating whether Reed and other science publishers are over-charging academics. The report is expected next month.

Reed's Mr Jongejan said the open access business model was not viable. He saidReed could, if it chose, move to open access but it would need to charge $3,000 for each paper it published. Mr Jongejan said the two major open access providers, BioMed Central and the Public Library of Science in the US, were able to keep charges below this level by only "subsidies". He said that was distorting the debate.

Reed allows academics free web access

200,000 articles may be available on the net but competitors accuse publisher of making token effort

Richard Wray
June 3, 2004
The Guardian

Reed Elsevier [the parent of LexisNexis] is allowing academics to put papers that have been accepted for publication in its print and online journals on to the internet, breaking with years of tradition and reigniting the debate over open access to academic thinking.

Until now the world's largest academic publisher has been a staunch opponent of open access, saying it poses a threat to the quality of academic research.

But it is now letting academics put a text version of their accepted articles on to their own websites, or sites operated by their institutions.

The move could make the 200,000 articles Reed Elsevier publishes every year freely available on the internet.

Karen Hunter, Elsevier senior vice-president, strategy, explained: "There was a desire in the market from many authors and many institutions to have an official record of their institution's intellectual output. We have listened and we have responded."

But rival publishers who have fully embraced the open access model and charge academics to publish their papers and then make them freely available to all over the internet, described the move as a cynical piece of public relations as Reed tries to defend its lucrative business.

Reed Elsevier has come under fire recently for the high subscriptions it charges universities and libraries for its 1,800 journals.

In March, chief executive Crispin Davies was forced to defend the firm's subscriptions in the face of critical questioning from the Commons science and technology committee.

Deborah Cockerill, assistant publisher at rival open access publisher BioMed Central, said Reed's move "merely scratches the surface of the fundamental problem with the traditional publishing model which is based on controlling access".

"They are offering a series of limited forms of access - so partial compared with open access so that it won't threaten the subscription model."

BioMed Central, in contrast, produces 110 journals in the fields of biology and medicine. It charges academics to publish their articles but access to the journal itself is free to everyone.

Reed, which has spent millions of pounds developing an online database of its journals known as Science Direct, is allowing authors to post only a text version of their published articles on the internet.

In addition each posting must include a link to the journal's home page - which operates almost as free advertising. Crucially, academics will not be allowed to put links to their papers in central academic databases, making it very difficult for anyone else to find the paper.

Ms Cockerill said these restrictions would counteract any potential benefit to the wider research community from Reed's decision.

"This kind of archiving is in many ways useless to the majority of scientists, mainly because no one will know the copies exist at all or where to find them," she said. In fact, Ms Hunter said, Reed does not expect the move to hit revenues.

"Science Direct is the official archive and the official source for the final article. That's the place that researchers should go."

Reed's change of heart was warmly welcomed by Stevan Harnad, professor of cognitive science at the University of Southampton and a leading proponent of open access.

"There will be the predictable cavils from the pedants and those who have never understood the real meaning and nature of open access: 'It's only the final refereed draft, not the publisher's PDF; It does not include republishing rights; Elsevier is still not an open access publisher.'

"I, for one, am prepared to stoutly defend Elsevier on all these counts, and to say that one could not have asked for more, and that the full benefits of open access require not one bit more - from the publisher."