This morning’s Times reports the fall in Reed Elsevier ’s share price, (the biggest yesterday of any company in the FTSE 100). The fall was caused by an announcement that they expected only a “high single digit” percentage increase in earnings in 2004. This is remarkable, as most small investors would be profoundly grateful for a high single digit rate of return. Leading US universities recently announced that they will boycott Reed Elsevier products, in particular ScienceDirect, in protest at the company’s rapacious pricing policy, according to a report in Information Today . The reports cite a fall in demand in the US educational market, but blame this on the development of new curricula, rather than a subscriber revolt. But Reed Elsevier also forecast that they will be back to double-digit earnings growth in 2005 and 2006, and that demand for their main scientific platform, ScienceDirect, has doubled.
Librarians need to think hard about this, and about the state of the publishing industry generally. So far the professional press is full of denunciations of the evils of Reed Elsevier but not much else. Solutions such as institutional archiving and new methods of electronic publishing such as BioMedCentral and pubmedcentral are attracting interest but there hasn’t been much deep thought and analysis.
Too often librarians think that to lead a goat labelled Reed Elsevier into a professional gathering and stone it to death makes a debate. Instead we need to conduct a rigorous and scientific analysis of the current state of the publishing industry, the effects that the tendency to monopoly is having on the communication of knowledge, and evaluate possible answers for librarians and those we serve.