Elsevier has just announced in its third open letter to the mathematics community (how much does that sound like a Papal Bull?) that all of the archived material from its “primary mathematics journals” is now free to access.
This completes the process begun in April, when they made everything published after 1995 and before 2008 free. From now on, all articles in the affected journals will be made free to access four years after publication ((Sadly, because this is Elsevier, the articles are only available through the user-contemptuous ScienceDirect, so the incidence of heads being banged on desks is likely to go up once people start trying to access it and encountering the site’s maddeningly hyperactive sliding toolbars)). The journals involved include Advances in Mathematics, Discrete Mathematics, and the Journal of Algebra. It looks like each journal now has a prominent “Open Archive” section on its homepage, containing a list of recently dispaywalled articles.
Access for non-institutional readers to articles published in the most prestigious Elsevier maths journals in the past four years is still in the range of $30-40 per paper. This is still unacceptable, in my opinion. For example, this fascinating-looking, but ultimately probably inconsequential, article about a variant on the Towers of Hanoi game in the European Journal of Combinatorics costs $31.50 to read online. Pro tip: the same article is on the arXiv in preprint form, free at the point of delivery and at the point of submission.
The letter goes on to allude to Elsevier’s earlier claim that it was “striving to reach prices at or below US$11 per article”, and that the prices for 2013 have now been set. A link between those two clauses confirming that the aim has been achieved is conspicuously absent. Instead, there’s a milquetoast reference to the fact that some journals have seen price reductions, and I’ve calculated from the price list that the total cost of institutional subscriptions to all Elsevier’s maths journals has gone down just over 5%, though the preamble to the list itself says that very few customers actually pay those rates.
In conclusion, Elsevier’s business model is still a terrible one, but this is good news regardless. So go and have a look at the archives and see what you can find; there’s half a century of the world’s best maths in there.
Found via John Baez on Google+. John sums the situation up quite nicely: “Why just math journals? Because we’re the ones who are making the most noise!”