A major merger in science publishing has cleared a key regulatory hurdle. Anglo-Dutch publishing giant Reed Elsevier said on 7 May that the U.S. Department of Justice will not challenge its $4.45 billion acquisition of U.S. publisher Harcourt General. Research librarians had asked regulators to block the deal, which would give Elsevier control of more than 1500 journals, saying it will drive up prices (ScienceNOW, 30 October 2000).
Last October, after the two companies announced the sale, executives said the merger would improve efficiency and benefit consumers by bringing related titles under one roof. Harcourt, a $2 billion publishing empire based in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, owns nearly 450 scientific and technical journals, including such highly cited titles as The Journal of Molecular Biology. Elsevier's $1 billion science and technical publishing unit includes 1100 titles. An analysis by ScienceNOW of publishing industry data compiled by the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI) in Philadelphia shows that the new company would control more than 125 of the 500 most-cited science journals.
Many librarians and researchers oppose the union. They cite economic studies showing that journal prices have risen far faster than the rate of inflation after recent mergers. Libraries must then spend more money for fewer subscriptions. The Harcourt-Elsevier merger would have "severe repercussions for libraries, researchers, and the public," predicts Duane Webster, executive director of the Association of Research Libraries in Washington, D.C., which represents 120 of the largest research collections in North America.
Elsevier disputes such claims, and the protests appear to have had little impact on U.S. regulators. Officials in the United Kingdom must still approve the merger.