Open Access
Negotiations with Elsevier
Impact on Faculty and Researchers

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Why is the University of California negotiating for open access with Elsevier and other scholarly journal publishers?

As each of our multiyear contracts with large scholarly journal publishers comes to an end, the UC is working to hold down the rapidly escalating costs associated with for-profit journals and to align our journal contracts with the UC’s stance in support of open access.

Notably, the UC is currently pursuing a new, transformative agreement with Elsevier that would make it easier and more affordable for UC authors to publish open access. Given that Elsevier is both the largest scholarly publisher in the world and the UC’s most expensive journals contract, and that the UC accounts for nearly 10 percent of all US publishing output — the most of any public educational institution in the country — a successful open access agreement will have a significant impact.

What is the goal of these negotiations?

The UC is seeking a single, integrated contract that covers both the university’s subscriptions and open access publishing of UC research. UC’s integrated proposal would cover both subscription charges and open access publishing fees, making open access the default for any article with a UC corresponding author.

The UC is also seeking a fairer and more stable price structure. Journal publishers charge more for subscriptions every year, with the rate of increase often far outstripping inflation. In addition, many UC researchers choose to pay article processing charges (APCs) to publish their articles with open access, sometimes in journals that also charge the UC for subscription fees. We seek a contract that prevents publishers from charging twice for the same content and enables us to consolidate and manage our costs in a transparent way.

Why does the University of California encourage its researchers to publish their work open access?

The mission of the University of California is to “provide long-term benefits to society through transmitting advanced knowledge, discovering new knowledge, and functioning as an active working repository of organized knowledge.” Open access publishing, which makes more of the research generated by UC scholars freely available, fulfills our mission by transmitting knowledge more broadly and facilitating new discoveries that build on our scholars’ work.

As stated in its Open Access Policy, the UC Systemwide Academic Senate recognizes “the benefits that accrue to themselves as individual scholars and to the scholarly enterprise from such wide dissemination, including greater recognition, more thorough review, consideration and critique, and a general increase in scientific, scholarly and critical knowledge.”

Open Access

How have faculty informed the University of California’s stance on open access?

The University’s Academic Senate has articulated its support for open access in its own Open Access Policy. In addition, members of the faculty are directly involved in developing our current position and participating in these negotiations. The faculty-led University Committee on Library and Scholarly Communication (UCOLASC) has unanimously endorsed the current strategy, which is consistent with its recent Declaration of Principles, and they also have endorsed a Call to Action written by the Provost’s Systemwide Library and Scholarly Information Committee (SLASIAC).

How does open access publishing benefit UC researchers?

By ensuring that the work of UC scholars is not hidden behind a paywall, open access publishing helps increase the number of people who read, share and cite UC authors’ research.

How prevalent is open access at universities and institutions in other parts of the country and around the world, and how does the University of California fit into this larger context?

There is a growing global movement to address the unsustainable costs and restrictive nature of subscription-based journal publication. Much of the progress to date has been in Europe, including agreements in the Netherlands and initiatives such as Germany’s Projekt DEAL and Finland’s “no deal, no review.” North American institutions represent nearly half of Elsevier’s revenue, and therefore American institutions must get involved as well. With the UCs accounting for 10 percent of all U.S. publishing output, we are in the best position to lead the way.


How will integrating open access publishing fees with the libraries’ subscription contract save the University of California money?

Currently, UC authors wishing to publish open access in traditional journals pay open access publishing fees on top of the university’s subscription fees. These duplicate payments have been increasing over time. A combined subscription and open access agreement is designed to eliminate duplicate payments by “offsetting” publication fees against subscriptions costs. Moreover, as more institutions take up similar transitional models, the proportion of these journals that is openly available increases and the proportion available only through subscription decreases. Therefore, the proportion of payment allocated for access to subscription content is reduced, until finally all content in the journals is openly accessible to the world, and the publisher’s revenue is solely derived through publication fees supported by the authors’ institutions. Based on research evaluating the viability of a scholarly publishing model funded entirely through article processing charges (APCs), we anticipate that these fees will be more responsive to market forces and become less costly over time than the combined subscription and open access fees we now pay.

Why are scholarly journal subscriptions so expensive?

Because the publishing of so many academic journals is consolidated under the control of so few publishers, there is a lack of competition and market forces at play. As a result, subscription costs rise faster than many consumers — in this case, scholars and academic institutions — can sustain. Meanwhile, these rapidly escalating subscription prices generate large profit margins for publishers.

Negotiations with Elsevier

Why did UC terminate its subscriptions with Elsevier?

While Elsevier’s latest proposal did consider some of UC’s conditions, including providing UC authors with open access publishing options across much of Elsevier’s journals portfolio, it had a number of serious flaws:

It would have imposed much higher costs on the university as a whole. Elsevier’s revenue would have increased by $30 million (an 80% increase in total payments) if all current UC authors were to take advantage of the open access option over the life of the three-year contract. We are committed to cost-neutrality in the transition to open access as per the Berlin 14 statement.

It would have required UC to forgo perpetual access to a significant number of Elsevier journals.

It did not enable UC to provide financial support to authors who lack access to grant funds. We are committed to supporting all UC authors who wish to publish with open access.

It would have precluded our authors from choosing to publish open access in some high profile Elsevier journals, such as those from Cell Press and The Lancet.

How are faculty involved in the Elsevier negotiations?

The Chair and Vice-Chair of UCOLASC are members of the Elsevier negotiations task force, and the Principles developed by UCOLASC have informed our negotiation strategy. There are ongoing discussions about these negotiations at Academic Council and other Senate committees.

Why are the negotiations with Elsevier noteworthy?

Elsevier is the largest scholarly publisher in the world, accounting for 17 percent of peer-reviewed journal articles worldwide. These negotiations are also noteworthy for the UC because Elsevier is the UC’s most expensive journals contract; we spend 25 percent of the annual systemwide journals budget on Elsevier.

I've heard the current system described as double dipping. What does this mean?

Many traditional subscription journals now permit authors to opt to pay an article processing charge (APC) to publish their article as open access, a practice that’s come to be called “hybrid” publishing. Under this system, authors who publish open access are treated as an added revenue source, while subscription fees are rarely reduced. Elsevier targets authors as an added revenue source and has strategically prioritized the expansion of its “author-pays” hybrid model. Yet Elsevier does not reduce its subscription fees when an open access fee is paid by an author, and thus they are effectively charging twice for access to this content.

What will happen if the negotiations are successful?

If the negotiations are successful, UC scholars will continue to have access to Elsevier content through its ScienceDirect platform. In addition, UC faculty may continue to publish in and support any journal of their choice regardless of the outcomes of these negotiations. If successful, UC authors will have the option to make their articles open access as a default. The libraries will assume a portion of the open access fees; authors with grant or other research funding would be asked to use that funding for the new, lower article processing charges (APCs). If authors don’t have funding, the university will cover the entire fee. Author workflows would be similar to what they are now, without any added burden.

Will we have access to Elsevier articles if UC does not sign a license with them? And how will we read the newly published articles that we need for our research or teaching?

If UC does not reach an agreement with Elsevier, Elsevier may turn off access to articles published on or after January 1, 2019, as well as to a small number of journals for which UC does not have perpetual access rights. Access to these articles may be delayed for UC researchers.

UC will continue to have perpetual access to articles published before January 2019 in all Elsevier journals for which the library had a pre-existing subscription.

For new articles and for the subset of journals for which we lack perpetual rights, the UC libraries will provide alternative means of access at no cost to UC readers as they do for any other content that we don’t currently license. The historical content for which we lack perpetual rights encompasses only 5 percent of the Elsevier journal use at UC. Much of this older content as well as some of Elsevier’s newer content is already freely available through open access publishing, green open access deposit, interlibrary loan, and other legitimate forms of scholarly sharing. The UC Libraries are in the process of augmenting existing mechanisms and infrastructure to ensure that researchers can obtain whatever Elsevier content they need via alternative means, should this be necessary.

How can I help?

Members of the academic community have many tools at their disposal to influence publisher policies and encourage more transformative developments, including decisions about where to submit their work, whether to serve on editorial boards, and whether to participate in peer review. We welcome the thoughtful engagement of the UC community in these issues.

Impact on Faculty and Researchers

Will funding be available to researchers for publishing costs?

By providing article processing charge (APC) support through the UC libraries as well as the option to opt-out of open access, the UC is working hard to ensure that authors have maximum flexibility in determining where and how they want to publish. The design of the contract we’re seeking to negotiate with Elsevier and other publishers would make journal articles published by UC authors open access, with financial support from the university, unless the author opts out. Authors who can draw on grants or other research funds would be asked to cover a portion of the article processing charge, but authors lacking such funds would receive full support from the university.

Who will count as a "UC author" with regards to qualifying for article processing charge (APC) support?

Any article in an Elsevier journal with a UC corresponding author will qualify for support if our preferred terms are agreed to. Similar terms may be pursued with other publishers in the future as their contracts come up for renewal. It’s possible that eligibility may be somewhat more limited during an implementation phase-in period.

How will the University of California’s proposed model provide flexibility to accommodate all UC authors, whether they want to publish open access or not?

Authors may continue to publish in and support any journal of their choice. Authors who do not want to publish open access can continue to publish their research behind the journal’s paywall, as they do now. For those who do wish to publish open access, the financial support provided by the university to help cover the article processing charge (APC) will offer an additional incentive to do so.

Can I continue to publish in the journal of my choice once this shift is made?

Yes, authors will continue to retain control of how and where they want to publish their research.

How can I get access to articles published in Elsevier journals if the UC’s license expires without a new contract in place?

First, it’s important to know that the UC already has perpetual access rights to articles published in most Elsevier journals before January 2019. For new articles and for the subset of journals for which we lack perpetual rights, the UC libraries will provide other ways of accessing articles at no cost to UC readers — for example, through interlibrary loan — just as they do for any other content that we currently don’t license. Many older articles and some newer content are also already freely available through open access publishing, green open access deposit, and other legitimate forms of scholarly sharing. The UC libraries will provide more specific guidance via a dedicated access page should that become necessary. If you need assistance accessing an article, contact your campus library for help.