No Publication Without Taxation?

I recently obtained a copy of a presentation by Elsevier representatives describing how they price their publications for different academic (i.e. university) customers. They describe how they place each institution into one of a small number of pricing tiers. How do they decide this categorization? A major component of the decision is the research intensity of the institution to which they were selling access to their publications. What was the measure of research intensity? Publication volume as measured by the SCOPUS database (an Elsevier product).

To better understand this policy, I contacted Elsevier and spoke by phone with a very cordial and clear executive. I asked why it seemed that the more we published, the more we were going to be charged by Elsevier to read these publications?

He explained that research intensity served as a proxy for the value that institutions might place on these publications. After all, if we value these publications, then we are more likely to download/use them. And pricing should reflect value.

I then asked why they were not simply measuring the download rate for each journal to directly charge for usage rather than using a proxy measure. The executive explained that their advisory board had recommended not to use the download rate as that might reduce usage thereby impeding scholarship.

So solicitous of the publisher. I knew it would be futile to bring up the effect on scholarship of inflation rates of publication prices that would make the rate of medical care inflation appear flat by comparison. A continual record of inflation that reduces every year the fraction of their own scholarly output made available to scholars throughout the world's academic institutions.

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