University of California System Cancels Elsevier Subscriptions: Big Win for Open Access!

Dear Commons Community,

The University of California system announced yesterday that it was ending its contract with  Elsevier, one of the biggest for-profit academic publishers in the world.  The announcement that the 10-campus system would cancel its Elsevier subscriptions represents a major win for open-access advocates. And it may signal to other academic libraries that pay millions of dollars in subscriptions to large journal publishers that a retreat from those costly mass subscriptions is workable.  As reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

“The [California] system, which announced the decision on Thursday, had sought one contract that would cover the cost of subscriptions to Elsevier’s trove of journals in addition to the processing fees that make all UC research published in Elsevier journals freely available to all.

An Elsevier spokesman said the company had put forward a proposal that met the system’s request, including an option that would allow researchers to choose between publishing behind a paywall or paying a fee and publishing under an open-access model. The Chronicle has not seen the proposal.

“It is disappointing that the California Digital Library (CDL) has broken off negotiations unilaterally,” the spokesman, Tom Reller, wrote in an email, “but we hope we can bridge this divide with them soon.”

The system’s prior five-year contract with Elsevier had cost about $50 million, and UC is just the latest institution to back away from bulk subscription packages as library budgets tighten.

Last year, for example, Florida State University said it would not subscribe to the publishing behemoth’s journals in one bulk deal. Instead, it chose to maintain about $1 million in subscriptions to individual journals. In 2017, Elsevier published more than 430,000 articles in some 2,500 journals, according to the company.

Leverage in the negotiations between Elsevier and the UC system was held by faculty members who published in and edited for the company’s journals.

In a December letter, officials at the University of California at Los Angeles asked faculty members to consider declining to review articles for Elsevier journals until the contract talks progressed. Earlier this week the company emailed UC-based editors of Elsevier journals to explain its point of view and outline the model proposed to the system.

“Despite our best efforts, it is still possible we may not reach an agreement,” wrote Philippe Terheggen, managing director of Elsevier Journals. “We are making every effort to prevent a scenario where the UC loses access to new Elsevier content.”

On a system web page, UC has listed possible ways scholars in need of Elsevier articles could get access to them, including through an interlibrary loan, in online repositories like PubMed, and by simply contacting the author and asking for a copy.

In its announcement the university system cast its decision as a win for open access.

“I fully support our faculty, staff, and students in breaking down paywalls that hinder the sharing of groundbreaking research.”

“I fully support our faculty, staff, and students in breaking down paywalls that hinder the sharing of groundbreaking research,” said the system’s president, Janet A. Napolitano. “This issue does not just impact UC, but also countless scholars, researchers, and scientists across the globe — and we stand with them in their push for full, unfettered access.”

In an annual report published on Thursday, the company’s parent, RELX, reported revenue and profit growth, but it warned that the debate over paid subscriptions may pose an external risk for future earnings.”

BRAVO to the University of California!  Open access is alive and well!


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