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French Academic and Research Institutions Refuse to Pay Climbing Journal Subscription Fees, Opt for De Facto Open Access

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Session One: Work And Society, Isabelle Daugareilh, Director of Research, Centre national de la recherche scientifique, Geneva, Switzerland, April 6, 2017 © Courtesy of Marcel Crozet/International Labour organization (ILO)/Flickr.

In France, circa 100 research organizations close ranks by putting their journal subscription negotiations with Springer in abeyance, while insisting on Open Access policies and retaining access to its journal titles, as no agreement between the publisher and these French scholarly institutions was reached.

A Blog Article by Pablo Markin.


French higher education institutions and research centers claim to gain multi-million journal subscription savings after refusing a sign toll-based journal access deal with Springer Nature, according to a news item by David Matthews appearing on April 9, 2018. In the meanwhile, the publisher has refrained from cutting off the access of these institutions to its journal titles, which indicates the increasing collective bargaining power of French academic organizations that balk at rising subscription fees, have article access alternatives and clamor for rapidly transitioning to Open Access. This development is similar to the standoff between Elsevier and German research universities and institutes. It has put pressure on the publisher to maintain their access to its paywall-protected titles, as the inconclusive negotiations amble along.

Couperin, an umbrella body representing over 250 French higher education and research bodies, has been citing the growing prevalence of Open Access journals and policies as the ground for reducing the subscription fees paid to Springer. Should the deal with Springer fall through, despite continued, but fragile negotiations, French institutions may be availing themselves of article sharing opportunities. At the same time, the majority of the French organizations represented, which amounts to about 150 institutions, have renewed their contracts with Springer that publishes more than 2,900 titles. This stalemate, however, can also be precipitated by the growing adoption of Open Access by French researchers that by publishing in Open Access journals draw on university and national budgets to cover Article Processing Charges (APCs).

This creates competition for science, university and library budgets between the subscription-based and Open Access models, as large publishers, such as Elsevier, have been experiencing growing difficulties with renewing their subscription agreements in Germany, France, Canada, South Korea and Finland. Indeed, as Diana Kwon has reported on April 11, 2018, over 3,000 representatives of French education and research institutions have signed a petition started by France’s National Center for Scientific Research, the Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS), that publicly supports Couperin in its negotiations with Springer Nature. As the French scientific community becomes increasingly aware of their ability to access recent research results and publications via institutional repositories, social networks and other means, it appears to increasingly support Open Access.

In other words, growing journal subscription fees charged by large publishers, such as Springer, have led to public calls for transitioning to Open Access. More specifically, in their blog article published on April 13, 2018, Marie Farge, a research director at the CNRS, and Frédéric Hélein, a professor the University Paris Diderot, have advocated in favor of Open Access. These authors have also argued that global publishers may be resisting changes to the status quo model of scineitific publishing, as they may threaten their current profit performance, even though they gradually add Open Access options to their product portfolios.

Thus, French academic and research institutions appear to be following in the steps of their German counterparts, which have made Open Access the cornerstone of their negotiations with large publishers.

By Pablo Markin


Featured Image Credits: Session One: Work And Society, Isabelle Daugareilh, Director of Research, Centre national de la recherche scientifique, Geneva, Switzerland, April 6, 2017 © Courtesy of Marcel Crozet/International Labour organization (ILO)/Flickr.

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