Publishers and Academics: Partnerships or Power relationships?
February 19, 2006
Université Lyon 2, France
Elsevier has just published its 14-volume Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics. Just before publication, authors received a circular mail informing them that according to “company policy”, they would receive no off-prints or pdf files of their own contributions. No further explanation was offered.
It is a well-established tradition in academic publishing that authors are entitled to off-prints of their papers. Elsevier’s “company policy” violates it blatantly. While its reluctance to print out and post 3000 articles can be explained by the cost involved, it is difficult to see why finalized pdf files could not be provided to authors, especially in view of the fact that proofs were sent to them as pdf files.
The circular message sent just before publication and denying off-prints to contributors shows that Elsevier is aware that this action goes against established rules. Moreover, the Encyclopedia is sold at an introductory price of 4480 $ or 3999 Euros, far beyond the financial reach of individual academics and of many university libraries. Most individual contributors will not have access to the published version of their own work. And yet, there is not even an attempt at explaining this “company policy”.
Must and should the academic community accept such attitudes and action from commercial publishers? In this age of email and websites, publishers need academics more than academics need them. Being published by prestigious houses is an asset, but being read – and subsequently cited – is more important, and this can be achieved without commercial publishers.
The partnership with publishers must be based on mutual respect and mutual interests, not on power relationships. Academics can respond to attitudes such as Elsevier’s in several ways:
– Protesting and insisting that either an offprint or pdf files of contributions be sent to authors,
– Posting the pre-publication version of their contribution on their personal website and/or academic organization’s website and making the fact known to other scholars through electronic and other networks (see http://www.elsevier.com/wps/find/supportfaq),
– Adding an “off-print clause” when signing a contributor’s agreement with the publisher,
– Adding a clause retaining their right to publish their contribution on the web when signing a contributor’s agreement,
– Refusing to cooperate with publishers whose attitudes or actions are inappropriate and supporting publishers with a mindset more in line with the spirit of scholarly writing and dissemination of research.