Starting around 2012, Timothy Gowers had much to say about the practices of Elsevier. Very roughly speaking, he argued that Elsevier made research articles expensive to access and profited heavily from the volunteer work of peer reviewers. Sympathetic individuals established a website called "The Cost of Knowledge", which hosts the electronic signatures of over 15,000 academics who have agreed to boycott Elsevier to some degree.

Things are relatively quiet now compared to the flurry of activity that followed Gowers' series of posts. The most recent information I can find is Greg Martin's letter of resignation from the editorial board of Elsevier's "Journal of Number Theory", which was posted to Gowers' blog in May of 2013. In it, Martin writes (emphasis mine):

As far as I can tell, Elsevier’s responses to our concerns ended up being limited to a slight easing off of support for legislation limiting access to our research, together with a nominal reduction in individual journal prices. Regarding the latter, however, Elsevier’s “bundling” practice remains in place, making individual journals’ prices essentially irrelevant. Their (aggressively defended) lack of pricing transparency from one institution to another also speaks volumes, in my mind, to the limits of their desire to seriously address our pricing concerns.

My feeling is that not much has changed in the past two years, particularly since I would expect to hear an update from Gowers if any major victories had been won.

Can anyone provide more up-to-date information about Elsevier's pricing, bundling, and access practices?

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    I don't think much has changed about pricing, but Elsevier has made open access all the content of their journals after a 48 months embargo (source). This is an important concession in my opinion. Maybe it will encourage academics from other fields to consider a similar protest to obtain the same boon... Commented Sep 14, 2015 at 19:12
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    @Federico: I think your comment is well worthy of an answer. Commented Sep 14, 2015 at 19:16
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    @FedericoPoloni I had forgotten about the open access of older articles. Thanks for the reminder. Within mathematics, at least, this is hardly a concession, as our articles are available on arXiv even prior to publication. Further, I don't think this lessens the financial burden on libraries. Surely all institutions interested in research must still purchase bundled journals or else fall four years behind. Commented Sep 14, 2015 at 19:20
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    @AustinMohr Many of the articles being made open access were published long before the advent of arXiv, and there are no preprints to speak of.
    – PVAL
    Commented Sep 14, 2015 at 21:08
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    An important detail that I forgot to add in my first comment: Elsevier has made open access (after 48 months) the content of their journals in mathematics only. The other fields that didn't boycott got nothing. Commented Sep 15, 2015 at 6:31

2 Answers 2


(converted from a comment on request).

I don't think much has changed about pricing, but Elsevier has made open access all the content of their journals in mathematics after a 48 month embargo (source). This was a very appreciated move: mathematicians often rely on old articles for their research, so 4 years isn't too long to wait (for some), for this discipline. It is also a shrewd move from Elsevier, since it pleases their audience but doesn't cut into their main source of income, which are yearly subscription access deals with university libraries.

Maybe this will encourage academics from other fields to consider a similar protest to obtain the same boon...


In short the current situation is pretty much the same. The peer-review process remains voluntary. What is scandalous is that Elsevier finically profits from this voluntary investment of time but academia does not. Not that academics should profit personally, however some of this should be fed back into the academic community in some way if large sums continue to be charged for access to journals. Although in fairness to Elsevier, there are costs in hosting massive amounts of the academic knowledge.

Access to articles is changing, they are allowing some sharing on personal blogs or sites (some interesting discussion in the comment section of this reference). Although researchers were doing it on closed university networks anyway, but this new approach allows researchers to share more widely. For instance if you have a list of references on your university profile page you will be able to link them to a pdf of the article. However as one commentator mentioned, there is an embargo period before this sharing can occur, these period varies, for instance cognition and Neuroscience have 12 month embargo on new articles. Whilst the Lancet is does not open access for personal posting at all.

So did it work? I would say it has been a successful start. And these embargo periods make it fair as Elsevier need to make some profit out of the facilities and services they provide. However as noted in the comments below, the articles are not automatically made available for free on the elsevier network (if at all). I hope these reference are useful to you.

Almost forgot the pricing list for 2015 and Elsevier's general info about pricing. As far as I know these price lists are for individuals not universities or libraries, which is probably discounted depending on the quantity or services being purchased.

  • Just a side note for discussion, there are large journal publishers that are less generous with their journal article access the american psychological association, I'm also not sure about Wiley and springer. As you would have thought what effect Elsevier would also influence these two groups.
    – Comte
    Commented Sep 15, 2015 at 17:35
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    If I understand correctly, the boycotters have never been complaining about the fact that refereeing was unpaid. The main reason for the protest was the pricing and bundle policies. (Otherwise, why boycotting Elsevier only and not all other publishers, too?) Commented Sep 15, 2015 at 17:41
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    Also, if I am not mistaken, what you report are the author fees to publish an open-access article, not the fees for libraries and universities to buy access to a journal. And the "embargo period" in your linked document refers to the period after which the author can post a copy of the article online, not to the period after which the article becomes freely downloadable from its canonical DOI link on the Elsevier website, which I was mentioning in my comment. Commented Sep 15, 2015 at 17:44
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    the boycotters have never been complaining about the fact that refereeing was unpaid — Indeed. I would complain more if referees were paid.
    – JeffE
    Commented Sep 15, 2015 at 22:36
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    @JeffE I am not saying academics should profit from peer review. What I wrote is that a company profits from peer-review and feeds little of it back into the academic community. How they might feed the money back in would be by allowing access to older journals.
    – Comte
    Commented Sep 15, 2015 at 23:07

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