Reed Elsevier, which publishes many scientific journals and magazines, has just announced that they are going to get rid of their lucrative side-business of running major armaments fairs. Earlier this year there was a lot of criticism of the company for this practice, from shareholders, rival journals and even the editors of the Lancet, one of Reed Elsevier’s most respected journals. The chief executive specifically talked about this pressure in his explanation for the change:
We have listened closely to these concerns and this has led us to conclude that the defence shows are no longer compatible with Reed Elsevier’s position as a leading publisher of scientific, medical, legal and business content.
Given that the arms fair business makes up only about 1% of Reed’s overall turnover, I suppose it’s not going to be too hard for them to say goodbye to it, but this case does highlight the campaigning potential of academics. In this particular situation this bargaining power was amplified by the fact that Reed Elsevier’s main business is journal publication, an area that relies heavily on the authority gained by having big names in the field appear in your journal. Even a top tier journal might never recover from the effect of a boycott by top academics. Of course, how effective or indeed warranted other academic boycotts are is questionable.