Elsevier willing to compensate editors to prevent them from ‘flipping’

Internationaal | door Sicco de Knecht
20 december 2018 | With Plan S rapidly approaching the editorial boards of some journals are considering leaving the paywalled journals at major publishing houses and 'flip' their journal to open access. To prevent editors from leaving, Elsevier now appears to be willing to pay editors considerable yearly amounts to stay on.

With 2018 drawing to a close the game is on for big academic publishers to decide on how to cope with the upcoming open access Plan S. In a hasty attempt to clone its journals Elsevier now finds a new hindrance in their editors: some of them want to flip their model entirely – leaving the publisher altogether.

To prevent this from happening Elsevier now turns out to be willing to go to great lengths to keep their editorial boards in place. ScienceGuide has it on good authority that the publishing mogul is willing to offer yearly sums of tens of thousands of euros in compensation, in order for editors to stay on.

Ramifications of Plan S

Recently the guidelines for the implementation of Plan S were published by Coalition S, indicating the exact rules of play for the open access plan. Subsequently, over the past months a number of renowned journals have cloned As of today, Thursday 20, 35 such X-variants functioning as the open access mirror journal have been registered for Elsevier. Up from 0 a few months back. their titles as to become ‘compliant’ with the new regime. A first example was the journal Water Research that overnight created a mirror open access journal: Water Research X, with the exact same editorial board (and presumably the same impact factor). Whether this ‘hybrid’ approach is compliant with Plan S is still under debate, but it’s clear that publishers are placing their bets.

At the same time editors are wondering whether their – generally free – labour is still best put in the existing model of publishing, or whether to completely flip their journal to an open access version. That is, independent of the subscription based publishing model and generally with another publisher that charges lower article processing fees (APC’s) – or no publisher at all. Infamously this is what the editorial board of the journal Lingua – and amongst it three others – did when moving over to a new publication: Glossa, in 2016.

Compensation as exception, not as a rule

The prestige and impact of an academic journal relies heavily on the trust authors and readers put in the editorial board. They are the academic heavyweights that give a publication the credentials it needs to prove its relevance to the outside world. In turn editors enjoy a certain status and prestige that come with the position.

The fact that academic editors rarely get compensated, let alone paid, for their labour is a situation that has long baffled outsiders. Although being an editor comes with perks such as free entry to international conferences and fancy dinners (meetings) in luxury establishments, editors rarely draw a salary from their function.

ScienceGuide now has it on good authority that, in an attempt to sway editors to stay with the publisher’s journal, Elsevier now turns out to be willing to pay editors thousands of euro’s per annum to keep them on ‘on board’. At this moment multiple editorial boards are moving to ‘flip’ their titles away from the paywalled model.

Rough week for Elsevier

The fact that Elsevier is willing and able to these lengths is not only indicative to the importance they place in the reputations of their editorial boards. It also shows that Elsevier, like many other major publishing houses, is able to do so. Last year Elsevier made a profit of over €1 billion – a profit margin of 36.8% – which potentially means it would be able to compensate more of the 80.000 editors at Elsevier’s approximately 2500 journals.

As the end of 2018 draws Elsevier faces a grim outlook for the coming year. Last week the University of California communicated it is willing to let its contract expire December 31st. Additionally today the Max Planck Digital Library discontinued their agreement with the publisher followed by the news that the Hungarian EISZ consortium has also terminated their negotiations with Elsevier.

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