Reed Elsevier gives in on free research

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The Independent Online

Reed Elsevier has allowed academics who submit articles for publication in its science journals to make the research available for free on their personal or institutional websites.

Reed Elsevier has allowed academics who submit articles for publication in its science journals to make the research available for free on their personal or institutional websites.

The move was seen as a major concession to the "open access" lobby - a movement among academics and university librarians that argues that published research should be made available to all scientists free. Academic libraries have complained that subscriptions to leading science journals, such as those published by Reed Elsevier, are cripplingly expensive. The company has responded that it acts as a guarantee of quality.

Arie Jongejan, the chief executive of the science & technology division of Elsevier, insisted the company's policy on publication was already much more "liberal" than opponents suggested. He said the latest concession was "what our critics and authors want".

The change means that scientists would now be able to make available for free the version of their research paper that has been through Reed's peer review and editing process. The papers can appear on a website before publication in the Reed journals but they can only ever be put on the academic's personal website or the website of their employer.

But Reed's rivals said the company had not gone far enough. Natasha Robshaw, at BioMed Central, said academics would not be allowed to point other researchers to their papers from central scientific databases. "This is a step in the right direction but only true open access is the solution," Ms Robshaw said.

Reed hit out at its open access rivals and insisted the debate was now moving in its favour. Open access requires the academics or their employer to pay for publication, which is then made available for free to all researchers. Reed contends that receiving payment for publication compromises the integrity of the editorial process and shuts out researchers who cannot afford the publication fees. Publication is free in Reed's journals - revenues are earned, instead, from library subscriptions and charges for downloading the articles.

Last year, Reed Elsevier's science and medical publishing division made revenues of £1.4bn, with profits of £467m on an operating margin of 34 per cent.

A parliamentary committee is investigating whether Reed and other science publishers are over-charging academics. The report is expected next month.

Reed's Mr Jongejan said the open access business model was not viable. He saidReed could, if it chose, move to open access but it would need to charge $3,000 for each paper it published. Mr Jongejan said the two major open access providers, BioMed Central and the Public Library of Science in the US, were able to keep charges below this level by only "subsidies". He said that was distorting the debate.

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