Leading Open Access Supporters Ask EU To Investigate Elsevier's Alleged 'Anti-Competitive Practices'

from the are-you-listening,-Commissioner-Vestager? dept

Back in the summer, we wrote about the paleontologist Jon Tennant, who had submitted a formal complaint to the European Commission regarding the relationship between the publishing giant Elsevier and the EU’s Open Science Monitor. Now Tennant has joined with another leading supporter of open access, Björn Brembs, in an even more direct attack on the company and its practices, reported here by the site Research Europe:

Two academics have demanded the European Commission investigate the academic publisher Elsevier for what they say is a breach of EU competition rules that is harming research.

Palaeontologist Jon Tennant and neuroscientist Björn Brembs, who are both advocates for making research results openly available, say the academic publishing market “is clearly not functioning well” in an official complaint about Elsevier’s parent company RELX Group.

The pair claim RELX and Elsevier are in breach of EU rules both due to general problems with the academic publishing market and “abuse of a dominant position within this market”.

The 22-page complaint spells out what the problem is. It makes the following important point about the unusual economics of the academic publishing market:

For research to progress, access to all available relevant sources is required, which means that there is no ability to transfer or substitute products, and there is little to no inter-brand competition from the viewpoint of consumers. If a research team requires access to knowledge contained within a journal, they must have access to that specific journal, and cannot substitute it for a similar one published by a competitor. Indeed, the entire corpus of research knowledge is built on this vital and fundamental process of building on previously published works, which drives up demand for all relevant published content. As such, publishers do not realistically compete with each other, as all their products are fundamentally unique (i.e., each publisher has a 100% market share for each journal or article), and unequivocally in high demand due to the way scholarly research works. The result of this is that consumers (i.e., research institutions and libraries) have little power to make cost-benefit evaluations to decide whether or not to purchase, and have no choice but to pay whatever price the publishers asks with little transparency over costs, which we believe is a primary factor that has contributed to more than a 300% rise in journal prices above inflation since 1986. Thus, we believe that a functional and competitive market is not currently able to form due to the practices of dominant players, like Elsevier, in this sector.

Most of the complaint is a detailed analysis of why academic publishing has become so dysfunctional, and is well-worth reading by anyone interested in understanding the background to open access and its struggles.

As to what the complaint might realistically achieve, Tennant told Techdirt that there are three main possibilities. The European Commission can simply ignore it. It can respond and say that it doesn’t think there is a case to answer, in which case Tennant says he will push the Commission to explain why. Finally, in the most optimistic outcome, the EU could initiate a formal investigation of Elsevier and the wider academic publishing market. Although that might seem too much to hope for, it’s worth noting that the EU Competition Authority is ultimately under the Competition Commissioner, Margrethe Vestager. She has been very energetic in her pursuit of Internet giants like Google. It could certainly be a hugely significant moment for open access if she started to take an interest in Elsevier in the same way.

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Comments on “Leading Open Access Supporters Ask EU To Investigate Elsevier's Alleged 'Anti-Competitive Practices'”

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I.P. Freely says:

Circularly claiming FREE can't compete with paid.

In the last block quote, after outlining that the academic market is intrinsically monopoly of content, concludes:

Thus, we believe that a functional and competitive market is not currently able to form due to the practices of dominant players, like Elsevier, in this sector.

That’s just verbosely saying that unless Elsevier pays for the librarying and makes it available for free to "open source" parasites, then they have no content.

It’s YET AGAIN the Techdirt / pirate / "file hosts" wish for FREE CONTENT while those who PAY the costs suffer thefts and don’t get paid.

Yes, I know Elsevier is paid, but again, that’s for actual LIBRARYING, keeping vast troves neatly arranged in one access point, solidly backed up so always available. The "open source" crowd simply want to put the same files on their site and derive profit, which is easy without any major costs other than bandwidth.

It’s just more magical thinking of denying that content / librarying has any "sunk (or fixed) costs" at all. That phrase is the key trick in Masnick’s "can’t compete" piece where he simply decides to ignore any and all actual costs of a $100 million movie and blithely says can sell at just over cost of bandwidth.

It’s not reality, it’s not workable, it’s Masnickism.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Circularly claiming FREE can't compete with paid.

You know, out of all the dumbass pseudonyms you’ve used like one-time passwords, the one that suggests your own incontinence is possibly the best of them all. Not that the bar was set particularly high.

So apparently Elsevier’s monopoly isn’t worth investigation, but Google’s is? Which, thanks to Article 13 which you cheered for so wildly, is now more entrenched than ever, so nice going.

Also I.P. Freely is a joke name featured in one episode of the Simpsons, which means based on the rules of Fox, you’ve just committed copyright infringement.

You fucking freetard, blue.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Circularly claiming FREE can't compete with paid.

I know Elsevier is paid, but again, that’s for actual LIBRARYING

I can’t speak for other fields, but in the medical related fields (medicine, medicinal chemistry, molecular/cell/tissue biology, biochemistry, bio-engineering, etc.) nobody uses Elsevier’s "librarying." Frankly, they aren’t actually very good at it compared to several other options (even Google often works better). Which is ironic considering that the hard parts of traditional "librarying" (identifying subject and key words to file under) are directly provided by the authors. On Elsevier’s end it’s just plug and play, and somehow they still don’t get it quite right.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Circularly claiming FREE can't compete with paid.

while those who PAY the costs suffer thefts and don’t get paid.

You obviously do not understand scientific publishing, as the people doing all the work are academics, and they are paying excessive amounts to gain access to their colleagues work. Elsevier provides the magazine titles, and first point of contact for the academic (usually unpaid) editors of their journals.

Those being stolen from are the academics who are doing all the work, and finding it increasingly costly to access their colleagues and historic works.

Anonymous Coward says:

So in 30 years, we’ve seen the rise of the internet, that’s ushered in the information age. The cost for distributing and accessing information is cheaper than ever.

Also in these 30 years, we’ve seen the price for accessing scientific journals rise by 300%, rather than drop by 90% as one would have expected in the information age.

Seems legit.

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