Elsevier replies in part: “systems issues are inevitable”

Elsevier has replied (italics) to my blog post /pmr/2013/08/14/elsevier-charges-3000-usd-apc-and-then-retains-all-rights-is-this-openaccess-no-they-then-put-it-behind-paywall-32-usd/ and addressed one of the problems I reported

Dear Peter,

Thank you for pointing out these concerns. It’s a good thing to have someone so focused on pointing issues out for us, though the immediate assumption of the worst is not entirely helpful.

I did not “assume the worst”. I wrote:

Elsevier don’t seem care very much about honouring agreements they make with authors and/or they aren’t very competent at publishing. If you take 3000USD of someone and contract to apply one of three licences then you have a legal requirement to do so.

I contend that any organization which exacts such a high fee from a customer has a duty of care above what you have shown.

As you know the infrastructure underpinning publishing is considerable, and has evolved over a very long period of time with the scholarly communication system itself. We readily acknowledged the large scale of change and investment in this infrastructure that is required to support new open access business models, and we readily acknowledge that systems issues are inevitable.

I do not accept that failures in public offerings such as the ones that I have encountered are “inevitable”. You promoted a list of a relatively few Open Access journals to the world and failed to check that they worked properly. The very fact that I have discovered at least three independent issues in half a day suggests that you did no user testing of the Open Access licensing issue. Saying that’s it’s a big task is no excuse – you have billions in revenue that should be used to get things right.

We have teams in place proactively planning system enhancements, and we work hard to repair errors as they occur. Nevertheless, it is useful to be alerted to problems and concerns so that we are able to address these.

It is far better to test the systems before release.

As I mentioned to you on twitter, we have investigated the various issues you raised and have found different problems behind each. In this first response I can provide you and your readers with an update on the last issue you raised. Using this article as an example – http://www.currenttherapeuticres.com/article/S0011-393X%2813%2900009-X/abstract – you expressed concern that we are systematically charging PPV fees for open access articles. This is not the case. Our investigations show that this article is correctly displaying as an open access article on our ScienceDirect platform, but not on our Health Advance platform. Thank you for alerting us to this – the Health Advance team is currently working to correct this and to understand why the correct settings were not picked up for this article.

I was not the only one to discover the paywall – Twitter had pictures of the paywall at 31.50 USD. Clicking the paywall did not allow me to view the article. I did not assert that this was systematic – I regard even one problem as serious. You appear to have fixed the bug partially now.

More soon on your other points, and with kind wishes –

Alicia Wise
Director of Universal Access

I am “disappointed” that you say “and we readily acknowledge that systems issues are inevitable.”. This implies that you’ll wait till something happens and then fix it. Every failure has the potential to cost authors and/or readers money and that is not acceptable. It is your job to make sure failures don’t occur. If/when I find any more I reserve the right to report them in a negative way .


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