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.
Records & Information Compliance Manager