Many people complain about Elsevier and over eight thousand are boycotting it, but actual solutions seem hard to find for certain fields- I'm thinking of research areas for which an Elsevier journal is very important and funds are not available to subsidize an open-access journal.

How can we move an Elsevier-dependent research community to a less objectionable, more open publisher?

I'll post a partial possible answer myself; I'm asking because I think we need more/better answers than mine.

  • Maybe a right answer to this question could be a community wiki with journals sorted by fields, where we first put the elsevier journal, and then people post equivalent alternatives?
    – Gopi
    Apr 5, 2012 at 11:32
  • You seem to be referring to a strategy of encouraging support of existing alternative journals. That'll be very good for certain situations, and so the list you imagine indeed should be started somewhere, but above I was thinking of Elsevier journals that are central to a particular research community, so that it's unlikely most researchers will leave it without a concerted effort and broad agreement by the community- hence the partial answer I give below. As for the community wiki idea, I don't know stackexchange well enough to have good judgment about that- maybe you're right. Apr 5, 2012 at 11:55
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    A specific example in theoretical biology. Apr 5, 2012 at 12:46
  • We've now started an information resource for journals thinking about making the jump to open access - psyOA.org Apr 27, 2017 at 20:32

3 Answers 3


As a publisher who has launched an OA journal and seen what it takes to do so, I see the biggest problem for starting any journal being lack of an Impact Factor (IF). I've polled authors at ECVP and about 90% said IF is what determined where they submitted. Everyone knows why this is, so why don't academics turn inward and try to undermine this reliance on IFs? Doing so would insert true competition into the journals market. Maybe academics have tried to do this, though I've never read of any real substantial attempts. I could be wrong. The second problem after IF and before funding is loyalty. Ed board members are often tied to multiple journals and in those first few years you really need those big names on your board to commission for the journal. Big names often care more about another journal or just don't care.

You need a publisher, be it nonprofit or profit, that can put in the work to promote the journal and help commission. Financially, OA journals are very easy to start. Subscription journals require more financial backing, which perhaps could be gotten through grants if you don't want to be tied to a commercial publisher. The answer is long and requires lots of discussion and more important, commitment.

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    Thanks for this- I agree completely with the need to reduce the reliance on impact factor. Unfortunately, as long as IF is the only widely-recognized measure that is perceived to be correlated with journal quality, research administrators and bureaucrats and grant reviewers will continue to judge us by it. Some people are working to address this by developing alternative metrics. Try #altmetrics on twitter, and total-impact.org for one example. Of course, the only real way to judge research is to read the paper, but no-one has time for that :) Alex Apr 5, 2012 at 21:48

First one must assess whether researchers in the area agree that the community should leave Elsevier. If there isn't strong support for leaving Elsevier, then any move is likely to fail, as it will probably involve a new venture (such as a new journal) requiring the support of many, many researchers in the area, perhaps as authors, editors, or readers pressuring their university to subscribe to the new journal. If the research community is not supportive, this may because they have very good reasons or it may be out of ignorance / lack of imagination of the alternatives.

Discussion of the possibilities in your researcher community serves to explore the options, educate, and potentially build support. You may be able to start a discussion of the issues on mailing lists, social media, or run a conference symposium/satellite related to this topic.

If there is community support, there are a few possibilities for actually making the move. In most (all?) cases, Elsevier owns the journal and its name, therefore one cannot simply switch publishers and keep the same journal name. As a work-around, moves have occurred when all or most of the members of editorial boards of Elsevier journals resigned and started a new journal, usually issuing an open letter explaining their action and encouraging the community to submit to and subscribe to the new journal.

A new journal can use the traditional subscription model or be open access.

With a subscription model, one can use a traditional publisher- a non-profit university press may be less objectionable than Elsevier or one of the other mega-profitable corporate publishers. I have started a list of possible publishers. To get started with a new publisher, one must convince them that they will make enough from subscriptions for the new journal to be worth their while. This may be difficult, as new journals are frequently risky. It takes a few years for a journal to receive an impact factor, and may also take years to be indexed by the major databases, and many authors will only submit to journals that have already achieved these things.

An open-access journal can use the author-pays model, in which case a large publisher can provide all the traditional services (manuscript submission software system and reviewing workflow management, layout, copyediting, production, webhosting, accounting, exporting to databases, DOI registration, proper metadata, etc.) or it can be run on a shoestring, with academics handling everything perhaps with a few administrative staff. For research communities willing to submit all their manuscripts in LateX, this is quite feasible but for communities that demand layout (figures and text arranged to fit a standard page appearance and possibly typesetting) be done, this is more labor-intensive.

Several open-source software tools assist in publishing journals. Open Journal Systems is most like a traditional journal publishing platform but I hear it may be difficult for academics to use. Annotum is based on Wordpress and I believe it works by having authors write their manuscript directly in its software, so that it can guarantee that the paper will look exactly as you expect it (WYSIWYG). It is used by PLoS Currents and other journals. All of these tools could probably use more skilled programmmers contributing to the project.

I am only a researcher, not a publisher, so perhaps not everything I have written here is correct. I think we researchers are in particular need of estimates of the person-hours needed to publish and manage a journal by various methods, so that a research community considering a move can budget appropriately / be comfortable knowing what they're getting into.

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    "for communities that demand layout (figures and text arranged to fit a standard page appearance and possibly typesetting) be done, this is more labor-intensive" — Um. LaTeX can do that. That's what LaTeX is for. It's not even that hard.
    – JeffE
    Apr 5, 2012 at 11:57
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    Unfortunately you won't be able to get most scientists, e.g. in biomedicine, to use LaTeX. It may be easy for you and for math/CS/physics types, but not for your average doctor/psychologist/biologist. Many have never used any scripting or markup, e.g. html, in their lives, and are not willing to try it. Apr 5, 2012 at 12:02
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    "Doctor, doctor, it hurts when I do this."
    – JeffE
    Apr 5, 2012 at 12:09
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    If you use a WYSIWYM wrapper for LaTex (like the popular Lyx), it will work no different from Microsoft Word.
    – user107
    Apr 5, 2012 at 13:24
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    Thanks for the Lyx tip- if it is very robust, then it should be suitable for some traditionally-not-LaTeX researcher communities! Although I'm sure there's some, probably including the author communities I'm involved in, that will say they absolutely positively need Word's Track Changes feature or something. Apr 5, 2012 at 22:08

It occurs to me that in our field (vision science), Journal of Vision already is an open access alternative to Vision Research. I haven't noticed a big difference in quality or acceptance rates between the two journals, they publish at a similar rate (JoV=270, VR=252 articles in 2011) and their impact factors are within 0.5 of each other. Also, around a third of the VR editorial board are also on the JoV board, and Denis Levi is about to transition from VR editor in chief to JoV editor in chief. Given these similarities, I guess the fact that the whole field hasn't abandoned VR suggests that people still feel there is a place for it. Or, from the other perspective, the success of JoV shows that lots of people wanted an open access alternative, and it's great that they now have one. {reposted from Google+}

  • Journal of Vision is open access but charges a fee. Many of those who prefer it to the alternatives may nonetheless not submit to it due to lack of funding. Therefore it's hard to conclude anything from the continued success of other journals. It is more valid to compare two subscription journals, e.g. VR and Perception, one of which is published by Elsevier and one not. Again however, there is a major confound- the VR impact factor is lower, and many authors feel they must publish in the higher-impact journal to win grants or a permanent job. Apr 5, 2012 at 20:30

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