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Elsevier responds to Faculty Senate vote on costly journal subscriptions

We read with great interest the article on the Faculty Senate resolution concerning academic journal subscription prices in the Feb. 25 issue of Stanford Report. At that time, unfortunately, we were not able to provide a comment for the article because we had not had an opportunity to review the resolution. Having done so now, however, we would like to provide our point of view on some of the issues raised in the article.

As a leading publisher of scientific, technical and medical (STM) journals, Elsevier recognizes the budget constraints that academic libraries operate under. And we are committed to working with our customers to meet the needs of their research communities in a cost-effective way.

For the last five years, Elsevier has led the way in slowing down the increase of subscription costs and, in some cases, has instituted price caps in order to maintain price stability. While we are proud of this progress, it should be recognized that:

  • Publishing costs are rising. The number of scholarly journals and articles has increased roughly 3 percent per annum for many years, reflecting steady growth in research spending. At the same time, the volume and frequency of use of our journals is increasing. Between 2001 and 2003, for example, the number of U.S. users of Elsevier's electronic platform, Science Direct, increased 56 percent, while the frequency of use increased 125 percent. It is imperative that our publishing programs and our systems develop accordingly to ensure continuous, stable access to the growing body of scientific information. While these costs are real and not insignificant, we are happy to be able to provide this important service to the STM community.
  • Like other STM publishers, Elsevier has made substantial investments in electronic platforms and digitization initiatives to improve accessibility and functionality. As a result, between 2001 and 2003, the average cost to retrieve an article on Science Direct has fallen 53 percent.
  • Library budgets are declining. As a portion of university expenditures, library budgets have fallen from 3.7 percent in 1982 to 2.9 percent in 2000. The serials component of most libraries represents about 25 percent of their spending. Journals therefore comprise just three-quarters of 1 percent of university spending.
  • The so-called "big deal" subscription is just one of a number of service options that Elsevier offers. Our library customers can opt to purchase any combination of journals at the point of contract negotiation. As in any business, we do provide price incentives based on volume, with discounts as steep as 97.5 percent in certain instances. But it is completely up to the library to decide to which journals it subscribes. We also provide usage statistics for individual journals to help institutions make informed judgments in these matters and thus better manage their budgets.

That being said, we acknowledge that Stanford has a strong interest and commitment in the broadest possible dissemination of scientific work. We share that commitment. We also acknowledge that the constraints placed on the Stanford library budgets are perceived, potentially, to adversely affect the range of that dissemination. We are very keen to work with Stanford, its staff and faculty, and our authors and editors, to maximize all our collective resources so that we are able to serve the STM community to the best of our collective ability.

Eric Merkel-Sobotta
Director, Corporate Relations