Elsevier Journals – The QMUL Figure

A few weeks ago I reblogged Tim Gowers’ post about the cost of Elsevier journals. I noticed that my own institution (QMUL) had deflected his Freedom of Information request. Curious to learn more, I did some digging.

It turns out that QMUL paid a total of £454,422.44 to Elsevier for the academic year 2013/14. Interestingly this is more than Exeter and York, who also joined the Russell Group recently. However it’s still much cheaper than the bill Cambridge, UCL, Imperial or Edinburgh face.

Unfortunately QMUL weren’t able to provide any further breakdown of the figures. Apparently this information isn’t available to the university, which seems like a very odd way of doing business. I think it likely that the vast majority of the cost is the subscription fee.

I should point out that QMUL and Cambridge certainly have differentiated access to Elsevier journals. For example QMUL Library does not have access to Science Direct papers before the early 1990s. Cambridge University Library has universal access to this material.

However with all the smoke and mirrors in this story, it’s impossible to turn this anecdotal evidence into an accurate account of Elsevier’s charging policy. There’s clearly a need for much greater transparency.

Below is a transcript of the email I received from the QMUL FOI Department. I owe a debt of gratitude for their help.

Dear Edward Hughes

Thank you for your email of 25th April requesting information about spend on Elsevier journals at Queen Mary University of London.

The total amount paid to Elsevier for 2013/14 was £545,306.93 (inclusive of £90,884.49 VAT). We do not hold any further break down.

If you are dissatisfied with this response, you may ask QMUL to conduct a review of this decision.  To do this, please contact the College in writing (including by fax, letter or email), describe the original request, explain your grounds for dissatisfaction, and include an address for correspondence.  You have 40 working days from receipt of this communication to submit a review request.  When the review process has been completed, if you are still dissatisfied, you may ask the Information Commissioner to intervene. Please see www.ico.org.uk for details.

Yours sincerely

Paul Smallcombe

Records & Information Compliance Manager


4 thoughts on “Elsevier Journals – The QMUL Figure”

  1. A quick remark: the figure you have been quoted includes VAT, whereas the figures I gave excluded it. So QMUL is actually paying very slightly less than Durham, slightly more than York, and quite a lot more than Exeter.

  2. quick note to add to a few random points.
    Papers before the early nineties are ‘backfiles’ which are purchased rather than subscribed to, i.e. it would have been a one off cost at some point in the past, and shouldn’t affect a HEI’s annual sub (other than a small hosting fee).
    Oxbridge have many dept/college libraries, leading to historic higher spend as many libraries subscribed to same journal. This made the move to online (not least because online is a central cost and print would have been a dept/college cost) more challenging. Current fees are based on historic spend, so this may play a part.
    They say “total amount paid to Elsevier ” – this could include ebooks and OA `Colour charges across the University.
    The original Tim Gower post alluded to how Universities receive a breakdown of costs. I can not comment, but ‘We do not hold any further break down.’ seems strange, perhaps they were just referring to the FOI office?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s