Conflicts with Large Journal Publishers Can Slow Down University Libraries’ Efforts to Transition to Open Access Models

Night View of the Geisel Library, University of California, San Diego, CA, USA, March 21, 2014 | © Courtesy of O Palsson/Flickr.
Night View of the Geisel Library, University of California, San Diego, CA, USA, March 21, 2014 | © Courtesy of O Palsson/Flickr.

The likely reason that the journal subscription contract negotiations between the library system of the University of California, comprising 100 libraries, services to about 238,000 students and resources for circa 69,000 faculty members, and Elsevier that commands a portfolio of over 1,000 journal titles appear to be dead-ending is that global publishers are yet to adjust their extant models to the demands for and of Open Access.

A Blog Article by Pablo Markin.

While the University of California, which across its 10 campuses accounts for up to 10% of yearly scholarly output in the United States, plays hardball with Elsevier over the terms of its multi-year journal subscription contract, due for renewal by December 31, 2018, the escalation of this confrontation by the university, such as by urging its researchers and faculty to refrain from publishing articles in and reviewing manuscripts for the publisher’s journals, may not necessarily contribute to finding a workable path of transition to Open Access.

This has been the case in Germany, where its research and university libraries are involved in a long-term negotiations stalemate with Elsevier over subscription fees and Open Access. That a read-and-publish deal that combines journal subscription and article processing charges for Open Access articles into an overall yearly fee may not necessarily satisfy both sides hinges on its likely higher associated financial costs than for a traditional journal subscription contract, as the negotiations between the University of California and Elsevier demonstrate.

Moreover, that the University of California increasingly favors Gold Open Access as the preferred publishing model, since it involves an immediate access to recently published articles, further constrains the range of options and models, such as Green or hybrid Open Access, that could provide a basis for a workable, long-term compromise between the interest of this academic institution and scholarly publishers.

Additionally, university libraries or their associations, such as the DEAL consortium in Germany, may have a limited leverage over large global publishers, e.g., Elsevier, whose journals occupy the higher end of impact-factor ranking, are likely to continue to boost academic promotion and research funding chances through manuscript acceptance and can demand high publication fees within or outside the framework of Open Access models. Though the faculty members of the University of California seem to be closing ranks behind its decision to transition to Open Access, they will be cut off from access to newly published Elsevier articles if no deal with it transpires.

Alternatively, the presence of pre- or post-print archives may not necessarily serve as a substitute for journal subscription agreements, as institutional repositories may fail to offer reliable access to latest research results. The universities intending to adopt Gold Open Access may also need to be paying article processing charges for each accepted article to Open Access journals, the sum total of which cannot be precisely forecast and straightforwardly encompassed in a single closed-access and Open Access agreement with publishers that may want to maintain their subscription-based and Open Access models of operation functionally separate for this reason.

For Elsevier, the closed-access model accounts for about 85% of its growing paper output, which likely slows its progress toward embracing Open Access, as its models need to show long-term sustainability.

By Pablo Markin

Featured Image Credits: Night View of the Geisel Library, University of California, San Diego, CA, USA, March 21, 2014 | © Courtesy of O Palsson/Flickr.

This post is based on an article that originally appeared in OpenScience, 15/12/2018,

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