Elsevier in 2018: decrease in number of fully OA journals

Highlights: in 2017, we found that Elsevier was publishing a large number of fully open access journals with no article processing charges due to society or university sponsorships. In 2018, 88 of these titles have been transferred back to the society or university. There has been a drop in the number of fully OA journals published by Elsevier, from 416 to 328 journals. The majority of Elsevier’s fully OA journals are still non-charging. The average APC for Elsevier fully OA journals in 2018 is $1,470 USD, up 6% from 2017.

Raw data – 2 excel spreadsheets (caution – this is preliminary data that is designed for quantitative analysis and does not have detailed documentation). Click to download.


This is a subset of the 2018 version of the main spreadsheet for the open access article processing charges project. The columns for the 2018 – 2017 comparison on the main Data tab are D, 2018 APC publisher website original currency, and N for 2017. Pricing is from the Elsevier APC price list; “no publication charge” is our standardized term, on the Elsevier PDF this is “Fee waived for author”. If you are interested in the journals that have transferred back to a society or university, go to the next spreadsheet:


In 2017 we noted that there are many Elsevier journals that are “fee waived for author” due to sponsorships and decided to begin tracking these sponsorships and an interesting model of partnership, e.g. statements on the Elsevier webpage that made it clear that Elsevier was publishing on behalf of a society or university that retained copyright. Column I, the notes field for 2018, is where you will find details on journals transferred back to the publisher. This information is gathered from the Elsevier website – journal title list, not the APC price list.



 In April 2017, Elsevier was publishing 416 fully open access journals. As of April 2018, this number had decreased to 328 journals, a decrease of 88 journals or 20% of the total. Data is from the Elsevier APC price list (conversion necessary for data manipulation).E2018nonchargingjpg

Most fully OA journals published by Elsevier do not charge publication fees (61% of the total) due to sponsorship by societies or universities. This percentage is about the same as the previous year (57% non-charging). A survey conducted in 2017 found that almost all non-charging journals were published by Elsevier on behalf of a society or university, with copyright ownership retained by the society or university.

A survey of the Elsevier website for OA journals identified as non-charging in 2017 was conducted over the summer. These journals are still listed on the Elsevier website if not the APC price list and information is provided about the current status of the journals. This is a good practice. A total of 88 journals were found to have been transferred back to the society in 2017 or 2018, or scheduled to be returned to the society or university publisher.

For example, a notes about the The Revista Mexicana de Bioversidad indicated that the journal:

Transferred back to the society as of 2018
Copyright © 2018 Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.


The average APC for Elsevier’s charging, fully OA journals in 2018 was $1,470 USD, up from $1,384 USD in 2017, an increase of 6%.

Thanks to René Duplain for data gathering.





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.