A Rebellion Erupts Over Journals Of Academia

Wednesday, November 01, 2006
A Rebellion Erupts Over Journals Of Academia: "There's been a rebellion, not with pitchforks but pocket calculators. The nine members of the editorial board of the Oxford University-based mathematics journal Topology have signed a letter expressing their intention to resign on December 31. They cited the price of the journal as well as the general pricing policies of their publisher, Elsevier, as having 'a significant and damaging effect on Topology's reputation in the mathematical research community.'

The subscription cost of journals can be difficult to determine, since institutions often subscribe to many periodicals in a single bundle. But according to Elsevier's Web site, in 2007 the cost of a single year (six issues) of Topology, in all countries except Europe and Japan, will be $100 for individuals and $1,665 for institutions. ....

"Elsevier's prices are very high," said an emerita mathematics professor at Barnard College, Joan Birman, who resigned a few years ago from the board of an Elsevier journal, Topology and Its Applications. She said her feeling was, "We do the work, we check each other, we referee the articles, edit and typeset them and send them to the publisher, which slaps them between two covers and charges a huge amount.""

Some years ago I reviewed a book (published by Elsevier, as I recall) on the "reification problem" in formal methods of programming. ("Reification" means "to make the abstract more real and concrete" and the reification problem in this context is the problem of translating a program in a formal mathematical notation into an implementable form. Just in case you wanted to know.)

The book was one of those common books in Computer Science: everyone writes a paper for a conference, they turn over camera-ready copy to the publisher, who prints them in covers as a book. Everyone has a book chapter for their curriculum vita.

The only thing was, this book, of roughly 250 pages, came out to cost 62.5 cents a page. In about 1985.

Make of this story what you will.


chuck said...


I recall looking to buy a mathematics book from Elsevier once, being gobsmacked by the price, and deciding to do without. Elsevier is *very* pricey.

Side note, Joan Birman is a well known topologist specializing in knot theory.

Barry Dauphin said...

I learned this the hard way when I published my book. I decided to accept the offer to publish from Peter Lang, because it was blind, peer reviewed and I didn't want to keep looking around too much with the tenure clock ticking. This would be a feather in the proverbial cap. But my 234 pg. book costs $70.95. well I wasn't writing to sell it for that kind of price. I really was hoping that the decently educated general reader could find it interesting and wrote it with that in mind. But when it gets sent into "Scholarly" publication genre, the price goes through the roof. The publisher knows that approximately X number of libraries will purchase the book, so they can feel sure to break even.