November 6, 2015

Entire staff of Elsevier journal quits in protest of over-pricing



Image via Johan Rooryck’s Facebook

Last week, the editorial staff of the linguistics journal Lingua announced their decision to resign en masse in an act of protest against their publisher Elsevier. Following Elsevier’s refusal to make Lingua available for free use online, Johan Rooryck, the journal’s executive editor, made the announcement on his personal Facebook page:

…today all 6 editors of Lingua have resigned their positions in reaction to Elsevier’s refusal to accept our conditions of Fair Open Access. Independently, all 31 members of the editorial board have resigned as well.

The editors will still continue their work for a few more months to fulfill their contractual duties and handle the submissions currently in their care.

And while Elsevier’s behavior is well known in wow-academic-publishing-is-pretty-bad circles like this one (we’ve covered some of Elsevier’s indiscretions here, and here, and here), this fear of Fair Open Access is not unique.

Elsevier, like many other academic publishers, instead sells journals like Lingua through monumentally expensive subscriptions and “bundles” that, while offering a kind of bulk rate, inevitably include a number of journals the institution would never have purchased otherwise. Such terms are prohibitively expensive and limited—and also, according to Scott Jaschik, reporting for Inside Higher Ed, confusing. “In some cases, [libraries] couldn’t even figure out what it would cost to subscribe,” he notes.

In other words, none of these options are good or conducive to access, and these realities deter potential buyers. Upon his own investigation, Jaschik reveals that “Prices quoted on the Elsevier website suggest that an academic library in the United States with a total student and faculty full-time equivalent number of around 10,000 would pay $2,211 for shared online access, and $1,966 for a print copy.”

And so Lingua, tired of being unattainable to the very institutions that produce and benefit from academic journals like theirs, called it a day—and, as far as executive editor Rooryck can tell, Elsevier is just fine with that: the publisher officially accepted the editors’ resignation on October 30th. Shortly thereafter, Elsevier did issue a statement of their own, noting that they “regret the board’s decision to resign, but more so the misunderstandings that have accompanied it.”

But the linguist community is optimistic, excited even. And it should be. The outgoing Lingua editors, after fulfilling their noncompete contracts at the end of the year, will together launch Glossaa Journal of General Linguistics in February.

And while there will be no print edition, unlike Lingua, it will be available for free use online.


Chad Felix is the Director of Library and Academic Marketing at Melville House, and a former bookseller.