Journal editors quit over over ‘greedy’ publication fees


By Geir O'Rourke

10 May 2023

More than 40 members on the editorial board of a leading neuroscience journal have resigned en masse in protest at what they describe as the “greed” of publishing giant Elsevier.

In an open letter published last month, the entire academic board of NeuroImage and its companion journal NeuroImage: Reports announced that they had quit over the “high publication fee” charged by the open-access title and would be starting a new non-profit journal, Imaging Neuroscience.

Established in 1992, NeuroImage is described as the world’s leading journal focusing on imaging neuroscience, publishing almost 1,000 articles annually with an impact factor of 7.4. It became fully open access in 2020.

However, Elsevier had then lifted the journal’s article processing fee to $3450 USD ($5,100 AUD), under its “gold open access” pay-to-publish model, the former editors said.

Led by former NeuroImage editor-in-chief and Oxford University academic Professor Steven Smith, they stressed direct article costs were generally under $1000 USD  ($1500 AUD).

“Scientists and funders increasingly feel that it is wrong for publishers to make such high profits, particularly given that the publishers do not fund the original science, or the writing of articles, or payments to reviews, and pay minimal editorial stipends,” they wrote.

“As a result, authors and reviewers are increasingly refusing to work with high-profit journals.”

The group said they had formally asked Elsevier to reduce its publication fee to under $2000 USD last June, and wrote again in March threatening to resign unless their demand was met.

On April 19, the publisher responded stating it would not reduce the charge and the group simultaneously resigned and announced their plans to start a new journal on social media.

An Elsevier spokesperson said: “We are very disappointed with the decision of the NeuroImage editors to step down from their roles, especially as we have been engaging constructively with them over the last couple of years, since we took the decision to make NeuroImage gold open access.”

“In line with our policy of setting our article publishing charges competitively below the market average relative to quality, the fee that has been set for fully open access NeuroImage is below that of the nearest comparable journal in its field, based on Field-Weighted Citation Impact.”

Elsevier also defended its commitment to open access, saying it was now one of the world’s fastest-growing open access publishers, with nearly all of its 2,800+ journals enabling OA publishing including 700 fully open access.

The journal would continue operation under an interim editorial team until permanent replacements were recruited, the spokesperson said.

Nevertheless, the company’s profit margins, which approached 40% according to its 2019 accounts, were now on notice, said Professor Chris Chambers of Cardiff University and one of the editors to resign.

The latest article fee increase was “pure greed on Elsevier’s part and was the straw that broke the camel’s back”, he told Times Higher Education (link here).

“The plain fact is that we don’t need Elsevier – it is a parasitic company that takes the products of science for nothing and then charges the public, and scientists, to buy back access to them.”

The former editors said their planned non-profit journal was currently accepting applications for reviewers and aimed to be ready for paper submissions very soon.

“Our ambition is for Imaging Neuroscience to replace NeuroImage as the top journal in our field, focusing on imaging of the brain and spinal cord, in humans and other species, also including neurophysiological and stimulation methods,” they wrote.

“The overall scope, quality level and entire editorial team will be the same as it had been at NeuroImage (combined with the editorial team from NeuroImage: Reports).”

Find the new journal’s website here.

Already a member?

Login to keep reading.

Email me a login link