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There has been much discussion of the exorbitant price increases over the past dozen years or so of journals owned by publishing houses such as Reed-Elsevier, Kluwer, and Springer-Verlag/Birkhauser (as can be seen in some current journal pricing data). At the beginning of 2007 entire editorial board of Topology quit in protest of these pricing practices, drawing some press attention. In the summer of 2007, a similar turnover occured in the area of K-theory.

For many years Topology was the signature journal of our subfield, but it has been given competition by Geometry and Topology, a low-cost alternative founded with some foresight in 1997. In response to this resignation, one of the representatives of Elsevier posted a letter to the largest topology mailing list. Below are my responses to this letter.

To: "Ross, Robert \(ELS\)"
Cc: Topology E-mail List
Subject: response (for the list) to letter about Topology
From: "Dev P. Sinha"
Date: Fri, 10 Nov 2006 17:23:52 -0800

Dear Mr. Ross,

Be advised that mathematicians can be a skeptical audience, especially when presented with cherry-picked facts and statistics. A couple instances:

"Our price increase is among the lowest in the industry"
Well, increasing 5% on a $2000 title hurts a lot more than a 7% increase on a $300 title. We'd need to see a full picture here for this sentence to be meaningful.

..."more available"...
Maybe, with the advent of predominant use of electronic sources. But compare your usage totals to those of open access journals after they get established and the comparison is usually not favorable.

"invested $160 million in digitizing and maintaining the digital archive of our entire program"
Yes, we appreciate efforts of publishers here. Our issue isn't with what you are doing, but what you are charging for it (and reaping in profits). The Annals of Mathematics is having all of its articles where they have the (La)Tex source moved to the arXiv, and have (most? all?) of its further-back issues on JStor. The Annals cost much less for libraries than Topology. They may be subsidized by Princeton University, but almost certainly not the tune where the discrepancy between what they charge and what you charge can be accounted for.

Given the tenor of your letter, I am not surprised that the former editors of Topology have severed their relationship with Elsevier.

Dev Sinha
Associate Professor and University Library Committee Member,
University of Oregon

Subject: Posting Elsevier Response
From: "Ross, Robert \(ELS\)"
Date: Fri, 10 Nov 2006 21:08:55 -0600

As the Pure Maths Journal Publisher at Elsevier, I welcome your comments and alternate views on the Topology Editor's resignation and Elsevier's journal publishing program. Please feel free to contact me at anytime.



Subject: More on Journals
From: "Dev P. Sinha"
Date: Mon, 13 Nov 2006 15:00:19 -0800

(For the list: Mr. Ross replied to me, claiming that access to Topology was not being restricted by price. He would prefer not to engage in a listserv discussion, but I would like to clarify a few points and then will let the matter rest.)

Dear Mr. Ross,

You said to the topology e-mail list that you welcomed alternate views. The alternate view here at the University of Oregon is that access to journals is being restricted by price. We cancelled our subscription to "Topology" last year because it was too pricey - $1558 in 2004 (vs. for example $170 for the same year of "Geometry&Topology"). This wasn't an easy decision - roughly 1/4 of our faculty and graduate students have a strong interest in topology. While we may be in the minority in having to do without "Topology", may I ask you how "Topology and Its Applications" is doing? Are universities lined up around the block to buy it at $3000/yr? Perhaps once it is packaged with other journals it costs $2800 or even $2000 (six times the price of G&T!) - is it selling like hotcakes yet? Will it continue to do so?

You claim that you are not attempting to compete with university-subsidized journals, so the only relevant comparison is with other private publishers. But you _are_ in competition with university-subsidized journals, as well as society journals (which generally run a profit), and non-profit publishers such as MathSciPublishers. This is your business climate. Moreover, in mathematics you are selling the work of the mathematical community back to itself. You can say what you will about value added, but do you really think it is worth it for us to pay six times as much for one of your journals than for one we can produce ourselves?

Given these facts about the business climate, it is not surprising to see a high-cost titles such as "Topology" in decline while titles such as "Geometry&Topology" gain in both prestige and pages published. If it weren't for the facts that mathematicians (especially those good enough to be editors) prefer just to do math, that we are fairly sentimental about the history of our journals, and that time is needed for "prestige transfer" for purposes of promotion and tenure, we would have already moved much faster in this direction.

From the nature of your responses, you seem to think that you should be able to continue your pricing practices indefinitely. To summarize what I am saying: I seriously doubt that. You have gotten fat (see Wall-Street Journal clip) on mathematics library budgets for too long.


(Note about link: of course math titles are a drop in the bucket of Reed-Elsevier's profits, but this old clip gives you an idea of the company's mission. It's great that they are so into making money; as a community we mathematicians should be more into saving money.)


Subject: RE: Posting Elsevier Response
From: "Ross, Robert \(ELS\)"
Date: Sun, 12 Nov 2006 11:55:00 -0600

We appreciate and respect the concerns of the Topology Editors and we are taking the issues they presented very seriously. To be fair, they were not presented with the numbers in our response before they resigned. They did not make demands or requests of us and we do not want to make is seem as if there was any indication their decision was reversible. We were interested in retaining the Editors but again we respect their decision.

We do greatly appreciate their long standing contributions to the journal. The numbers in our response indicate they were very successful in building and maintaining high quality and widespread interest.
We intend to engage our other editors and the community more frequently. We also appreciate the alternatives to our program. Much here comes down to consumer choice.

If there is an Elsevier journal you would like to subscribe to but cannot due to price, please let me know and I will try to assist.