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Europe’s Journal Subscription Deals are Slow to Include Article Processing Charges into their Open Access Provisions

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Rathaus-Glockenspiel, Munich, Bavaria, Germany, March 31, 2012 © Courtesy of Nicole June/Flickr.

A recent research report sheds light on reasons for recent stand-offs between European universities, research institutions and large international publishers, as extant journal subscription contracts overwhelmingly fail to cover article processing charges publishing in Open Access involves.

A Blog Article by Pablo Markin.


As a review article by David Matthews, which appeared on April 11, 2018, suggests, journal subscriptions represent the bulk of the 421 million Euros that European universities have spent on subscription deals for database, e-book and journal access in 2016 and 2017. Namely, based on empirical data for 66 contracts with publishers, the 2018 European University Association’s report indicates that 65% of journal subscription expenses, which amounted to 384 million Euros for this period, represented revenue streams for Elsevier, whereas Wiley had further 22.4% of this subscription money pie. This demonstrates the high degree of concentration in the European journal subscription market, where deals with two largest publishers account for over 87% of spending.

Given that these are incomplete data, as the total extent of journal subscription spending remains under-estimated, due to confidentiality clauses. Moreover, many of these subscription contracts include automatic annual price increases that can range from 3% to 6%, which can be one of the reasons for the increasing unwillingness of European research institutions to renew their existing agreements. This upward cost dynamics is also likely behind the calls and policies to switch to Open Access, which is estimated to save up to 45% of European journal subscription expenses, while freeing approximately 170 million Euros for other uses, such as research.

Yet the existing subscription contracts with large publishers indicate their resistance to Open Access, since in the 85% of cases they have not been found to contain provisions that cover article processing charges (APCs) that articles published in Open Access journals entail, whereas in only 4% of contracts APC cost offsetting arrangements have been included. By contrast, 89% of European universities have either decided on or considering the inclusion of APCs into their future contracts. Furthermore, based on the report’s analysis, the 11% of universities the subscription contracts of which did contain APC provisions have been found to be sufficiently satisfied with these to keep them in future agreements with big international publishers. In other words, in the near future close to 100% of European academic and research institutions can be expected to demand that APC provisions are included into their journal subscription journals.

This amounts to a planned transition to Open Access in Europe. While European universities may be reluctant to embrace Open Access publishing models based on up-front APCs, the long-term and short-term benefits of switching to Open Access, such as by insisting on relevant provisions being included into the subscription contracts, as inconclusive contract negotiations in France and Germany demonstrate, apparently tip the balance in favor of Open Access as a path to the affordability of journal article publishing and access.

By Pablo Markin


Featured Image Credits: Rathaus-Glockenspiel, Munich, Bavaria, Germany, March 31, 2012 | © Courtesy of Nicole June/Flickr.

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