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Re: Post Brussels : Elsevier and Australian STM debate 'sprouts'

I just want to comment on one aspect of this posting and ignore Colin's ill-informed financial suppositions about the incomes of the big players. I am sure that he can get a grant to trawl through the returns from the public companies concerned.

He and is friends ("a number of us in Australia") are almost certainly misinformed. If I was a journal editor would I tell Colin how much I earned? I would not.

I have never worked for Elsevier but I would be amazed if that company do not pay their editors and the editorial infrastructure well and at a rate rising considerably above inflation. My own experience of a publisher is along these lines. I have worked for Academic, OUP, and Chapman & Hall and I now work part-time for Blackwell - though I am not posting for them or from them. I know that all the editors whom I currently deal with get paid. My memory is that this is true of all the hundreds of journals I have published in the past.

I am certain that Elsevier is not different from these publishers and I would very surprised if Australia was different in this particular way.

I know that there are some self-published society journals where the editor is not paid by the society. I came across one example the other day. However this editor was supported by an impressive paid infrastructure and he agreed that his successor would have to be paid.

My own experience of publishing, which is rather greater than that of Colin (now I know a publisher), is that, whereas in the past editors could use the resources of their departments, this is usually no longer the case in most parts of the world and this adds considerably to editorial costs. There are other inflationary factors at work too. Because of the increased pressures of academic life to do research and publish the results, publishers are now frequently expected to "buy-out" consultancy time - at least in those disciplines where consultancy is a fact of life and a reward that supplements poor academic salaries.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Colin Steele" <Colin.Steele@anu.edu.au>
To: <liblicense-l@lists.yale.edu>
Sent: Sunday, February 25, 2007 11:43 PM
Subject: Post Brussels : Elsevier and Australian STM debate 'sprouts'

'EPS Insights' posted a cogent piece on 22 February 'Reed Elsevier: Looking Past Harcourt' by Kate Worlock. She notes inter alia, that:

"Reed Elsevier's total revenues rose 6% at constant currencies to UKP 5,398 million, with adjusted profit up 9% to UKP 1,210 million, giving an adjusted operating margin of 22.4%... Elsevier, LexisNexis and Reed Business all utilise subscription models strongly and therefore have much more predictable financial cycles than Harcourt, where the business is strongly affected by adoption cycles and curriculum changes. Elsevier, for example, performed particularly strongly in subscription terms, reporting journal renewal rates of 97%. E-only contracts now account for more than 45% of Elsevier's journal subscription revenues... Reed Elsevier post-Harcourt will have a far stronger focus on subscription-based products around which the group intends to place longer-term contracts where possible."

As financial analysts have often mentioned, eg at Fiesole Oxford 2003, the serials business is an increasingly lucrative one for the big players. In how many other business moreover does the customer pay for the product a year or more in advance of its receipt, as libraries do in serial subscriptions?

In the light of the comments after the Brussels Declaration on STM Publishing, readers of the list might be interested in the lengthy seven page submission which Elsevier made in late December to the Australian Productivity Commission's draft report 'Public Support for Science and Innovation'. (http://www.pc.gov.au/study/science/subs/subdr157.pdf)

Some of the comments there will stimulate further debate but herewith some reflections in relation to some earlier postings on this list.

On the first page, Elsevier say that they have 1,400 Australian editors and editorial board members. A number of us in Australia have yet to find any form of substantial remuneration to these editors and board members, either in terms of salary or office space, highlighting the point that much unpaid academic work goes into the productions of journals in addition to the institutional and taxpayer funded components of the original research, see http://dspace.anu.edu.au/handle/1885/44485.

This is particularly relevant also in the context of peer review, which seems to be increasingly used by publishers as a dramatic 'sine qua non' bargaining chip. Elsevier comments that a research council mandate "could result in a significant loss of the investment in peer review and could lead to break downs in this intricate and vital system" and "the possible reduction in the number of peer reviewed journals".

Australian authors whom they claim would be disadvantaged have a greater ability to reach a global market in most disciplines through the variety of Open Access options currently available.

The statement that "STM publishing is a finely balanced, highly balanced system that works well" is one that is currently being vigorously debated but the current system, from 'The Big Deal' onwards, clearly benefits the major publishers to the detriment of learned societies, smaller publishers, particularly those in the Social Sciences and Humanities. The recent debate in Norway on the Blackwell Big Deal 'collapse' reflects these tensions.

No-one disputes that publishers "need to recoup the significant investments that they make", for example in platforms, products like Scopus, etc. The question is what is the nature of the profits on top of those investment returns in terms of the potential of the digital Open Access repository environment in social and economic benefits.

Elsevier's comment to the Productivity Commission that a "network of repositories could lead to a reduction in quality assurance levels" misunderstands the checks and balances that many repositories maintain between categories of material, such as California eScholarship. The Elsevier page 3 criticisms of repositories is selective, particularly in the context of access. Articles deposited in the ANU E-Prints, like those of QUT, have resulted in significant Open Access penetration of the global academic community in the Social Sciences and Humanities, which would not have been achieved by conventional publishers in those disciplines. Clearly programmes of scholarly communication, from the top downwards, need to be instituted with academic researchers on campuses to cover such issues as the benefits of repositories, copyright and licensing, research quality and impact factors, etc.

The Australian Department of Education, Science and Training (DEST) Report to the Productivity Commission, in contrast to Elsevier, reaffirms "the Accessibility Framework, currently being developed by DEST" makes "it possible for research conducted in Australian higher education providers to be discoverable, accessible and shareable. DEST considers that the system-wide use of repositories beginning with the RQF will lead to significant benefits for Australia". The Australian Government is providing $25.5 (AUS) million through the Australian Scheme for Higher Education Repositories (ASHER) over three years to assist with the establishment of digital repositories in Australian universities.

To conclude, Professor Brian Fitzgerald, Professor of Law at Queensland University of Technology, in his article, 'Building Blocks for the Australian Accessibility Framework', (Campus Review, 30 January) notes "the steps by the Australian Research Council and the National Health and Medical Research Council to provide further foundation to the Australian Accessibility Framework display important institutional leadership for the extremely worthy endeavour of promoting broader scale access to knowledge for social and economic reasons... built on strategic copyright management practices and effective engagement with the established publishing industry". The debate clearly continues in Australia, with the Productivity Commission handing down its final report in early March.

Colin Steele
Emeritus Fellow
The Australian National University
Canberra ACT 0200
Email: colin.steele@anu.edu.au

University Librarian, Australian National University (1980-2002)
and Director Scholarly Information Strategies (2002-2003)