Elsevier vice-president aims to fix ‘disjoint’ with academics

Gemma Hersh acknowledges that publishing giant could do more to demonstrate its value

September 12, 2019
Source: istock

Elsevier needs to do more fix a “disjoint” with academics and to demonstrate its value to universities, according to a vice-president at the publishing giant.

Gemma Hersh, senior vice-president for global research solutions at Elsevier, argued that the company offered value for money to its customers and contributed positively to research, despite the decisions of many German and Swedish universities, as well as the University of California system, not to renew their subscriptions.

Being interviewed by Times Higher Education editor John Gill during the THE World Academic Summit at ETH Zurich, Ms Hersh acknowledged that it was crucial for Elsevier, which owns about 3,000 academic journals, to address a “disjoint” with some of its customers by demonstrating the ways in which it helped institutions and scholars to succeed.

“The value we provide is not being recognised,” argued Ms Hersh, who said that “industry-wide [in publishing], we have not done a great job in showing the value [we] add”.

Elsevier, which publishes about 15 per cent of the 2.5 million research outputs generated annually, could do more to show “how we take what is submitted to us, how it is curated, vetted, edited and preserved in posterity, as well as the value that adds to the [research] ecosystem”, said Ms Hersh, adding that the firm had “a duty to do that better”.

Ms Hersh said that much of the criticism of Elsevier was misplaced.

“If you look at the price [charged] over the past 10 to 15 years, our cost per article continues to fall,” she observed, noting that “independent studies show we represent the best value for money among the major publishers”.

“We produce more articles per year; we have more people using these articles; and the quality of articles continues to grow – we challenge the idea that we are not providing value for money,” Ms Hersh said.

Ms Hersh claimed that some critics had mistaken parent company Relx’s profit margin – 19 per cent – with its operating margin of 37 per cent, referencing the £942 million it made on revenues of about £2.5 billion last year.

“Only 50 per cent of Elsevier’s revenue comes from publishing, with the other half coming from an increasingly diversified business, which includes [providing] data tools and analytics,” said Ms Hersh. Elsevier contributed only about 15 per cent of the profits made by Relx she explained.

Ms Hersh also rejected the notion that Elsevier’s profits were “obscene”, saying that views on the matter were shaped by the sectors in which people worked.

“I work for a commercial organisation, so where you sit on profit is going to come down to [this],” she said, also arguing that Elsevier’s “investors and shareholders [meant] it was able to take risks and be innovative”.

Ms Hersh said she hoped that Elsevier could resolve its high-profile disputes with various university systems over the next year. “We have about 2,000 renewals a year and some [customers] are more vocal than others, but I hope we will get there,” she said.


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