Elsevier charge $37.95 for access to an unformatted manuscript with intrusive watermarking and the illustrations removed

March 3, 2021

Today should be a day of rejoicing, as it brings us a new sauropod: Arackar licanantay Rubilar-Rogers et al. 2021., a small titanosaur from Chile.

It’s not, though. Because not only is this paper behind a paywall in Elsevier’s journal Cretaceous Research, but the paywalled paper is what they term a “pre-proof” — a fact advertised in a tiny font half way down the page rather than in a giant red letters at the top.

“Pre-proof” is not a term in common usage. What does it mean? It turns out to be an unformatted, double-spaced, and line-numbered manuscript. In other words, this is an AAM (author’s accepted manuscript) of the kind that the authors could have deposited in their institutional repository for anyone to read for free.

But wait — there’s more! By way of “added value”, Elsevier have slapped a big intrusive “journal pre-proof” watermark across the middle of every single page, to make it even less readable than a double-spaced line-numbered manuscript already is:

Sample page from “pre-proof” of Rubilar-Rogers et al. 2021. Reproduced under the Fair Dealing doctrine as non-commercial research, criticism / review / quotation, and news reporting (sections 29, 30, 178 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988). Get back in your box, Elsevier copyright lawyers.

If you want to see this for yourself, Elsevier will let you download it for $37.95:

Yeah. Thirty-seven dollars and 95 cents.

And now, the punchline. You may be wondering why, when a new sauropod has been announced, I didn’t lead with a nice image of one of the vertebrae? After all, are we not Sauropod Vertebra Picture of the Week?

It’s because there are no images of the vertebra. There are no images of any of the fossil material. In fact, there are no images at all.

Yes. This “pre-proof” omits all twelve illustrations. (We know there are twelve images, because all the figure captions appear at the end.) I have no idea what Arackar licanantay looks like. None at all. And for this, let’s just remind ourselves again, they charge $37.95.

I want to be careful throwing words like “fraud” around, but what I will say is that this is behaviour unbecoming of a major and once-respected multinational corporation. If a publisher’s behaviour ever merited the label “predatory”, surely this is it.



  • Rubilar-Rogers, David, Alexander O. Vargas, Bernardo González Riga, Sergio Soto-Acuña, Jhonatan Alarcón-Muñoz, José Iriarte-Díaz, Carlos Arévalo and Carolina S. Gutstein. 2021. Arackar licanantay gen. et sp. nov. a new lithostrotian (Dinosauria, Sauropoda) from the Upper Cretaceous of the Atacama Region, northern Chile. Cretaceous Research 104802 (pre-proof). doi:10.1016/j.cretres.2021.104802


16 Responses to “Elsevier charge $37.95 for access to an unformatted manuscript with intrusive watermarking and the illustrations removed”

  1. Ismar de Souza Carvalho Says:

    This shows the importance to support open access journals published by universities and research institutes.

  2. David Marjanović Says:

    I don’t think every institution has its own repository. I’m sure mine doesn’t.

    I’ve never seen before that the illustrations are omitted from a pre-proof. I would not be surprised to learn that this is an isolated incident of incompetence unbecoming of a major and once-respected multinational corporation, and shows that money doesn’t automatically generate competence…

  3. Mike Taylor Says:

    I thnik that must be very much the exception now, David. What is your institition?

    In any case, there are plenty of other repositories available that do not require you to be associated with a given institution. Zenodo is one such.

  4. dale m Says:

    There’s a Trumpian solution here. Just say it’s a hoax. “Fake Discovery”… “Fake Paper!” If it takes hold, these journals may rethink their stance including the authors who send them. All I hear are complaints. Take the initiative! Hit them where it really hurts! Or create a journal or 2, 3, 4 …. for everyone of every sub discipline of ….. oh wait ….. we’re a science of economic rags. Please delete.

  5. You’ve heard of “value-added”, now get ready for “value-removed”!

    The images are apparently available somehow on the website because a friend of mine who does have access through their institution was able to send me the images.

    My best guess is that Elsevier has removed the images from their pre-proofs to prevent alternative access methods from being able to obtain a useful copy of the paper. Somebody with a subscription can get the extra image files (in theory, although they’re apparently well-hidden), but someone accessing through less official means can only get the imageless PDF. Elsevier’s been doing this for a while because this isn’t the first time I’ve encountered a PDF like this.

  6. Mike Taylor Says:

    No, that’s not it, John: I downloaded my PDF legitimately using my University of Bristol affiliation. I just downloaded another copy to be 100% sure. It doesn’t have the images.

  7. The images are apparently uploaded on the website as separate files, not as part of the PDF—since I didn’t get it myself, I’m not sure exactly, but they might be listed as supplementary files or something like that?

  8. Mike Taylor Says:

    OK, it turns out that when I am logged in as a Bristol person, the HTML version of the paper includes the illustrations — it’s just the PDF that doesn’t.

  9. Mickey Mortimer Says:

    Unfortunately, this isn’t a one-time mistake as David Marjanovic suggests, but it is a new phenomenon starting last year. This exact case is also true in Niebla, Kompsornis and Ajnabia at least, all from different Elsevier journals. I had the same suspicion as John D’Angelo- it’s designed to make the pdfs stored on Sci-Hub far less useful, even if it screws genuine subscribers by making them download figures separately or download a html version like it’s the 1990s or something. Hopefully it was worth it to Elsevier to have me waste authors’ time emailing them to get the image files. And now everyone who downloaded the pdfs has to wait for the official publication so they can download a new pdf file and get all these jpgs out of their folders. Does the final version cost another $38.95 I wonder?

  10. LeeB. Says:

    Perhaps the final version will cost even more as it has the added value of having the pictures in the pdf.
    Stay tuned to find out.

  11. Triops Says:

    Delete this comment if you think this is too much into piracy. Although it’s not a solution, but simply a way to circumvent the lack of pictures…open each picture present in ‘Outlines’ in a new tab. Then, change the .sml extension in .jpg in the address bar and what you get are pictures of decent size.

  12. Mike Taylor Says:

    How could it be piracy to gain access to images of a PDF that you have bought access to? Thanks for the tip.

  13. L. Jonchère Says:

    Even worse: I’ve seen many examples of Elsevier AAM’s with the “pre-proof” watermark placed right on top of text and figures, making the manuscript illegible.

  14. hopdobby Says:

    I finally got the chance the view the Arackar description and for some unknown reason, the caption for the cladogram in Figure 12 in this paper says that Arackar licanantay is placed as a sister taxon of Opisthocoelicaudiinae + (Trigonosaurus + Saltasaurinae) (330 MPTs of 1706 steps, CI 0.264; RI 0.569), yet the cladogram does not include Trigonosaurus. Someone could ask the lead author of this paper to emend the caption in Figure 12 before this paper on Arackar is published.

  15. thearchosaur Says:

    You can download the final version pdf here, for the next 50 days: https://authors.elsevier.com/c/1cx8YiVLDFT0l

  16. thearchosaur Says:

    for free

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