5 evil publishing companies: part one


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:

  1. Elsevier

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.

The Problem(s)

Elsevier is the king and ringleader of publishers obstructing the progress of science. A short list of sins might illuminate why Elsevier is evil:

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.

  1. Wiley-Blackwell

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.

The Problem(s)

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.

  1. Ebsco Publishing

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.

The Problem(s)

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?

Part two of this post can be found here! Find out who the fourth and fifth publishers are!

Clayton Bingham




21 comments on “5 evil publishing companies: part one

  1. sunnyromy on said:

    Reblogged this on SunnyRomy.

    • Marysia on said:

      Now researchers have come to embcrae social networks to disseminate their output – which itself can take the form of classical articles (“fresh from the oven, who wants a copy”), books or, perhaps more suitable for this purpose, webinars. (Here is a book on

      • Clayton Bingham on said:

        Social media might not necessarily be the best way to disseminate but they may be the best way to publicize said works…I think that listservs like GoogleScholar and soon LitRoost, will always have a place as a stable, and credible source for DOI endowed works that have been peer-reviewed. You are correct in your suspicion that social media will become more important for people who are hoping to get and keep jobs in academia, however. Altmetrics are the future of production evaluation in academia!

        • Hi Clare;Allan told me about the blog.Science Direct has feeds is that how you get your jrnls? I know there were issues w/ Elsevier, and I yeleld at them at MLA last year, only to be shown the Sci Dir. feeds which had just recently gone live.

          • Clayton Bingham on said:

            There are many ways to find literature…it should be more and more apparent that the journal model for dissemination is inefficient. More dialogue focused publication is ideal and this content needs to be community curated to ensure quality. Open access publishing (inevitable in my opinion) requires a suitable clearinghouse that implements an algorithm that is quality controlled via a professional community. LitRoost is working on such a platform.

  2. Pingback: 5 evil publishing companies: part two « LitRoost

  3. judysp on said:

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  4. Jim Shine on said:

    Thanks for linking to my blog post regarding Ebsco’s decision to ignore the Irish Labour Court’s recommendations on how it should treat the workers it made redundant when the company took over HW Wilson. Readers who are interested in this story can check out our campaign blog at http://wilsonpicketdotcom.wordpress.com/

  5. jackcurtis on said:

    Yeah, publishing is full of corruption; it isn’t limited to any particular field. It’s rooted in a rent-seeking relationship with government, our ‘crony capitalism’ and for that matter, it isn’t just publishing…

    • claytonbingham on said:

      I can see SOP/PIPA and the research works act as direct evidence of rent-seeking behavior among publishers…It is amazing to me that they don’t see the new industries open data/access creates and the commercial opportunities provided by them…

      • Adilson on said:

        I hate to be cynical, but it’s like the pulhisbers have full-on declared war on libraries. I know that sounds harsh, but the evidence keeps pointing to this one conclusion. If firms like EBSCO had ever been interested in our success, they clearly aren’t anymore. (I don’t think that they were in the first place given that they always were so clear about branding their products & not allowing libraries to use their own brand in the delivery of the very content they were paying for! They never worked with us to improve the user experience for our own library users but they wouldn’t let us intermediate the experience either.)

        • Clayton Bingham on said:

          There have been several attempts to solve the user experience issues…they don’t take for many reasons…they either only marketed to libraries or they don’t jive culturally with researchers. It’s important to provide a useful utility from day-one and to ride the cultural wave of openness. Libraries are much more likely to hit it off culturally with researchers and they are, therefore, perfectly positioned to introduce appropriate solutions to the problems of scholarly communications…I think Open Access is the case and point.

          I hope LitRoost can add value to that equation!

          • Senilda on said:

            Any publisher would be dehltiged to publish your work *if* they thought they could make a profit by so doing. That means your stories have to stand on their own merits against published stories written by adults. Being merely good for your age isn’t going to cut it.As an aside, most of the major publishers (the ones who can get your book into bookshops) won’t consider your book unless you have an agent. An agent’s job is to sift through the thousands of mostly-unreadable manuscripts that wannabe authors send him every year and forward the ten or twenty that he thinks stand a chance to whichever publisher(s) he thinks will be most interested in them.

          • Clayton Bingham on said:

            An open access system would really help streamline the process by opening up the platforms to more types of information. The curation of the material could then happen post publication. Bad data may in fact only be bad data because it is ill-applied…other scientists may find good use for data that was previously “un-publishable”. This really is the goal of the paradigm shift.

        • Re: How are publishers atcnig as a cartel?The answer is they are not. They operate in a competitive market, where libraries with limited budgets have to decide among ten thousand or so significant scholarly journals which ones they will subscribe to. A competent librarian will make decisions on the basis of some measure of value for money. Where journal use is mainly online, downloads per subscription dollar provide one measure of value for money. Some libraries do use measures of this kind, thereby restricting the ability of publishers to raise prices. However librarians are often reluctant to acknowledge sunk costs in journals that receive little use. Thus journal series going back decades are maintained in a collection, while potentially more useful journals are not taken even on a trial basis.If library budgets become so restricted that even important subscription-financed journals cease to be widely distributed, then author paid open access journals will flourish. So perhaps that is the way forward: to cut the Harvard University Library budget by $3.75 million.

    • Hafeez on said:

      Thanks for the tip. I didn’t know Elsevier hat an FB page. I knew that and many other publishers enitreatn blogs for disseminating their latest articles and books. Anyway, not sure this fits the bill, but I think is a another social outlet for research that deserves mentioning.

      • Clayton Bingham on said:

        Elsevier has been doing plenty of funny things lately…including painting an elaborate and phony picture of themselves as an up-to-date publisher who is in-tune with ideas of Open Access…

        They have, and will continue to back pay-wall extending legislation such as the Research Works Act..

        • Harvard University, with total revenues of over $3 blilion, cannot afford 3.75 million for journal subscriptions. LOLWhat a miserable bunch of pikers. The reason scholars at top universities publish in top (subscription based) journals is that everyone in a particular field reads the top (subscription based) journals in that field. Open access journals are not free. There is a publication charge paid by the author. So what Harvard University Library wants is for its top researchers to publish in second tier open access journals at their own expense so the librarians have more cash to spend on whatever it is that librarians, not scholars, want.

          • Clayton Bingham on said:

            Good point…I wonder though if the point is not simply the expenditure but the downstream opportunities open access would provide science as a whole. It really is dead dialogue if it is stuck behind a paywall with un-manipulable data.

            Harvard researchers really don’t stand to suffer much in the way of lost prestige by publishing open access…it is the middling schools who will need to find a way to keep their heads above water in the coming deluge of open access publishings.

            I don’t think researchers will be paying out of pocket for OA publishing, I’m not sure if that is what you are implying though? Most schools are looking to establish open access funds for both Green and Gold systems. Those that do not have access to such funds will be good candidates for OA fee waivers or approval to allocate grant funds to provide publishing opportunities in OA avenues.

      • I agree. It’s not the physical paper per se – it’s the prsceos of vetting and peer reviewing that probably adds to the costs.It’s certainly very possible to conduct online reviews.I know some are not particularly enamored of WikiPedia in terms of how they work through comments and disagreements but I think the core of their prsceos is on the right track.Academicians of course are a lot more particular about all manner of content and details.In offline reviewing….you often might end up with separate folders of comments, rather than online interaction where there might actually be direct communication between different reviewers.What Wiki seems to try to do on direct interaction in areas of disagreement is to find the areas of agreement – and then note the areas of disagreement with “pro” and “con” narratives.I’ve heard others say that the Wiki prsceos is not all milk and honey and that some arbitrary editorial actions take place.

        • Clayton Bingham on said:

          You nailed it Asfak. The dialogue needs to be the focus of the clearinghouse and not simply the topic being addressed, or the prestige of the sponsoring institution or author. What we need is a community driven clearinghouse build a-top open access systems (inevitable in my opinion). LitRoost seeks to build such a platform by merging the power of an algorithm with the excitement of a community.

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