Germany |Report

Scholars seek open access in academic journal deal

A coalition of around 200 German institutions and libraries is boycotting the academic publishing house Elsevier  in an attempt to secure open access and fair pricing.

Under the banner of Projekt DEAL, a spontaneous grouping of universities, universities of applied science, research institutes, and state libraries is seeking to negotiate nationwide licensing agreements with three major academic publishers for their entire e‑journal portfolios. About a third of the participating institutions canceled their subscriptions during 2017 and the remainder did so on 1 January 2018.

Projekt DEAL proposes a novel Publish&Read model that would (Schäffler 2017):

  • make all articles by authors from eligible institutions open access on publication (under a Creative Commons CC BY license) — the Publish component
  • allow eligible institutions perpetual access to the complete e‑journal portfolio of the publisher in question — the Read component

In return, the participating institutions would agree:

  • fair pricing using an innovative formula based solely on the number of articles published and calculated on the basis of an adequate article processing charge (APC)
  • once yearly payments and transparent contracts
  • any academic institution or library in Germany can sign on

Springer Nature and Wiley have already agreed in principle, but Elsevier is holding out. Negotiations with Elsevier began in 2016. Elsevier’s position on the dispute is outlined in this report from ScienceMag.org (Vogel 2017).

Research organizations supporting the ban include all three Berlin universities, the Centre for European Economic Research (ZEW), and the Bavarian State Library. Despite their contracts expiring, Elsevier has said that all institutions will keep their access while the negotiations continue (Schiermeier 2018).

Cambridge University mathematician Tim Gowers said the developments in Germany are showing that academic institutions can negotiate from a position of strength. “Personally, I hope that the current impasse will last indefinitely, so that other countries will see that scientists can manage without expensive ‘Big Deals,’ and publishers will be forced to adopt much less exploitative business models,” he said.

The German Federal Antitrust Authority (Bundeskartellamt) has cleared the process in relation to competition law (Schäffler 2017). Otherwise this might look like an attempt by German institutions to exercise monopsony power (a buyer’s monopoly).

Academic publishing has been transformed by the internet. Authors now do the bulk of the typesetting and editors and reviewers work without payment. Frustration over both costs and access has been building, particularly in light of the high profits that academic publishers make (Buranyi 2017). Elsevier made 36.8% profit in 2016, significant by any standard (RELAX Group 2017:5).

Tom Brown, a postdoctoral researcher at the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies, whose institution is also part of the boycott, believes that “some of the blame for the current situation lies with researchers themselves”. He advocates that “whole editorial boards should start their own open journals, all the software tools for managing such journals are freely available online”.

Indeed, renowned scientists within the Projekt DEAL coalition have started to resign from Elsevier editorial boards and direct their efforts toward pure open access publishing (Beckmann 2017).

Projekt DEAL is set against the backdrop of a growing number of open access science policies both within Germany and from the European Commission. The rebellion is also part of a worldwide movement with similar actions in Finland, Peru, South Korea and Taiwan (Wikipedia).

Elsevier Corporate Communications did not respond when contacted for their position on the boycott.

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Robbie Morrison

"One problem, Achi, is the high cost o..."

Robbie Morrison

"For transparency, here is the raw quo..."

Robbie Morrison

"Email sent to Elsevier: Wed, 10 Jan 2..."

Achi Dosanjh

"I dont think resigning and starting a..."

Sources & References

Beckmann, Wiebke. (19 December 2017). Pressemitteilung HRK: “Wissenschaftler legen Herausgeberschaft von Elsevier-Zeitschriften nieder” + Liste – Projekt DEAL [Press release HRK: “Scientists abandon editorship of Elsevier journals” + list] (in German). Projekt DEAL. Freiburg, Germany.

Buranyi, Stephen (27 June 2017). “Is the staggeringly profitable business of scientific publishing bad for science?”. The Guardian. London, United Kingdom.

Enago Academy (19 October 2017). Elsevier’s open access controversy: German researchers resign to register protest. Enago Academy. New York. This blog also covers similar efforts in the Netherlands and Finland.

Juris (2017). Act on Copyright and Related Rights (Urheberrechtsgesetz, UrhG) — Amendments to 20 December 2016 — Official translation. Saarbrücken, Germany: Juris.

Markin, Pablo (3 January 2018). “As Universities and Libraries Defer Journal Subscription Deals, Micro- and Macro-Level Implications of Open Access Emerge.” OpenScience. Warsaw, Poland, and Berlin, Germany.

Matthews, David (4 January 2018). “Elsevier maintains German access despite failure to strike deal”. Times Higher Education (THE). London, United Kingdom. ISSN 0049-3929.

Projekt DEAL — English. Universitätsbibliothek Freiburg. Freiburg, Germany.

RELAX Group (23 February 2017). RELAX Group — Results for the year to December 2016. London, United Kingdom and Amsterdam, The Netherlands: RELAX Group. Press release. The adjusted operating margin for 2016 for the publishing division is 36.8% (p5).

Schäffler, Hildegard (15 October 2017). Germany and open access: the DEAL project — Presentation. Munich, Germany: Bavarian State Library.

Schiermeier, Quirin (14 February 2017). “German scientists regain access to Elsevier journals”. Nature News. ISSN 0028-0836. doi:10.1038/nature.2017.21482.

Schiermeier, Quirin (4 January 2018). “Germany vs Elsevier: universities win temporary journal access after refusing to pay fees”. Nature News. ISSN 1476-4687.

Vogel, Gretchen (13 October 2017). German researchers resign from Elsevier journals in push for nationwide open access. Science. Updated 16 October with information from Elsevier.


Author

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My work involves modeling national energy systems to support public policy development. I use open source and open data methods exclusively. Improving public engagement and developing trust are two key reasons for adopting open techniques in this domain.

History for Story "Scholars seek open access in academic journal deal"

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  1. Time Contributor Edit
  2. R Robbie Morrison (Contributions | Talk) correcting references sort order
  3. Pablo Markin Pablo Markin (Contributions | Talk) Minor corrections.
  4. Jack Barton Jack Barton (Contributions | Talk) Edited revision
  5. R Robbie Morrison (Contributions | Talk) added sentence on no response from Elsevier
  6. R Robbie Morrison (Contributions | Talk) added previous two cites to body
  7. R Robbie Morrison (Contributions | Talk) added Beckmann (2017) and Vogel (2017)
  8. I Ingrid Strauch (Contributions | Talk) link: scientists, resigned from ed. boards
  9. Peter Bale Peter Bale (Contributions | Talk)
  10. R Robbie Morrison (Contributions | Talk) added some clarification and detail
  11. R Robbie Morrison (Contributions | Talk) removing previously nulled out highlights
  12. J Jodie DeJonge (Contributions | Talk) edits slightly proposed added comments
  13. Peter Bale Peter Bale (Contributions | Talk)
  14. R Robbie Morrison (Contributions | Talk) quite from Sir Timoth Gowers added
  15. R Robbie Morrison (Contributions | Talk) removed unecessary "in countries such as"
  16. R Robbie Morrison (Contributions | Talk) added link to Wikipedia article describing actions elsewhere
  17. Angela Long Angela Long (Contributions | Talk) too many Germanies on view
  18. Angela Long Angela Long (Contributions | Talk) journal not papers in head
  19. Angela Long Angela Long (Contributions | Talk) final tightening
  20. Angela Long Angela Long (Contributions | Talk)
  21. Angela Long Angela Long (Contributions | Talk) Adding highlights
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  24. Angela Long Angela Long (Contributions | Talk) adding generic image
  25. Angela Long Angela Long (Contributions | Talk)
  26. Angela Long Angela Long (Contributions | Talk) wider appeal headline
  27. Angela Long Angela Long (Contributions | Talk) explaining monopsony
  28. Angela Long Angela Long (Contributions | Talk) reviewing
  29. R Robbie Morrison (Contributions | Talk) bolded "Projekt DEAL", added profit note
  30. J Jonathan Cardy (Contributions | Talk) c/e
  31. R Robbie Morrison (Contributions | Talk) "standard" now singular
  32. R Robbie Morrison (Contributions | Talk) minor copy-edit / mentioned costs as a frustration
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Talk for Story "Scholars seek open access in academic journal deal"

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  1. Other

    For transparency, here is the raw quote from Tim Gowers, send Mon, 8 Jan 2018 14:59:21 +0100

    “The developments in Germany are showing, finally, that academic institutions can negotiate from a position of strength. Personally, I hope that the current impasse will last indefinitely, so that other countries will see that scientists can manage without expensive Big Deals, and publishers will be forced to adopt much less exploitative business models.”

  2. Rewrite

    Email sent to Elsevier: Wed, 10 Jan 2018 08:24:57 +0100

    Dear Mr Boersma

    Following discussions with WikiTribune staff, viewable here and here (text search “elsevier”), I am approaching Elsevier again for your perspective on story concerning the academic boycott in Germany. The WikiTribune concept is new and unique and I guess you may be evaluating how best to respond. Unlike trad journalism though, the story can evolve. Which means that I can submit a new paragraph summarizing Elsevier’s position at any stage for approval by WikiTribune staff for inclusion. If you decide not to comment, I would appreciate a reply so that WikiTribune knows that that is your position and we can inform our readers that your organization declined the opportunity to comment.​

    with best wishes, Robbie

  3. Other

    I dont think resigning and starting a new journal which competes is a good solution for the scientific community either. the publisher usually just replaces the editors and then having two journals in the same area helps noone. more of a dialog is needed between editors and publisher.

    1. Rewrite

      One problem, Achi, is the high cost of open access under the current model. Just yesterday I bought out an Elsevier paywall from my own pocket for €2700. So I know the sums involved. Download from doi:10.1016/j.esr.2017.12.010 in a couple of weeks and enjoy. Robbie.

  4. Rewrite

    Thanks for the updates, Robbie. It would be desirable to have a comment from Elsevier.

    1. Rewrite

      I think so. Or otherwise note that they elected not to respond, perhaps: “Elsevier Corporate Communications declined to respond when contacted for their position on the boycott.”. Lets wait till Thursday. Thanks for subbing.

  5. Other

    I emailed Projekt DEAL to confirm the copy and they replied, timestamped Mon, 08 Jan 2018 15:45:48 +0100, without raising issues regarding accuracy.

  6. Other

    Email sent to Elsevier, Mon, 8 Jan 2018 14:50:56 +0100

    Harald Boersma
    Director, Corporate Communications
    Elsevier
    Amsterdam

    Dear Mr Boersma

    A news item I lead-authored on the German Projekt DEAL controversy was approved and is now live on WikiTribune:

    Morrison, Robbie and collaborators (8 January 2018). Scholars seek open access in academic journal deal. WikiTribune. London, United Kingdom.

    WikiTribune is a recently launched news website that uses both paid journalists and volunteers to generate news. I am a volunteer.

    I would like to include Elsevier’s point of view in the story. If you could send me a comment by return email I will endeavor to add a paragraph outlining your position.

    with best wishes, Robbie

  7. Great, thanks Robbie. It will be live later Monday.

  8. I am currently seeking additional quotations from other open access commentators. I will also contact Elsevier once the story is live and I can send their PR department a URL.

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