UC to negotiate terms with world’s largest publisher of scholarly articles

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On Dec. 31, the five-year contract between the UC California Digital Libraries, or CDL, and Elsevier – the largest publisher of scholarly articles in the world – will expire. Tensions are mounting between the University of California and Elsevier as they negotiate new terms for the next contract.

The first objective of the negotiations for CDL will be to obtain a lower price with the publishing company, Jeffrey MacKie-Mason, the University Librarian and Chief Digital Scholarship Officer of the University of California, Berkeley, said in an email. The second objective is to ensure that all research published by UC authors would be open access, or OA, which means that these texts would be free and open to the public immediately upon publication.

MacKie-Mason said that he believes that OA is the way of the future for publishing.

“Make no mistake: the prices of scientific journals now are so high that not a single university in the US — not the University of California, not Harvard, no one — can afford to subscribe to all scientific journals,” MacKie-Mason said in the email.

Steven Brenner, a professor in the department of Plant & Microbial Biology at UC Berkeley, said in an email that OA facilitates research because researchers can access articles from other scholars without needing a subscription.

Brenner said that currently, there are many journals that Berkeley does not subscribe to, and he must obtain these via inter-library loans or other institutions.

“We are interested in using text-mining to learn from the scientific literature,” Brenner said in the email. “OA articles can be more readily obtained, analyzed, and curated. Those which are part of traditional subscriptions cannot be readily studied in this way.”

Brenner, who is the founder of the OA journal PLOS Computational Biology, added that OA makes his own research more widely accessible.

According to Brenner, OA reduces barriers to dissemination.

“A goal for our research is to disseminate our work as broadly as possible to have the greatest impact,” Brenner said.

Brenner said that the difference between traditional subscriptions and OA is that while traditional subscriptions place charges on readers, OA places charges on the authors. Ideally, however, the overall global costs “should be similar for publication under both models,” according to Brenner. Though he added that in practice, these costs may come out to be different.

Elsevier stated in an email that it is “strongly supportive of authors having options regarding the model they publish under, including OA.” However, under the current business model, most authors still publish under the traditional subscription model.

“Elsevier does not want to uproot the subscription business model that remains popular with authors and provides a home for over 85 percent of the world’s articles each year,” said Tom Reller, vice president and head of the business partner communications team for global communications at Elsevier.

Because the majority of Elsevier’s publications are done mostly by subscription, the company said in an email that it would not be fair for CDL to pay a “nominal amount” to access information.

According to Elsevier, though the company supports OA, CDL should still pay to access subscribed content as well.

The email adds that Elsevier has the lowest subscription price increases per journal over the past 10 years.

The company also claims that UC articles that are published with Elsevier are read more and cited more. In the email, Elsevier said that it hopes to avoid the UC losing access after the negotiations in December.

We are working hard to reach an agreement that supports the California Digital Library’s ambitions and offers a sustainable solution to ensure that the UC system remains a competitive academic institution at the forefront of global research,” the email said.

Contact Isabella Sabri at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @isabella_sabri.