Elsevier as an open access publisher

Just published:

Morrison, H. (2017). From the field: Elsevier as an open access publisher. The Charleston Advisor 18:3, pp. 53-59 doi https://doi.org/10.5260/chara.18.3.53


Highlights of this broad-brush case study of Elsevier’s Open Access (OA) journals as of 2016: Elsevier offers 511 fully OA journals and 2,149 hybrids. Most fully OA journals do not charge article processing charges (APCs). APCs of fully OA journals average $660 US ($1,731 excluding no-fee journals); hybrid OA averages $2,500. A practice termed author nominal copyright is observed, where copyright is in the name of the author although the author contract is essentially a copyright transfer. The prospects for a full Elsevier flip to OA via APC payments for articles going forward are considered and found to be problematic.

Elsevier: now the world’s largest open access publisher

Elsevier: the world’s largest open access publisher as of May 2016

** draft ** by Heather Morrison


Elsevier is now the world’s largest open access publisher as measured by the number of fully open access journals published. Elsevier has 511 fully open access journals. De Gruyter is second with 435, Hindawi third with 405. These figures are based on data from the publishers’ own websites. 315 of the 511 journals (63%) have an APC of 0 and indicate “fee not payable by author”. Sampling of the open access journals indicates that a very large percentage (90%) of the fully open access journals are sponsored by actively involved societies and institutions with most owning copyright. I argue that society copyright ownership is not a bad thing; the alternative may not be vision of pure OA but rather Elsevier copyright.

In addition, 2,149 Elsevier journals have hybrid options at 2,149 journals. There is a marked difference in pricing patterns between hybrid and open access journals. Fully open access journals are clustered at the low end of the $0 – $5,000 USD price range while hybrids’ pricing is skewed toward the higher end.

A sampling of 50 journals from the full list of Elsevier journals found that 70% feature a “supports open access” button on the about the journal page; 38% have indications of society involvement, but clear indication of society copyright ownership is much less common. There is very limited historical information provided about Elsevier journals on the freely available website, making it difficult to assess past society or institutional involvement for a large percentage of journals.

Finally, an analysis is presented of the potential for Elsevier to achieve a full flip to open access APC while retaining current revenue. Reasonably realistic estimates range from a low of $5,000 USD to a high of over $11,000 USD to cover the 2015 Elsevier annual revenue of $3 billion USD from STM and enjoy the current 37% profit rate. These rates are not realistic. Libraries and those wishing to further the transition to open access should anticipate that Elsevier will seek to continue to receive subscriptions revenue, even with broad-based support for APCs, for a long time to come.

For full details see the draft in PDF:

Elsevier and open access publishing May 2016

Data from the study of 50 Elsevier journals can be downloaded from the dataverse.