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In their open letter in response to the growing boycott movement, Elsevier asserted that it had lowered cost of access:
First, the cost of downloading an article has never been lower than it is today — on average one fifth of what it was just 10 years ago.Well, that should in principle be easy enough to test. We have the wayback machine, the internet archive. How much did it cost, e.g. to read one of Elsevier's flagship journals, Cell about ten years ago and how much does it cost now?
So at least for this journal, the statement by Elsevier is not correct. It needs to be mentioned that 2001 was the year Cell Press was bought by Elsevier. This means that afterwards (and for all other Elsevier jourhnals already earlier), everything is behind the paywall of ScienceDirect, Elsevier's gateway into their online offerings. None of the pricing of ScienceDirect is available via archive.org. This means other than this one journal we cannot compare prices ten years ago with those of today, to see if Cell is just one instance that is compensated by all other 2000+ journals being reduced drastically in price to reach an average of 80% price reduction. But with this number of journals and an average reduction of 80%, we might be able to see this in the general trend of journal pricing:
Hmm, not even the slightest hint of a downturn in pricing, even though Elsevier publishes the most expensive journals out there. This could be because they lowered their prices drastically since 2008, the latest figures I have. Obviously, even with an almost 40% profit margin as Elsevier's, if they dropped prices in such a short time period, this must be noticeable in their operating profits. They must have been at least somewhat lower in these last 4 years had they cut down prices that sharply so quickly:
On the contrary, 2009 and 2010 were absolutely record years, each with profits beyond US$1b and always one higher then the year before.
In other words: already one of the very first sentences with which Elsevier tries to appease its customer base appears to be difficult to verify. I fact, everything we can see suggests that Elsevier may have been embroidering the truth more than a little. This may not come as much of a surprise for a company which has been caught publishing nine fake journals - maybe one shouldn't take any statement from such a company at face value?
Does anybody else have hard evidence for the pricing of Elsevier online access over the last decade?
Let's just get an average for ten reandomly selected articles at ScienceDirect:
The average cost of accessing Elsevier journals is thus US$34.15 in this, most likely not representative sample. Note that all articles are toll access articles. There are, of course, also in Elsevier's portfolio, open access articles for which the authors have already paid. The only way a 80% cut in access cost can even be remotely accurate, is if OA articles have been factored into the calculation as US$0 - otherwise, the average cost of access at ScienceDirect in 2002 must have been on the order of US$170 per article, which it likely wasn't. Either way, the opening sentence is already hard to believe coming form a company with a track record of not being honest with its customers.
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