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Berlin Universities Accelerate the Transition to Open Access by Cancelling Toll-Access Contracts with Elsevier

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Die Konferenz „The Interfaces of Science and Policy and the Role of Foundations", Stiftung Mercator, Berlin, Germany, June 16, 2014 | © Courtesy of Stiftung Mercator.

Elsevier deals with a setback, as German universities increasingly reject the renewal of their subscription-based agreements in favor of Open Access.

A Blog Article by Pablo Markin.


In Germany, an increasing number of universities have announced in June-July, 2017, that they do not plan to renew their journal subscription contracts with Elsevier, one of large international publishers. While negotiations between Elsevier and German univerisities acting via the Project DEAL that represents an alliance of German research and educational institutions are still ongoing, this publisher faces a mounting push-back from German universities that have been announcing their contract cancellations. The Humboldt University, Free University and Technical University of Berlin, as well as other German institutions, have recently announced that they will no longer renew their contracts with Elsevier starting 2018, as they indicate that, since the production of scientific publications is publicly financed, Open Access models are more sustainable than yearly subscriptions that have been constantly rising by at least 5% year-on-year in recent decades.

The crux of the demands of German academic institutions from larger journal publishers, e.g., Elsevier, Wiley and Springer, that can account for up to 60% of library budgets is a transition to Open Access arrangements, when only article processing charges (APCs) are collected. While Springer and Wiley, as smaller market players, have exhibited signs of readiness for accommodating elements of Open Access and innovative business models involving one-time paymenents rather than yearly fees, Elsevier has failed to conclude its negotiations with a model that would be acceptable to its German counterparts. On the one hand, the on-going negotiations with Elsevier have been fruitless, because German universities find piecemeal solutions for Open Access implementation, as has been the case with the Association of Universities in the Netherlands, when only some journals offer limited Open Access options, unappealing. Moreover, Elsevier encounters, on the other hand, resistance to its extant business models internationally as well, as the Finnish Library Consortium and the Consortium on Core Electronic Resources in Taiwan representing numerous academic institutions locally have announced the cancellation of their fee-based contracts, in a partially successful bid to receive more favorable conditions from this publisher. Whereas Finnish public and university libraries are prepared to boycott Elsevier if their Open Access demands are not met, an estimated 17% of Taiwanese academic institutions have not their contracts with Elsevier.

German university libraries’ resistance to the status quo relations with this publisher also follows from the high APCs its charges for its Open Access options that can range from 5,000 USD for its more prestigious scientific journals, such as Neuron, to 500 USD for niche journals, e.g. Genomics Data. In other words, given that digitization has led to massive reductions in the cost structures of major journal publishers, university libraries, such as in German, increasingly raise demands that these cost savings be translated into either price cuts or Open Access agreements, rather than publisher profits.

In this respect, the coordinated response of German academic institutions to the oligopolistic pricing practices of large journal publishers is likely to lead either to contract price reductions or the entrenchment of Open Access as an institutionally preferred option.

By Pablo Markin


Featured Image Credits: Die Konferenz „The Interfaces of Science and Policy and the Role of Foundations”, Stiftung Mercator, Berlin, Germany, June 16, 2014 | © Courtesy of Stiftung Mercator.

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