Big Win For Open Access, As University Of California Cancels All Elsevier Subscriptions, Worth $11 Million A Year

from the academic-publishing's-emperor-has-no-clothes dept

As Techdirt has reported over the years, the move to open access, whereby anyone can read academic papers for free, is proving a long, hard journey. However, the victories are starting to build up, and here's another one that could have important wider ramifications for open access, especially in the US:

As a leader in the global movement toward open access to publicly funded research, the University of California is taking a firm stand by deciding not to renew its subscriptions with Elsevier. Despite months of contract negotiations, Elsevier was unwilling to meet UC's key goal: securing universal open access to UC research while containing the rapidly escalating costs associated with for-profit journals.

In negotiating with Elsevier, UC aimed to accelerate the pace of scientific discovery by ensuring that research produced by UC's 10 campuses -- which accounts for nearly 10 percent of all U.S. publishing output -- would be immediately available to the world, without cost to the reader. Under Elsevier's proposed terms, the publisher would have charged UC authors large publishing fees on top of the university's multi-million dollar subscription, resulting in much greater cost to the university and much higher profits for Elsevier.

The problems faced by the University of California (UC) are the usual ones. The publishing giant Elsevier was willing to move to an open access model -- but only if the University of California paid even more on top of what were already "rapidly escalating costs". To its credit, the institution instead decided to walk, depriving Elsevier of around $11 million a year (pdf).

But that's not the most important aspect of this move. After all, $11 million is small change for a company whose operating profit is over a billion dollars per year. What will worry Elsevier more is that the University of California is effectively saying that the company's journals are not so indispensable that it will sign up to a bad deal. It's the academic publishing equivalent of pointing out that the emperor has no clothes.

The University of California is not the first academic institution to come to this realization. National library consortiums in Germany, Hungary and Sweden have all made the same decision to cancel their subscriptions with Elsevier. Those were all important moves. But the University of California's high-profile refusal to capitulate to Elsevier is likely to be noted and emulated by other US universities now that the approach has been validated by such a large and influential institution.

As to where researchers at the University of California (and in Germany, Hungary and Sweden) will obtain copies of articles published in Elsevier titles that are no longer available to them through subscriptions -- UC retains access to older ones -- there are many other options. For example, preprints are increasingly popular, and circulate freely. Contacting the authors directly usually results in copies being made available, since academics naturally want their papers read as widely as possible.

And then, of course, there is Sci-Hub, which now claims to provide access to 70 million articles. Researchers that end up at Sci-Hub in search of a hard-to-find item may well discover how much more convenient it is than the traditional subscription services that impose strict controls on access to publications. The risk for Elsevier is that once researchers get a taste of quick, seamless access to everything, they may never want go back to the old system, however much the company slashes its prices to win back business.

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Filed Under: academic research, journal articles, open access, paywalls, scientific research
Companies: elsevier, uc berkeley, university of california


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  • icon
    Thad (profile), 4 Mar 2019 @ 4:20pm

    A pedantic correction: you don't need both a dollar sign and the word "dollars". The dollar sign means "dollars". If I were to read "$11 Million Dollars" literally, it would read as "eleven million dollars dollars".

    Pedantry aside: good for the University of California system. That's going to do some damage to Elsevier's bottom line.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 4 Mar 2019 @ 4:30pm

      Re:

      A pedantic correction: … The dollar sign means…

      Ocasionally, we recall that this is a tech site.

      $ echo $SHELL
      /bin/bash
      $ csh
      % exit

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 4 Mar 2019 @ 4:50pm

        Re: Re:

        well at least you did not invoke dash

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 4 Mar 2019 @ 6:07pm

        Re: Re:

        Ocasionally, we recall that this is a tech site.
        $ echo $SHELL
        /bin/bash

        A quick code review:

        • $SHELL needs to be in double-quotes; otherwise, if the path contains two consecutive spaces or a tab or newline (assuming default $IFS), word-splitting will mess things up
        • if "$SHELL" is "-n", or contains a backslash, your result is unspecified by POSIX (don't assume your system is XSI-conformant!)

        My suggested rewrite: printf %s "$SHELL"

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 4 Mar 2019 @ 5:11pm

      Re:

      Like the ATM Machine, where you use your card with a PIN Number. Also HIV Virus.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 4 Mar 2019 @ 5:57pm

        Re: Re:

        Like the ATM Machine, where you use your card with a PIN Number.

        As any good pedant knows, an ATM Machine manufactures automated teller machines. And if you like, you can number your PINs from 0 to N-1 and tell people your PIN numbers—but never reveal the PINs themselves!

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 4 Mar 2019 @ 6:12pm

        Re: Re:

        I've always liked "hot water heater"

        If the water is already hot, why does it need a heater?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 5 Mar 2019 @ 6:21am

          Re: Re: Re:

          If the water is already hot, why does it need a heater?

          To make it hotter. Of course, a heater incapable of heating cold water would be annoying to bootstrap, but the usual case is that it's heating hot water (unless you have an undersized tank and several people want to take baths).

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 5 Mar 2019 @ 5:54am

        Re: Re:

        Hey! Knock it off, before I report you to the Department of Redundancy Department!

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Baron von Robber, 5 Mar 2019 @ 12:23pm

        Re: Re:

        NIC card. :)

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      glyn moody, 5 Mar 2019 @ 12:57am

      Re:

      You're right - that was an edit fail on my part - thanks for pointing it out. Now fixed.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Châu, 8 Mar 2019 @ 4:42pm

      Re: Put unit after number

      Not correct: "$11 Million Dollars" is "dollars 11 million dollars". Why some country put money unit before number but read reverse order is strange. Put units AFTER number is standard (follow way people talk), 11 million km, 11 million kg, 11 million ฿, 11 million °C, etc. Correct is 11 million $US.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        nasch (profile), 8 Mar 2019 @ 7:58pm

        Re: Re: Put unit after number

        Not correct: "$11 Million Dollars" is "dollars 11 million dollars".

        No, Thad is correct and you are mistaken. "$11 million" is "eleven million dollars." It sounds like you're from a country where the currency symbol, whether $ or something else, is customarily placed after the quantity. In the US, it comes before.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Mar 2019 @ 4:29pm

    Moves like this will only speed up the switch to open access journals, and further reduce the value of Elsevier journals, as they get fewer and fewer papers submitted. Also worth noting, the editorial and peer review people are not usually Elsevier employees, and can start new open access journals, leaving Elsevier to try and find volunteers to edit and peer review papers from an increasing hostile academic community.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 5 Mar 2019 @ 12:42am

      Re:

      "Moves like this will only speed up the switch to open access journals, and further reduce the value of Elsevier journals..."

      A very good thing. The core philosophy of science is that progress is only possible when what you've published is freely available.

      Which is why every researcher is paid in advance for researching and publishing, and we have a patent system (albeit seriously flawed) for commercializing published research.

      Elsevier's entire business model is built around, in practice, stealing the rights to tax-funded research from the public domain to which it belongs. The hilarity of that is that copyright trolls, keen on screaming "theft" over mere copying, are always blind to Elsevier which has made stealing actual ip rights their core business.

      Or said trolls come out swinging in Elsevier's defense.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Mar 2019 @ 5:11pm

    Alternative journals for alternative facts.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Avantare (profile), 4 Mar 2019 @ 5:20pm

    How long until these 5 jump onboard with UC?

    Taken from https://www.timeshighereducation.com/student/best-universities/best-universities-united-states

    Stanf ord
    MIT
    CalTech
    Harvard
    Princeton

    and I'm sure there are others.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 4 Mar 2019 @ 5:45pm

      Re: How long until these 5 jump onboard with UC?

      There are others, just not in the US. Taiwan and Germany have already jumped on the bandwagon. When developed governments tell you your services are too expensive... well, it's not like Elsevier's the sort to not double down on stupidity.

      I'm sure blue boy's busy blinking back tears for the sake of this poor, harassed, impoverished gatekeeper corporation.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Avantare (profile), 4 Mar 2019 @ 5:55pm

        Re: Re: How long until these 5 jump onboard with UC?

        Oh, I know it's not just here but overseas as well, can't happen soon enough. Think about what they could do with that saved money if they funneled it back into research. Not just UC and the ones from the article but all of the universities that jump ship.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 5 Mar 2019 @ 12:45am

        Re: Re: How long until these 5 jump onboard with UC?

        "I'm sure blue boy's busy blinking back tears for the sake of this poor, harassed, impoverished gatekeeper corporation."

        No doubt. Blue/bobmail isn't known for consistency.

        If Elsevier was a mere gatekeeper corporation that'd be bad enough. In reality however, what they do is what blue and his fellow copyright cultists keep fallaciously claiming pirates do.

        Elsevier is stealing copyrights. Right from the Public Domain in which that mostly tax-funded research rightly belongs. It's the one way you can actually apply the theft argument where IP is concerned.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 4 Mar 2019 @ 7:29pm

    $11 million here, $10 million there...

    But that's not the most important aspect of this move. After all, $11 million is small change for a company whose operating profit is over a billion dollars per year.

    In negotiating with Elsevier, UC aimed to accelerate the pace of scientific discovery by ensuring that research produced by UC's 10 campuses -- which accounts for nearly 10 percent of all U.S. publishing output.

    $11 million may be 'small change'for a company that size, but losing out on what amounts to a tenth of US academic publishing output just drastically reduced the value of what they have to offer, making it more likely that others will follow suit until hopefully everyone bails on them entirely.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Mar 2019 @ 9:18pm

    I wonder if UC employees and professors will still participate in peer revie wof artical for Elsevier.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 5 Mar 2019 @ 12:48am

      Re:

      "I wonder if UC employees and professors will still participate in peer revie wof artical for Elsevier."

      Partially. Those who are invited to peer review or still hold Elsevier subscriptions will be able to do so.

      But the pool of available reviewers will be shrinking fast. At the end of it you'll have, worst case, a group of failed academics more or less employed by elsevier to do nothing but review other people's works - which will serve to dump Elsevier's credibility even further.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Bobvious, 5 Mar 2019 @ 2:56am

    Name change?

    Perhaps they'll call themselves Less Sevier?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    nasch (profile), 5 Mar 2019 @ 9:37am

    Elsevier

    I used to work for a company that did business with Elsevier. One day we discovered they had scraped the Javascript and HTML from our product and turned it over to another development shop to attempt to make a cheaper version of our product. Real classy company.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Mar 2019 @ 4:11pm

    Maybe Elsevier can lobby various governments to force universities to give them papers to publish and buy subscriptions at higher fees. Not entirely unlike a link tax.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Kit Taylor (profile), 6 Mar 2019 @ 6:20am

    Divest

    Elsevier, a traditional STEM publisher 20 years ago, now bills itself as a global information analytics business. Publishing and marketing/selling its journals and books is quite different from the database business into which it has expanded.
    With the same staff on both publishing and databases sales, maybe it is time to separate the two so that publishing can focus on negotiations like this one with a more appropriate understanding of authors and editors in academe.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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