French Government Takes 172 Million Euros From Citizens To Pay Publisher For Access To Research Public Already Paid For Once

from the and-slashes-public-education-funding-on-top-of-it dept

It’s all about priorities. Those providing the valuable research will have to learn to do without because the publishers must be paid.

France may not have any money left for its universities but it does have money for academic publishers. While university presidents learn that their funding is to be reduced by EUR 400 million, the Ministry of Research has decided, under great secrecy, to pay EUR 172 million to the world leader in scientific publishing Elsevier.

If the name Elsevier rings a bell, it’s because the academic publishing giant has dragged its own dubious reputation through the mud with alarming frequency over the past several years. It has charged for access to open-access documents, despite being repeatedly informed of this “oversight” in its purchasing system. At one point it had a division dedicated to cranking out fake medical journals for use by pharmaceutical companies to buttress iffy claims about medicinal effectiveness. It was also engaged in ghostwriting copy for these same companies in order to downplay disagreeable research findings. It has also routinely targeted researchers who have posted copies of their own work on personal sites or to freely-accessible university online libraries.

As the Open Knowledge Foundation points out, France is paying multiple times for the same documents — documents created for “free” by university researchers who don’t see a cent of Elsevier’s profits.

The scientific publishing market is an unusual sector, those who create value are never remunerated. Instead, they often pay to see their work published. Authors do not receive any direct financial gain from their articles, and the peer review is conducted voluntarily. This enormous amount of work is indirectly funded by public money. Writing articles and participating in peer review are part of the expected activities of researchers, expected activities that lead to further research funding from the taxpayer.

So, in response to demands from Elsevier, France is cutting the financing that generates the research locked up by academic publishers and increasing its contributions to a company that enjoys a 30-40% profit margin on documents it is often paid (by researchers) to resell.

This published research was mainly financed by public funds. Therefore in the end, we will have paid to Elsevier twice: once to publish, a second time to read.

When the Open Access Foundation says “we,” it means French citizens. And despite being double-dipped by their government, a large majority of French citizens will still have no access to the research locked up by Elsevier. Publicly-funded research resides behind the publisher’s paywall, limited to certain people within the 476 institutions included in the agreement. While Elsevier did offer the French government a “discount” of nearly 16 million EUR, this price cut is due to the withdrawal of over 150 institutions from Elsevier’s licensing scheme.

That’s a lot of money being spent to benefit only a small percentage of French citizens. And, as the article points out, it’s only one of several similar agreements with other academic publishers. These closed markets provide for constantly increasing prices, even as digital storage and distribution continue to decrease costs. And let’s not forget the fact that those creating these works are also paying to have them included in academic publishers’ libraries, often giving up control of their copyright for an extended period of time.

Sooner or later, the system will collapse under its own weight. Slashing funding to universities negatively affects the creation of the very documents Elsevier needs to sustain its position in the marketplace. You can’t continue to rob one to pay for the other, at least not forever. Publisher reaction to declining participation has generally been to increase rates — another unsustainable pattern. But until it all falls apart, publishers will continue to do all they can to separate the public from research it already paid for once… and erect a paywall to ensure they still can’t access it even after paying for it again.

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Comments on “French Government Takes 172 Million Euros From Citizens To Pay Publisher For Access To Research Public Already Paid For Once”

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14 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The real problem, IMHO, is the fact that there are a multitude of differing disciplines involved. A permanent staff doing the reviews would be cost prohibitive.

What needs to happen is the various governments of the world to take a very hard look at the entire publishing industry with a view to shutting down this sort of junk. These guys are getting away with far too many shenanigans for my liking. The same applies to the “entertainment” industry.

Whoever says:

Re: How can their profits be so low?

Don’t forget that the salaries and benefits of their executives are included in their of their costs.

No doubt their executives need to travel and hold a lot of international meetings, all adding to their costs. Perhaps they have a policy that requires their senior executives to fly always by private jet “for security”.

Anonymous Coward says:

Not all publishers are like Elsevier

If true, what Elsevier has done is shameful.
I work for a mid-sized publisher. It takes a lot of staff to: ensure scientific quality, proofread, create attractive and accessible online articles for all devices, create semantic data structures, use that data for linking (internal and internet) and searching and classification and enhancement, and distribute to many archiving and indexing organisations. Sure, an academic could do him/herself or get done cheaply some of these things, but certainly not all, and not quickly. “Published online” can mean many things.
That said, I would welcome any government scrutiny of the publishing industry to get rid of bad practice.

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