Evil is a harsh word. I know. To provide full disclosure, I do not believe that providing a service for a high price is evil. Often, that is just good business. When I list “evil” publishers I am talking about companies that regularly use predatory pricing and strategy, copyright infringement, copyright theft, extortion, and intentional misinformation as means to obstruct the progress of science.
Lets begin at the top:
Elsevier is the largest medical and scientific publisher. It is known for its “Current Opinions” journals and “Trends” journals. In 2010, Elsevier reported a 36% profit, totaling 1.15 billion dollars.
Elsevier is the king and ringleader of publishers obstructing the progress of science. A short list of sins might illuminate why Elsevier is evil:
- Bundling of desirable journals with undesirable bleeds libraries with shrinking budgets.
- Elsevier was a prime lobbying force behind Research Works Act as well as SOPA and PIPA.
- Excessively harsh negotiation with institutions seeking open access solutions.
The list could go on. Fortunately, the issue has already been taken to Elsevier’s doorstep and a highly popularized boycott has reached congress’ ears. It is important to note that while Elsevier is the poster-boy of publishing tyranny, there are dozens of other companies employing the same practice…hence this list.
This mega academic publisher handles several thousand peer-reviewed journals, books, and databases. Some of the more important journals published by Wiley-Blackwell include: Ecology Letters, Immunological Reviews, Hepatology, and Annals of Neurology.
Wiley-Blackwell is a major example of a publisher engaged in predatory content purchasing. It is common practice among large aggregate publishers to purchase exclusive online publishing rights to entire journals. This means that in order to read a journal online you have one of two options: purchase directly (often hardcopy and not in the least tree friendly) or purchase an exorbitantly priced subscription from Wiley-Blackwell. Through this practice of stockpiling publishing rights they are then able to pressure research institutions into purchasing large “bundles” of journals at much higher prices. Wiley-Blackwell has a reported 42% profit margin on publishing activities.
Ebsco’s primary function is to wheel and deal databases to libraries and research institutions. These databases become an institution’s sole online access to many full-text and or abstract repositories.
Ebsco is engaged in a race with ProQuest and other database portals to purchase exclusive online publishing rights to journals. While this is a strong business move, arguably spurred on by competitive necessity, it is cutting off “plumber-joe” libraries from access to content. In a fantastic article, by Meredith Farkas, we learn that not two years ago it was Ebsco that was most hated and not Elsevier. I guess they will keep each other company in hell. Other sins of Ebsco are publishing of “predatory” open access titles, and a serious legal hassle with the Irish Labour Court.
Conclusion to Part One
With little effort we could make this list a mile long. In academia we need to be aware of the dissemination of science as much as the science itself. In a very real way, dissemination is the only thing that keeps the ball rolling. In the age of information, traditional channels are inadequate. Paying thousands for paper magazines can’t be justified when self-replicating articles can be posted online for pennies.
Look out for part two (the other two companies). Are there other companies we should add to this list? What are their sins?