Maybe I don’t have a whole blog post’s worth to say on this topic, but it is a question that bugs the hell out of me. I mean, I know perfectly well why people publish in Elsevier journals: it’s good for their career. I’ll confess I have a publication coming out in the Journal of Algebra some time in the near future (and another in Tranformation Groups, which is a Springer journal).
But if Elsevier sends me an article to review, I’ll send the editor a polite letter along the lines of
I’m sorry, but I won’t do free work for a for-profit organization. I encourage you to do the same.
If everyone would do that, there would be no more for-profit journals in a matter of weeks, and it wouldn’t be particularly hard. I mean, is there anbody who derives enjoyment or even career advancement by refereeing papers for Elsevier? It really doesn’t seem like it would be the case. Most other questions of interactions with evil journals are much more mixed. It’s a genuine dilemma for a library to decide to drop Inventiones, or for a mathematician to decide not to publish there. But refereeing for them? Come on.
EDIT: Scott mentions there is a list of people who have publicly committed to not participating in the operation of high priced journals by agreeing to the so-called Banff Protocol. I encourage you all to sign up.