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    • CommentRowNumber1.
    • CommentAuthorMark C. Wilson
    • CommentTimeFeb 15th 2012
    I wrote to several editors (whom I know personally) of an Elsevier journal, asking them to switch to another publisher. Here is the feedback I got. I suppose the editors tend to be older, and older people tend to be more conservative. I personally don't agree with their objections. However (a) we should realize that these kinds of attitude are probably common and (b) there may be some who oppose a new system on principle, not just out of fear or laziness.

    Comments (each paragraph a different editor):

    One thing that concerns me a bit is that a boycott affects some people much
    more than others. For instance, I've heard about cryptographers who happily
    signed the boycott because they couldn't think of an important Elsevier
    journal in their area. In my area, with journals such as [list of journals by Elsevier], the picture is quite
    different. And one thing I wouldn't want to see is these journal's slow
    gradual demise. Taking an entire editorial board to form a new journal is a
    drastic difficult move that requires to give up the former journal's name
    (and reputation).

    I essentially agree with [editor 1]. Right now I am not ready to pay the
    transition cost.

    I am a bit concerned that within the community interested in mathematical [field X], a split may develop between mathematicians and others, if the mathematicians assume that this issue will not blow over, and the others assume (in part, because the issue may be new to them) that it will. A related issue is that some of the talk is extreme. ... It suggests an essential conflict between a system of refereed journals and the evaluation of one's work based on its individual worth. I have certainly seen the referee system misfire, but believe that, on balance, this system advances, rather than hinders, a more accurate assessment of the work of individuals. Many others feel the same way.
    To the extent that the anti-Elsevier position is associated with what I am calling the extreme position, it becomes easy to dismiss all the criticism as being naively idealistic. In turn, this makes it easy to guess that it will all blow over. This rationale for dismissal is dangerous, though. Only some of the criticism is of this extreme kind, and I would say that in the mathematics community, the anti-Elsevier position is no longer seen as extreme.

    all of us are aware, I guess, that the current system of journals and reviewing procudures is not always perfect. On the other hand there is this simple cost-benefit analysis: the fear that the costs of major changes outweigh the uncertain benefits of alternative systems.
    • CommentRowNumber2.
    • CommentAuthorzskoda
    • CommentTimeFeb 15th 2012

    Taking an entire editorial board to form a new journal is a drastic difficult move that requires to give up the former journal’s name (and reputation).

    Move of K-theory and Topology to Journal of K-theory and Journal of topology has passed with understanding of the community that the editors are essentially the same and the new journals quickly got indexed in the relevant indices and are gaining momentum to the top class accepted journals. On the other hand, there were some other mistakes. Like during the transitions the K-theory was not making acceptances of papers for a bit, this delay hurts young people; also they did not notify the owner before of many of the problems. One must first ask for resolution of the list of the problems and if the response is not adequate only then to move. Ranicki done a good job to help the transition of abandoned old K-theory, so that it published its backlog finally (if I understood the story correctly).

    • CommentRowNumber3.
    • CommentAuthorScott Morrison
    • CommentTimeFeb 16th 2012

    My understanding is the the journal of topology, replacing topology, has never regained their original number of subscriptions. On the other hand, the managing editor (Ulrike Tillmann) has been happy with the rate of subscriptions growth.

    We need to work on ways of reducing and managing the downsides to a switch!

    • CommentRowNumber4.
    • CommentAuthorzskoda
    • CommentTimeFeb 16th 2012
    • (edited Feb 16th 2012)

    Is the original number of subscriptions an aim in itself ? The libraries cancel subscriptions anyway and we get the papers on the arxiv anyway. The important thing is weather the citation rate and real credit for the authors in the new journal is close to the one in the old journal. With such replacements the careers of mathematicians won’t be hurt. I agree we have to reduce the downsides of the switch but I perceive the subscription volume as the non-fundamental one.

    (Ideally, the switch should be from the proprietory journal to the replacement journal which is an online journal only, with free access, like Theory and Applications of Categories).

    • CommentRowNumber5.
    • CommentAuthorjoyal
    • CommentTimeFeb 16th 2012
    Creating a better referee system may be desirable, but it is was not the original motivation for boycotting Elsevier, which was about the over-pricing and the control of information. The two things should be separated. Of course, the boycott movement should encourage the creation of new journals. Some of these journals could experiment with a new referee system if they wish.
    • CommentRowNumber6.
    • CommentAuthorLenny Taelman
    • CommentTimeFeb 19th 2012
    I think that "regaining the original number of subscriptions" after moving away from Elsevier is not achievable nor desirable. One consequence of bundling subscriptions is that institutions end up with subscriptions they don't need. It may be hard to verify, but I can easily imagine that some institutions that subscribe to Elsevier's math journals do not even have a mathematics department.
    • CommentRowNumber7.
    • CommentAuthorHenry Cohn
    • CommentTimeFeb 19th 2012
    The number of subscriptions helps determine the price (based on how many subscribers you can divide fixed costs among), so if the number of subscribers goes down substantially it is difficult to maintain low prices. This can be a frustrating issue when trying to move a journal from a commercial publisher. The difficult is that libraries can't necessarily save money by cancelling their subscription to the old journal, thanks to bundling, and they are highly reluctant to add new subscriptions without some corresponding savings. So even if there are enough libraries that genuinely want a journal to support it, it may be difficult to get enough actual subscribers.
    • CommentRowNumber8.
    • CommentAuthorFlorian Breuer
    • CommentTimeFeb 22nd 2012
    This is another pernicious effect of bundling: if an editorial board quits Elsevier and starts a new journal, this will end up costing libraries more, not less, since they must now subscribe to the new journal, whereas the Elsevier bundle price won't go down to compensate, especially if the orginial journal keeps up some form of zombie existence at Elsevier. In the long run, a number of such moves should weaken Elsevier, and thus decrease the bundle price, but this is a short-term hurdle.

    As a result, perhaps the best option for editorial boards wishing to make the move is to move to an entirely open access journal. Most likely this would have to be electronic-only, to keep costs down. Unfortunately, costs will never be zero, since one at least needs servers and bandwidth (minimal if linking only to arXiv papers) and usually some secretarial help for the editor-in-chief. Perhaps the costs can be kept low enough that some institution (e.g. the AMS or a hosting university) can cover the cost. They could use a platform like OJS (, my own University (Stellenbosch, in South Africa) hosts a number of open access journals this way.

    Another model might be one that charges the authors, such as Scholastica (, or even PLoS ( How cool would "PLoS Algebra", "PLoS Number Theory" or "PLoS Functional Analysis" sound?
    • CommentRowNumber9.
    • CommentAuthorBenoit Kloeckner
    • CommentTimeFeb 22nd 2012
    • (edited Feb 22nd 2012 by Andrew Stacey)

    About 8. In France , the INSMI (math institute of the CNRS) and RNBM (a network of mathematical libraries) have started a program of “counter-bundling” for non-profit society editing journals. The idea is to negotiate several-years-contract, the mathematician pledging to keep to keep subscriptions, while the editor gives large access to all mathematician in France. So, this sounds very much like a bundle, the point being that we are talking about very cheap journals. The first contract is ready or almost, with the European Math Society.

    The point of this is the prevent libraries to unsubscribe from this cheap, high-quality but unbundled journals. That does not completely answer your point, though it is something that can be done.

    Concerning the author pays model, I do not think it is a good idea. Even quite cheap journal would charge 1000 $ a paper, and I think it worse to prevent mathematician without grant to publish, than preventing them to read the journal version of papers. In fact, author-pays could be an option if we really keep casts down (no proof reading, electronic review system that relate the reviewer to the author without human intervention could get down the price to 100 $ a paper or less).

    Another option, is institution-pays-open-access. This is being tried by high-energy physicists, see SCOAP 3 which managed to have many institutions pledge they will redirect the funds from subscriptions to funding the consortium. One particularly interesting feature of this model, is that we can use commercial publishers in the way they should be used: pay them for providing a given service (devising a publishing system, providing support in the process, etc.) without giving them the property of the journals and articles, and thus with the possibility to change publisher anytime if one has a better offer.