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Elsevier improves access to its products in 100 developing countries

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e6283 (Published 18 September 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e6283
  1. Nigel Hawkes
  1. 1London

Researchers in more than 100 developing countries will be able to access the entire collection of books and journals published by Elsevier free or at low cost, the Access to Research and Development Programme has announced.

The programme, which is coordinated by the World International Property Organisation, a United Nations agency, and of which Elsevier is a founder partner, provides cheaper access to research findings for academic institutions in poorer countries.

Selected Elsevier journals have been available under the programme before, but this is now to be extended to all its journals and books. Alicia Wise, director of universal access at Elsevier, said, “We are delighted to extend our partnership with the WIPO and in this way to realise a shared vision for universal access to quality research content. We are dedicated to advancing innovative research everywhere.”

The programme divides developing countries into two groups: the poorest, which get access for nothing, and the slightly better off, which pay $1000 (£615; €760) per institution a year. Individuals cannot apply.

The rules specify that entire journals and books cannot be downloaded, but limited numbers of articles and chapters may be, up to a limit of 15% of the journal issue or book. Users must access content through an online portal that provides authentication.

The programme was launched in 2009 and is backed by 14 scientific publishers, including Nature Publishing Group, Oxford and Cambridge University presses, Springer Science and Business Media, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Before Elsevier made its new commitment, the programme offered access to 200 journals. But now Elsevier titles, including the Lancet and Cell, dominate the list. “It increases the programme content over 10-fold to over 2000 journals and close to 7000 e-books,” said Yo Takagi, assistant director general of the World International Property Organisation’s global infrastructure sector.

Similar programmes have already been established by other UN agencies: the World Health Organization’s Health InterNetwork Access to Research Initiative (HINARI),1 the Food and Agriculture Organization’s Access to Global Online Research in Agriculture, and the UN Environment Programme’s Online Access to Research in the Environment. (The BMJ Group has participated in these three programmes since their inception.)

Elsevier has been accused in the past of clinging to an outdated but highly profitable model of learned publishing through subscription journals. But recently it has been eager to convince critics that its attitude has changed. “We’re happy to work with anyone, and we have the capacity to adapt fast,” Wise said recently.2

Elsevier’s announcement coincided with a research report by the Wall Street analysts Bernstein Research suggesting that an open access model of scientific publishing, in which the costs are paid by the authors and not by the readers, could prove very damaging to the profitability of the Reed Elsevier group. The report estimated that to maintain its existing revenues Elsevier would have to levy author charges far greater than the market would bear.3

It estimated that Elsevier’s science, technology, and medicine journals generate a 40% profit margin. Although they represent only 17% of group revenues, they contribute 25% of profits. A move to a full open access world would severely damage these profits, according to the analysis.

However, this pessimistic attitude is not universally shared. Other analysts are still bullish about the prospects for the group, whose share price hit a four year high recently on the back of good results and a favourable report from the investment bank JPMorgan Cazenove.

Notes

Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e6283

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