University of California strikes open-access publishing deal with Elsevier

by Joseph K. Clark

Dive Brief:

  • Two years after the University of California let its subscription lapse with Elsevier, the system announced it reached an agreement with the academic publishing giant to help its researchers publish open-access articles in the company’s scholarly journals.
  • The four-year deal will make all UC lead authors open access by default, meaning the research won’t be locked behind a paywall. It will also restore student and faculty member reading access to Elsevier journals.
  • The deal is part of a more significant movement spearheaded by UC and other universities worldwide to make scientific articles freely available and reduce spending on expensive subscriptions with publishers.

Dive Insight:

California strikes

UC cut ties with Elsevier in early 2019 after negotiations to get the publisher to reduce subscription costs and offer its authors open-access publishing broke down. At the time, the system said it walked away from an open-access deal that would have increased how much it paid by about 80%.

Under the new deal, UC expects to pay Elsevier about $13 million in 2021 — about the same amount it paid the publisher in 2018, a member of the system’s negotiation team said in a Q-and-A posted online. The subscription price will increase by 2.6% each year, according to a memorandum of understanding between the system and the publisher.

UC says the agreement is the largest of its kind in North America, but it isn’t the only open-access publishing deal the system has recently struck. It has eight other such agreements with companies, including Springer Nature, another publishing heavyweight.

The deal may pave the way for other institutions to ink similar agreements. “[W]e hope we’ve demonstrated that an open access agreement that is both comprehensive and cost-effective is possible even for the largest institutions,” Ivy Anderson, who helped lead the UC’s negotiation team, said in an email. Dealmaking was challenging for the system because of its high volume of research activity, Anderson said, adding that smaller institutions “may have an easier time.”

Momentum is building behind open-access publishing, especially outside of the U.S. A coalition of 900 German institutions recently struck a deal with Springer Nature to publish their articles in an open-access format without being charged.

The coalition ended its subscription with Elsevier in 2017 but is having informal discussions with the company, Science magazine reported. However, the publisher did reach an open-access agreement in Sweden and with Carnegie Mellon University, in Pennsylvania.

Some U.S. universities are taking a hard line during negotiations with Elsevier. Last year, the State University of New York ended a bundled subscription deal with the publisher in favor of access to a smaller set of academic journals. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill announced a similar move a few days later.

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