December 15, 2018

Full Text: Complaint Filed with EU Competition Authority Regarding “Anti-Competitive Practices” of RELX/Elsevier and the Wider Scholarly Publishing Market

A complaint was filed with the EU Competition Authority and was submitted by  Dr. Jonathan Tennant, UK; and Prof. Dr. Björn Brembs, Germany.

The document runs 22 pages (PDF) and begins:

We are writing to you in the capacity of a group of researchers who benefit from the production of scholarly research articles, and also as authors of scientific articles that fall under the scholarly publishing market.

We write to notify you of what we believe to be the anti-competitive practices of RELX Group in the scholarly publishing and analytics industry, based on the following two articles of the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU):

  1. Article 101 of the Treaty, which prohibits agreements between two or more independent market operators which restrict competition; and
  2. Article 102 of the Treaty prohibits firms that hold a dominant position on a given market to abuse that position.

This complaint regarding RELX Group, and specifically its daughter company, Elsevier, is based on the following grounds:

  1. General problems within the scholarly publishing market sector that actively prohibit competition in the common market between EU member states (Article 101); and
  2. Abuse of a dominant position within this market (Article 102).

The grounds on which we believe these statements to be true are set out below with reference to the primary academic literature that has been studied, the general scholarly publishing landscape in the EU, previous competition inquiries, and financial statements from RELX Group. In 2002, the UK Office of Fair Trading Standards published a report (OFT 396) of its investigation into the market for Scientific, Technical and Medical (STM) journals. Here, the report concluded that the journal market was not functioning well due to inelastic demand, a lack of price competition and sensitivity, and that regulatory intervention would be required should conditions fail to improve. Here, it is our view that the natural interventions proposed in the report (price restraint from commercial publishers; increased buyer power; academic power; and the impact of new Web technologies) have not occurred, and we shall provide evidence to demonstrate that each of these factors is still contributing to what we believe is a dysfunctional market.

The present complaint follows a similar referral of RELX Group to the UK Competition and Markets Authority in 20161, following the recommendation of (then MP) Ann McKechin, previously in a BIS sub- committee hearing in 2013. Here, she advised that RELX Group (at that time known as Reed Elsevier) should be referred to the competition commission if it continued to use non-disclosure agreements, which she termed a “profoundly anti-competitive practice”, and said that if this was happening with public funds “there should be a referral to the Office of Fair Trading”. To date, there has been no formal response to this referral, and, as we shall demonstrate, it is our view that these anti-competitive practices and dysfunctional market conditions continue and do not serve either researchers, institutes, or the public interest effectively.

We focus primarily on Elsevier, its history and present business practices, the ongoing threat it continues to pose to the present scholarly publishing market, and the wider implications that these has on the role of scholarly research in society. Elsevier is the single largest publisher of scholarly research articles, owning more than 2,500 scholarly journals, and between 2012 and 2015, Elsevier published almost 1.4 million journal articles, the vast majority of which are not publicly accessible. In relative terms it is one of the smallest Open Access publishers, publishing just 27,000 OA articles in 2017 out of 436,0002 (around 6.2%). We fully acknowledge that much of what we discuss in this complaint can also be applied to other major players within the wider scholarly publishing market, and discuss some additional details to provide this context.

infoDOCKET first learned of the complaint document via a brief post (in German) on the Project Deal website. 

Direct to Full Text of Complaint (via Zenodo)
PDF and DOC versions available.
DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.1472045

Gary Price About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.

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