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Academics are staging a mini-revolt against science and medical journal publisher Elsevier’s terms, and analysts fear the movement could hit…

Doctor Examining Patient
photo: Corbis / Jose Luis Pelaez

Academics are staging a mini-revolt against science and medical journal publisher Elsevier’s terms, and analysts fear the movement could hit parent Reed Elsevier.

Over 4,000 researchers have signed a petition against Elsevier practices including charging libraries for bundles of journals rather than individual titles.

They also object to Elsevier’s apparent stance on the U.S. bills SOPA, PIPA and the Research Works Act, which critics say would restrict access to taxpayer-funded academic research.

The protest is currently small in the context of the world’s large researcher community, but is causing Elsevier’s business model to come under the knife.

“We think that investors should ask management of Reed Elsevier (NYSE: RUK) how a PR incident of this kind could happen, why crisis management has been so tentative and what other steps management intends to take the handle the protest,” says Bernstein Research European media analyst Claudio Aspesi, in a note titled “Occupy Elsevier”.

“Dropping prices, abandoning the subscription model or the bundles would all impact the economics substantially, at least for some years. So the company can only hope that the controversy will die down in time”

Aspesi thinks Elsevier’s Anglo-Dutch owner Reed Elsevier, whose Reed Business Information is still shedding titles after Reed failed to sell RBI during the downturn, should be broken up, and is pessimistic about the company.

“Our scepticism is based on the expectation that academic libraries will increasingly push back and request lower price increases than in the past, threatening to abandon ‘Big
Deal’ contracts if the company does not lower its expectations for revenue growth,” Aspesi writes.

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