Show me the data!

ESA moves to Wiley and predictably there are problems already

April 2nd, 2016 | Posted by rmounce in Ecology | Wrongly selling OA articles

TL;DR summary: ESA data papers should be free to read but Wiley (ESA’s new publishing ‘partner’) just charged me $45.60 yesterday to access one of them. They have done this kind of ‘accidental’ profit-generation before, as have other big publishers.

John Wiley & Sons (whom I will refer to as ‘Wiley’ from now on) is not a very competent company when it comes to providing free or open access to research. Don’t take my word for that. Ask the Wellcome Trust: over 50% of articles that they had paid to be open access with Wiley were not compliant with their open access policy. I have also had my problems with Wiley: I caught them selling access to thousands of articles that should have been free to access this time last year. They also paywalled an article I wrote which should have been free to access.

Despite all this, and the detailed letter I sent to the Ecological Society of America (ESA) back in 2013 during their open access consultation process, the ESA decided to switch to publishing with Wiley: a profit-driven company who’s goals conflict with the goals of the society. I was very disappointed with this decision.


Now that the switch is complete there are some problems readily apparent. Wiley are selling some bits of ESA journal content for $45.60 (inc. tax) a time that ESA did not previously charge readers to access. I discovered this yesterday on Twitter thanks to Jaime Ashander & Stephanie Peacock. So I made a test purchase to see if Wiley really were charging for access to this free content (they were!). Below are tweets documenting this:


Amusingly, the first time I tried to buy access to the article, my bank blocked the transaction thinking it was a suspicious payment to a scammy company! Only after I confirmed with my bank was I actually allowed to purchase access to the data paper – it really IS hard to access research that is paywalled, even when you have the money to pay for it!

ESA have acknowledged the problem on Twitter and will see if I can get a refund on Monday:


There is more than meets the eye to this case.

Data papers are still a fairly new concept to most. Thus I honestly didn’t know what I’d be getting from behind the paywall when I paid for access – I did expect more than just the abstract. It would not surprise me if others could also make this mistaken assumption (we are wearily used to abstracts hiding much longer papers behind paywalls).

Charging the authors of ESA data papers $250 with the excuse that this is for “long-term hosting and maintenance” is absurd and unjustifiable. At the very most it should be $120 which is what Dryad charges, with a reminder that Figshare and Zenodo continue to sustainably archive data for free. Charging each and every reader outside the paywall in addition to this $45 to read the abstract of an ESA data paper in PDF format is just ridiculous.

The cost of single-article purchases has now more than DOUBLED since ESA moved to Wiley. Below is a screencap I took from the old ESA publishing platform. ESA articles were paywalled for just $20 and that allowed 30-day access. Now with Wiley, the exact same content is available to me for $45.60 (inc. UK tax) and I only have a 24-hour permitted-access period. This price-hike and narrow access window are utterly absurd and unjustified. Is it any wonder everyone uses SciHub these days?

Does this help raise the awareness of ecological science?

The old paywall was half the price and gave 30-days access, not just 24 hours!






I’m also frightened that ESA had no idea this was going-on. This is exactly what happens when you give all your content to an unscrupulous oligopoly publisher like Wiley to sell on your behalf. It seems to me that many academic societies are receiving big fat cheques every year from their commercial publishing ‘partners’ and are completely ignoring where from and how this money was generated. It’s well known that the academic publishing oligopoly is siphoning huge margins of money away from research. Why are academic societies so willingly complicit in this racket? It seems to me as if it is a sadly common approach to deal with this impropriety by turning a blind eye: “Take the money, don’t ask questions!” As long as society members benefit (at the expense of the rest of the world), anything goes.

Some final questions…

  1. Does ESA know how much Wiley is charging libraries around the world for subscriptions to ESA’s journals?
  2. Does ESA actually know anything of the real cost of production and publishing services that Wiley provides – not the price Wiley says it costs (inc. unhealthy profit margin) but the actual cost?
  3. How many readers like me (‘the scholarly poor’) outside the paywall has Wiley charged for access to ESA data papers that should have been free to access?
  4. Given Wiley’s lack of transparency, can we trust them when they report back how many others have also bought access to these ESA data papers that should have been free?

Update 2016/04/09: Thankfully, I did eventually get a refund for this article purchase on 2016/04/08, although I still appear to have lost out due to currency conversion issues with my bank: