EC inquiry puts pressure
Friday June 18, 2004
The European commission is to investigate the scientific publishing industry, increasing pressure on Reed Elsevier, the world's largest publisher of scientific journals [and the parent of Lexis-Nexis].
Europe generates more than 40% of scientific periodicals but the commission estimates that the price of these magazines and papers has increased 10% each year over the last 10 years - well above inflation.
It will look at the trend towards open access publishing where academics pay to publish articles which are freely available on the internet. Reed, which relies on selling its journals, has warned that this model could jeopardise the quality of scientific research.
The commission is hoping to identify measures it could take to improve access to research while guaranteeing quality.
"The way in which the scientific publishing market is organised has implications," said Philippe Busquin, the European commissioner responsible for research. "Scientific publications not only serve to disseminate research results, they also constitute a tool for evaluating the quality of research teams."
The commission will report in 2005. A committee of MPs is to publish a report into academic journals next month.
The commission's move was welcomed by Jan Velterop, director of BioMed Central which produces 110 open access journals in the fields of biology and medicine.
"Calls are increasing from the scientific community for greatly improved access to scientific literature, which the internet now makes possible. Depriving science and society of the full potential of research literature is holding back the speed and effectiveness of scientific and medical research."
Reed's position in the legal publishing industry is also under attack. Emplaw.co.uk, Britain's largest employment law website, said yesterday that it was getting 25,000 visitors a month since its relaunch in April after Scottish entrepreneur Russell Shepherd bought a controlling stake.
Yesterday Mr Shepherd said the internet had the power to severely disrupt the business models of traditional publishers such as Reed. "The reason they [Reed] are not producing viable products is because it is against their basic commercial interests to do so."