March 20, 2019 (revised April 25, 2019)

The University of California has taken a firm stand on both open access to publicly funded research and fiscal responsibility by deciding not to renew its journal subscriptions with Elsevier, the world’s largest scientific publisher. Here’s why:

Elsevier’s proposal

Under Elsevier’s proposed terms, the publisher would capture significant new revenue on top of the university’s current multimillion-dollar subscription while significantly diminishing UC’s rights to Elsevier content. Elsevier’s latest proposal, dated January 31, 2019, did consider some of UC’s conditions, including providing UC authors with open access publishing options across much of the publisher’s portfolio of journals. However, there were several conditions that UC was unwilling to accept:

  • Higher costs: Elsevier’s proposal would impose much higher costs on the university as a whole. UC has consistently requested a contract that would result in open access for 100 percent of UC-authored research articles. As presented, Elsevier’s proposal assumed a much smaller number of open access articles, yet would still increase UC’s costs. When we calculated what it would cost to achieve 100 percent open access under the terms that Elsevier proposed, UC’s total payments would increase by about 80 percent, or an additional $30 million over three years. UC’s goal is cost-neutrality in the transition to open access.
  • Reduced rights: The proposal would have required UC to forgo perpetual access to a significant number of Elsevier journals. UC expects that perpetual access to journal content will be part of an integrated open access agreement.
  • Limitations on UC’s financial support for authors: The proposal did not enable UC to provide full financial support to authors who lack access to grant funds. UC is committed to supporting all UC authors who wish to publish open access.
  • Excluded journals: Elsevier’s terms would have precluded open access publishing in some high-profile Elsevier journals, such as those from Cell Press and The Lancet, and some society journals. UC is committed to making all the work of all of its authors freely available.

The UC proposal

UC had two goals for our Elsevier agreement at the start of negotiations:

  • An integrated agreement that covered access to Elsevier journals as well as default open access publishing for all UC corresponding-authored articles in Elsevier journals.  
  • An overall cost reduction commensurate with the value that we believe Elsevier journals offer.  

As negotiations proceeded, the terms that UC proposed to Elsevier provided for full open access publishing for UC-authored articles, with no increase in the total UC payments to Elsevier. This proposal was similar to several agreements in Europe, but the payment structure was different to reflect the decentralized nature of research funding in the U.S. Under UC’s proposal, payments to Elsevier would be shared by central university and individual researcher funds. The model has been endorsed as a pilot by the faculty senate’s University Committee on Library and Scholarly Communication (UCOLASC), the UC Libraries, and UC’s Systemwide Library and Scholarly Information Advisory Committee (SLASIAC), and we believe it can be replicated at other U.S. institutions.  

In our November 18, 2018 proposal to Elsevier:

  • Open access would be the default publication option for all UC corresponding authors who publish in Elsevier journals. (Authors would have the choice to opt out.)
  • The total payment to Elsevier would be 10 percent less than the current total UC payment.  
  • The total payment would consist of a reading fee and APC payments for each UC corresponding-authored article published. The reading fee would be about 10 percent of the total payment.
  • Depending on the number of UC articles published in a given year, the total payment could vary upward or downward by 2 percent, allowing for incremental adjustments in response to actual UC publishing behavior while offering stability and risk protection for both UC and Elsevier.
  • The APCs charged by Elsevier would be reduced to accommodate the total payment ceiling.
  • The Libraries would pay $1,000 of the reduced APC (or less when the discounted journal APC is smaller) for each UC article. Authors would then either pay the balance using their research funds, or, if they did not have sufficient available research funds, the Libraries would pay the APC in full.

Our proposal preceded Elsevier’s January 31, 2019 proposal. In response to their proposal, we informed Elsevier on February 25 that we would be willing to revise our proposal to be cost-neutral (combining both subscription and open access APC payments). Based on Elsevier’s external communications on February 26, we believed that Elsevier was not going to meet our goal for cost-neutrality, so we ended negotiations. 

UC’s proposal grew out of the long history of support for open access that originated with the Academic Senate, including the Systemwide Open Access Policy and the Principles to Transform Scholarly Communication. And support for UC’s position continues, including through a recent statement delivered to the UC Regents, and a statement of support from the Senate’s Academic Council (executive committee). UC’s goal has been to transition the university’s expenditures from subscriptions to open access publishing in a way that would make open access available, by default, to all UC authors in a cost-effective way.  

What’s next

UC is prepared to return to the negotiating table at a future point if and when we perceive an opportunity for substantive progress. In the meantime, we look forward to further engagement with our UC community of authors and editors about the future shape of research dissemination at UC and elsewhere.

We welcome your additional comments and questions about this issue (including inquiries about alternative access to Elsevier articles). Please also feel free to contact your campus library with any questions you may have.


The UC-Elsevier Negotiating Team

Ivy Anderson (Co-Chair)
Associate Executive Director
California Digital Library 

Jeffrey MacKie-Mason (Co-Chair)
University Librarian
Professor, School of Information and Professor of Economics
UC Berkeley

Günter Waibel
Associate Vice Provost and Executive Director
California Digital Library

Richard A. Schneider
Associate Professor, Orthopaedic Surgery
UC San Francisco
Chair, Academic Senate University Committee on Library and Scholarly Communication

Dennis J. Ventry, Jr.
Professor of Law
UC Davis
Vice Chair, Academic Senate University Committee on Library and Scholarly Communication

Mihoko Hosoi
Assistant Director for Systemwide Licensing
California Digital Library


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