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Let's Make a Deal: Updates on Publisher OA Negotiations
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Posted On February 4, 2020
More and more academic institutions are refusing to pay the high cost of scholarly journals, attempting instead to negotiate better pricing and OA agreements with major publishers. The following are some recent OA deals in varying stages of negotiation.

UC Cancellation

In February 2019, the University of California (UC) suspended its negotiations with Elsevier, thereby canceling a multitude of subscription services across its many campuses. Perhaps the most expensive publisher of scientific journals, Elsevier’s annual subscription pricing can range from $200 to $5,502 for a single print journal.

On Jan. 23, 2020, UC posted an update: “After formal negotiations stalled last year, UC and Elsevier have remained in informal conversations and are looking forward to continuing that dialogue. The parties are planning to hold a meeting to explore reopening negotiations within the first quarter of 2020.” This decision comes after Elsevier’s willingness to sign other agreements in 2019, which made UC “hopeful that this suggests that the publisher is ready to discuss deals that align with UC’s goals.”

According to Jeffrey MacKie-Mason, the co-chairperson of UC’s negotiation team, “From the very beginning, we had two goals: a reduction in costs—we pay about $11 million a year to Elsevier in subscription fees, which is 25 percent of UC system-wide journal costs—and default open access publication for UC authors: that is, that Elsevier would publish an author’s work open access unless the author didn’t want to. This is consistent with the UC faculty senate’s goal of all work being published open access.”

Several non-U.S. institutions have been down this road too. MacKie-Mason notes, “All of the universities in Germany canceled two years ago for the same reason. The Max Planck Society (the leading research organization in Germany) also did. The university alliance in Sweden canceled last spring [of 2018], and the university alliance in Hungary canceled in December [2018]. Several other national alliances in Europe are trying to negotiate a similar contract with Elsevier.”

Bibsam Consortium Success

Elsevier was able to reach an agreement with a group of Swedish universities. On Nov. 22, 2019, “the two sides announced that they had finally come to an agreement, establishing a so-called transformative deal that includes access to paywalled articles and open-accessing publishing into one fee.”

Wilhelm Widmark, a member of the steering committee for Bibsam Consortium, which handles negotiations for 80-plus Swedish institutions, says, “We had a lot of [informal] discussions with Elsevier during the cancellation and we started to negotiate again in the summer. … I think Elsevier has become more flexible during the last couple of months.”

Other Elsevier Agreements

Similar transformative arrangements with Elsevier closed in fall 2019—with Carnegie Mellon University and with a national consortium in Hungary. Each deal differs slightly, with some including access to specific paywalled journals, while others, like the Bibsam Consortium’s, include unlimited access to gold OA journals.

On Nov. 28, 2019, Elsevier announced a national agreement with “Couperin, the French academic consortium for higher education and research. … This four-year agreement (2019-2022) will provide researchers at universities and research institutions across France with equal access to Elsevier’s high-quality content provided through the ScienceDirect platform and enables both subscription and open access publishing options for researchers in France.”

Other Publishers’ Agreements

Other publishers are following Elsevier’s lead, with Springer Nature and Project DEAL signing a contract for the largest transformative OA agreement on Jan. 9, 2020. It “provides OA publishing services and full reading access to Springer Nature journals to scholars and students from across the German research landscape. … Through the agreement, authors affiliated with the 700+ German academic and research institutions which are part of [Project DEAL], will be able to publish their accepted manuscripts immediate (gold) OA in both Springer Nature ‘hybrid’ and fully OA journals, with the relative costs managed centrally by their institutions. The agreement is expected to see well over 13,000 articles a year from German researchers published OA.”

Wiley entered into a combined OA and subscription agreement with the Bibsam Consortium that began on Jan. 1, 2020. “This 3-year agreement will provide 45 participating Swedish institutions with continued access to Wiley’s subscription journals and enable their affiliated authors to publish open access articles in Wiley’s fully gold and hybrid journals.”

Oxford University Press (OUP) has announced “its first Read & Publish deal with a US institution,” reached in principle in early December 2019 with Iowa State University Library. Once finalized, it will include “access to the full OUP journals collection, including over 300 journals with an Open Access publishing option, and more than 60 fully Open Access journals. Researchers at Iowa State will be able to publish their articles via Open Access immediately upon publication in an OUP journal.”


Corilee Christou is president of C2 Consulting, a firm that specializes in leveraging and licensing digital content of all types to traditional and internet-based companies using new and innovative business models.

Email Corilee Christou

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