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Re: Elsevier and cancellations

I have been a publisher in senior positions with three different large
companies including one non-profit but have never worked for Elsevier and
have certainly never approved some of their policies. I too have wondered
why some consortia have been so keen to do deals for so many journals of
specialist interest. However I cannot let these assumptions (paraded as
statements of fact) go without comment.

As far as I know ALL decisions about the content of journals are made by
the academics who edit them. I have written hundreds of contracts with the
editors of journals. These contracts (which I believe to be similar to
those used by Elsevier) always assume that total control of what is
accepted for the journal is in the hands of the editor except that most
publishers now put in a rarely invoked clause giving them the right to
refuse to publish an article accepted by the editor which they feel may
contravene someones legal rights.

OK - journals do accept conference proceedings. I am also not unaware of
the practice of bulking out a journal that is not doing too well with such
proceedings. However in all the cases I know, these conference proceedings
are subject to editorial agreement and sometimes refereeing by the
editorial structure. Quite often they are proffered by other academics who
are actually organising the conference concerned rather than being sought
out. There is great pressure in many disciplines (though not all) for
conference papers to get into a refereed publication rather than just
appear as a proceedings volume.

Whatever the Elsevier policy is in the matter of conference proceedings
(and I would be amazed if it is the same for all of their journals) the
idea that they as a publisher can force such proceedings about the
academics editing their journals shows just how out of touch some library
pundits are.

One additional point. As a publisher I tried very hard to get feedback
from institutions who cancelled. Publishers sometimes do not want the
journal to constantly increase in size because the policies of the editors
are too lax and too many articles are being accepted. It is however
difficult to prove that a journal is being cancelled BECAUSE the quality
of the content is deteriorating. Very few librarians would reply to
written or even telephoned requests and, if they did, they very rarely
indeed would cite quality or (amazingly) even price as a reason for
cancellations. The answer, when there was one, was almost always that
research interests of faculty had changed. Please all librarians accept
the recommendation in Bob Michaelson's last sentence. Such comments are
taken seriously - at least by some companies.

-----Original Message-----
From: David Goodman <dgoodman@Princeton.EDU>
To: liblicense <liblicense-l@lists.yale.edu>
Date: 18 August 1999 13:50
Subject: Elsevier and cancellations

>I am forwarding the following with the permission of the author, as I
>think it is of general interest:
>Date: Tue, 17 Aug 1999 09:12:35 -0500
>From: Robert Michaelson <rmichael@nwu.edu>
>To: slapam-l@lists.yale.edu
>Subject: Re: Elsevier & Cancellations
>A library's motive is to provide access to important scholarship.
>Elsevier's motive is to make large profits. ScienceDirect is a device to
>enable Elsevier to make such profits forever, since the libraries and
>consortia foolish enough to buy into it have forever committed themselves
>to supporting whatever Elsevier decides to publish, however overpriced, or
>mediocre (or worse) in quality.  Certainly OhioLINK didn't make a
>cost-benefit analysis of ScienceDirect before going with it and I very
>much doubt that they have done so since then -- I believe the same thing
>is true of every other ScienceDirect customer.
>For a great many years Elsevier (and, to be fair, many other for-profit
>publishers) have extorted ever larger sums from academic libraries by the
>simple device of adding-on extra volumes every year.  These add-ons often
>include conference proceedings (unreferred or refereed to a very low
>standard -- things that they couldn't sell to libraries as separate
>pieces, but stick us with as part of our subscriptions); Festshrifts
>(often composed of mediocre papers that embarass rather than honor the
>subject of the Festschrift); and even basically worthless annual
>bibliographies, which never get used.  It is not unknown for such
>superfluous materials to make up on the order of half of the pages in a
>year for a given journal! And yet by buying into everything, as
>ScienceDirect (or for that matter IDEAL) customers do, those customers
>give up any possiblity of influencing Elsevier (or Academic...) to stop
>churning out this garbage at the libraries' expense.
>Naturally the Elseviers and Academics would have you believe that it is
>crucial to provide electronic access to all of their journals -- and
>indeed it is crucial, for them!  It is not, however, crucial for you or
>for your institution.  You have the obligation to make a considered
>judgement on which electronic titles you provide access to, just as you
>have that obligation in considering which print titles to subscribe to or
>cancel. If these publishers don't offer title-by-title choices at
>reasonable surcharges for electronic access, then their titles will be
>used and cited less frequently and will decline, perhaps (with luck) even
>So in response to Momota Ganguli I would say YES, it is ALWAYS a good idea
>to consider cancelling Elsevier titles! We at Northwestern have cancelled
>many of them, and none of those have been missed.  Naturally you will want
>to plan your cancellations in a responsible manner: try to find out how
>much a given title is used (browsed, checked out of the library, etc.),
>how many of your own faculty publish in it or cite it, and perhaps what
>the cost is per page (or per impact factor per page) compared with other
>titles in the same general field. Talk with your faculty about it before
>making your final selection of titles to be cancelled (and there are
>probably publications from other publishers that you could cancel as well,
>so don't ignore them just because they aren't from Elsevier). Finally, if
>you have time it might not hurt to write to the publishers of the titles
>you decide to cancel, explaining why you have decided that they aren't
>worth your continuing support (remember, _we_ are the customers, _we_ are
>the ones to decide what is a reasonable value for our money).
>Bob Michaelson
>Northwestern University Library