Elsevier up to their usual shenanigans with their new OA Linguistics Journal “Ampersand”

I have to say, I was excited to hear about Ampersand when I first read about it. (First of all – a journal named after a symbol? I fully support this!)

Its description is, and I quote,

Serving the breadth of the general and applied linguistics communities; Ampersand offers a highly–visible, open access home for authors. An international, peer–reviewed journal; Ampersand welcomes submissions originating in applied and historical linguistics, phonetics, phonology, pragmatics, semantics, sociolinguistics and syntax. Ampersand offers an alternative outlet for work which might not be considered, or is classed as ‘out of scope’ elsewhere and prioritizes fast peer review and publication to the benefit of authors and readers. (Source: Ampersand)

This sounds like a fantastic journal — it could finally be a place for something like that paper I wrote with a colleague about a Goffman participation approach to retweets. I got excited when I heard that they had published new articles as they look fascinating.

Then, of course, I looked at the URL and I realized that it is an Elsevier-published Open Access journal. Being, of course, dubious about their ideas of Open Access, I decided to check out their author agreement; as we have come to expect from Elsevier, their idea of “open access” is not exactly the same as everybody else’s.

(For some background: For linguists, Geoffrey Pullum has commented on Elsevier at Language Log regarding “the strange business of how we academics work for almost nothing doing our academic writing, and even do our own typesetting, and get our colleagues to do unpaid editing and quality reviewing of what we have written, so that publishers who have contributed almost no value added can then charge you readers huge sums of money for looking at the finished product”.  Mike Taylor at SV-POW! has done a great series on Elsevier and its Open Access shenanigans, albeit in 2012 (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5), and also commented on the unsatisfactory nature of Elsevier’s Open Access policy, and then updated it in 2014 with an article entitled, appropriately, How is it possible that Elsevier are still charging for copies of open access articles? Peter Murray Rust has shown that Elsevier charges people to read its Open Access articles. It appears that things have not gotten much better for Elsevier misunderstanding what Open Access means.)

Of course, the Author’s Guide for  Ampersand is standard Elsevier, with a link to their copyright page, which states that these are the rights of the authors for OA articles:

Authors sign an exclusive license agreement, where authors have copyright but license exclusive rights in their article to the publisher. In this case authors have the right to:

  •   Share their article in the same ways permitted to third parties under the relevant user license (together with personal (scholarly) purposes to create certain derivative works), so long as they give proper attribution and credit to the published work.
  • Retain patent, trademark and other intellectual property rights (including raw research data).
  • Proper attribution and credit for the published work.

(Source. Emphasis mine.)

I found the use of “exclusive rights” being licensed to the publisher to be confusing. What does that mean? If you click on the “Rights Granted to Elsevier” tab, it says

For both subscription and open access articles, published in proprietary title, Elsevier is granted the following rights:

The exclusive right to publish and distribute an article, and to grant rights to others, including for commercial purposes.

For open access articles, Elsevier will apply the relevant third party user license where Elsevier publishes the article on its online platforms.

The right to provide the article in all forms and media so the article can be used on the latest technology even after publication.

The authority to enforce the rights in the article, on behalf of an author, against third parties, for example in the case of plagiarism or copyright infringement.

(Source. Emphasis mine.)

This “exclusive rights to publish and distribute an article, and to grant rights to others, including for commercial purposes” jumps out at me. Okay, so I still own the copyright, but I can’t distribute my article anywhere or let other people use it?

So what are those user licenses, anyway, and what do they allow me to do with my own work?

Well, they’re Creative Commons licenses, of course, which allow authors and anyone to distribute the article with attribution and, potentially, some other stipulations.

Additionally, if you look in their FAQ about obtaining permission to re-use articles, you get this statement for Open Access journals:

Open access content is published with a user license which determines how readers can reuse the content without the need to request permission. Permissions vary depending on the chosen license and we recommend that readers check the license details carefully before reusing the materials. (Source. Emphasis mine.)

So wait…  am I granting Elsevier the exclusive right to put a Creative Commons license (of my choosing) on my own article? It turns out that their own policies about Open Access works are contradictory. On the one hand, they want you to grant them exclusive rights to distribute and grant permissions to others. On the other hand, they put Creative Commons licenses on your journal article with the copyright held by you, which allow anybody to distribute your article and the license itself grants permissions for re-use.

What does “exclusive” mean to them, anyway?


Oh, and let’s mention the $3000 (Note: apparently the author fee is $600, but this is still confusing — see my explanatory edit below the original text here) author fee on this journal. I’ll let Martin Eve explain why this price is outrageous for a linguistics journal:

Although the majority of gold OA journals have no fee, many commercial publishers have decided that the best way to maintain their current levels of profit (or “sustainability” as it is sometimes more tactfully phrased by those making large sums from the academy) is to ask for an author fee. It is imagined that this will be paid by the author’s institution or their funder. This, then, becomes a service model: the publisher isn’t selling a research item (this is good), but they are asking the author for a fee. How much? $2,950 per article in the case of most Taylor & Francis journals. Other publishers often operate at a similar level, although there are lower-priced models (SAGE Open for instance currently charges a far more affordable $99). These high rates are not so good, particularly when the majority of humanities work does not receive external funding.

There certainly is labour in publishing that must be compensated and this cannot be over-stated. It is not, however, at least in my calculations, $2,950 worth of labour for a single article, especially when large portions of academic publishing (and most notably typesetting) are often outsourced at extremely cheap rates to the Indian subcontinent, while academics, as previously noted, provide many of the other parts of the chain.

(Source. Emphasis mine.)

Elsevier is already making a lot of money off of the backs of volunteer labor by academics and the untenable position of academic libraries. Perhaps they could use some of that profit to conduct an investigation of whether their APC model is at all reasonable for the humanities and social sciences.


Linguists, don’t be taken in by Elsevier. Who do you think gets those author fees? It’s certainly not the editors for their hard work reviewing the articles. It’s not the reviewers who take the time to comment on articles and read them thoroughly. Academics and journal staff haven’t seen a cent of the profits that Elsevier and its ilk have been making off of your field’s journals and academic labors and accepting their dubious Open Access claims is not the way to go. Here’s one alternative if you want to start a new journal: check your library and ask about a publishing program or consult the Library Publishing Directory. These options will be affordable, friendly to libraries and users, and will help your university as well as your journal.


Edit 3:13 PM: Previously I said that Ampersand had $3000 Author Fees. Thanks to Kevin Watson, who corrected me saying that they actually have $600 Author Fees, which is much more reasonable. I got the $3000 figure from their “Guide for Authors” PDF where it says:

This journal does not ordinarily have publication charges; however, authors can now opt to make their articles available to all (including non-subscribers) via the ScienceDirect platform, for which a fee of US $3000 applies (for further information on open access see http://www.elsevier.com/about/open-access/open-access-options). Please note that you can only make this choice after receiving notification that your article has been accepted for publication, to avoid any perception of conflict of interest. The fee excludes taxes and other potential costs such as color charges. In some cases, institutions and funding bodies have entered into agreement with Elsevier to meet these fees on behalf of their authors. Details of these agreements are available at http://www.elsevier.com/fundingbodies. Authors of accepted articles, who wish to take advantage of this option, should complete and submit the order form (available at http://www.elsevier.com/locate/openaccessform.pdf). Whatever access option you choose, you retain many rights as an author, including the right to post a revised personal version of your article on your own website. More information can be found here: http://www.elsevier.com/authorsrights. Your publication choice will have no effect on the peer review process or acceptance of submitted articles.

For articles submitted in 2014 a special discounted publication fee of $400 applies, excluding taxes. Learn more about Elsevier’s pricing policy: http://www.elsevier.com/openaccesspricing.

(Source. Emphasis mine.)

It’s reasonable to expect that the price of $400 no longer applies since it is no longer 2014, but this wording makes it seem like the regular price is $3000. That’s usually their hybrid publishing Open Access fee. And the line that the journal “does not ordinarily have publication charges” looks like a copy and paste error (perhaps I’m being generous in this — many would argue that Elsevier is intentionally trying to mislead people into paying them $3000). This whole situation is very misleading in general, not just about the rights and permissions and copyright but also about how much money you’ll actually be charged.