Four Concerns About the new UC-Elsevier Deal

“I can only speak for myself, but here, in a nutshell, are some key things that make me hesitate to cheer this new deal:

Elsevier does what’s best for Elsevier. The serials crisis—the slow-motion catastrophe that has seen a few journal oligopolies commandeer library budgets, crowding out other investments—is not an accident or a natural disaster. It is the result of a deliberate business strategy, implemented by commercial firms whose sole duty is not to science but to their shareholders. By far the largest and most-boycotted (to little effect) of these firms is Elsevier. That Elsevier loves this deal is enough to make me worry. That concern only deepens when we see sharp independent observers like Roger Schonfeld argue persuasively that these deals will ensure Elsevier’s continuing dominance of scholarly publishing in the open access future.

It transforms access, but caters to IF mania. Open access activism has long been focused on how commercial academic publishers use copyright to lock up and monetize research. Open access aims to remove copyright as a barrier to access to knowledge, and on those terms, the UC-Elsevier deal is a success. But copyright is only half (maybe less) of the dysfunction in academic publishing. The deeper, more insidious problem is the journal prestige economy (aka impact factor mania)—the academy’s reliance on journal reputation and metrics like journal impact factor in evaluating the quality of scholarship and of scholars. A publisher who controls a high-prestige title has a captive workforce of authors who must struggle to publish in their outlet in order to advance professionally. Transforming the copyright aspect of this system without also upsetting the prestige economy (e.g., by reforming promotion and tenure) only shifts the unsustainable cost of IF mania from readers to authors (and author-supporting institutions, like the UC).

Far from unsettling the prestige economy, the UC deal seems to cater to it, offering authors reassurance that publishing fees will not be a barrier to their participation in this system. When libraries urge faculty to embrace open access, a common rejoinder is “Then the library should pay my APCs.” When I hear that suggestion, the ensuing conversation is typically about why that’s an unsustainable model, and why more radical change is needed to address the many harms of the old system. The UC’s response, at least in this deal, is, “Sure, here you go!” That may put the rest of us in a difficult position.

It undermines the only potential upside of charging authors to publish. Shifting costs to authors is generally a disaster for them, especially authors in less-wealthy countries and those without access to grant funds to offset publication costs. But advocates for this cost-shift have long argued that this pain is good because it will give authors a reason to publish in more efficient (read: cheaper) journals. Once they have “skin in the game,” the invisible hand will lead authors to choose cheaper journals, forcing publishing charges down as journals compete on price to attract authors. But that hasn’t happened so far, and there’s little reason to believe it will. In any event, deals like the UC-Elsevier deal undermine this potential upside of charging authors by subsidizing and, if necessary, completely covering the cost on their behalf. Insulating academics from the exploding costs of their choices is exactly the 

UC’s deal with Elsevier: What it took, what it means, why it matters | Berkeley News

“Elsevier’s prices are still too high, and it makes outrageous profits. But we did get an expenditure reduction, and that will save money for the system and for the authors. Overall, the UC (libraries plus authors) will pay 7% less in total than if we had continued with the previous model. Another way of saying that is the UC will be paying about the same $13 million in 2021 as we paid in total in 2018, saving us over 7% by avoiding annual price escalation (inflation). Part of the way we got expenditure savings is by negotiating a 15% discount on the publishing price for articles in most journals (10% for a limited number of prestige titles)….

Elsevier is our ninth open access publishing agreement, all in the past two years. We want to do this with every publisher, and there are dozens and dozens. But the top 20 of them will cover more than 80% of our articles. At this point, we have more than 30% of UC-authored articles covered by open access agreements. We’ve got about five more underway. If we succeed over the next two to three years, we’ll be at 75% of articles covered. Ultimately, we’re trying to make this a standard way of doing business, so that all agreements are open access, and all scholarly publishers will stop selling subscriptions. That’s why we publish our agreements, so all can see the details, and why we have offered training workshops and prepared a toolkit to help other institutions pursue the same path….”

California universities and Elsevier make up, ink big open-access deal | Science | AAAS

Two years after a high-profile falling out, the University of California (UC) system and the academic publishing giant Elsevier have patched up differences and agreed on what will be the largest deal for open-access publishing in scholarly journals in North America. The deal is also the world’s first such contract that includes Elsevier’s highly selective flagship journals Cell and The Lancet.

The Biggest Big Deal  – The Scholarly Kitchen

“The University of California (UC) announced today a four-year arrangement with Elsevier that is the biggest transformative agreement in North America by article count as well as financial spend. This agreement achieves UC’s goal of an integrated contract for reading access and open access publishing. It will be a test of both the financial sustainability and the financial desirability of the multi-payer model….

In addition, because of how the UC multi-payer model is implemented in this agreement, beyond the capped library spend, Elsevier has the potential to realize revenues from author’s grant funds as well. The potential upside here for Elsevier in dealing with a major research institution could be substantial. 

Nonetheless, according to Jeffrey MacKie-Mason, co-chair of the UC negotiation team, the committed library spend plus the projected author contributions totals to less than the projected costs if the libraries had continued to pay subscriptions for reading access and authors continued to pay APCs directly from their grants. 

For Elsevier, then, this agreement means that they re-gain a substantial portion of the revenues they had lost when UC canceled its subscription in 2019, with an upside growth potential from author grant funds….”


“A real win for researchers”: UC and Elsevier sign transformative agreement

“A new 4-year agreement between the University of California (UC) and Elsevier will implement a pioneering shared-funding model at unprecedented scale. The agreement supports UC’s libraries, funders and authors in increasing open access publishing while also providing reading access to Elsevier’s extensive journal portfolio.

As with each of the 15 pilot deals Elsevier has announced over the past 24 months, the agreement is tailored to the specific needs of the institution. In this instance, that means meeting the needs of a highly research-intensive university that has a strong vision around open access and a clear sense of how to deliver it….”

Breaking: University of California strikes landmark open access deal with publishing giant Elsevier | UC Berkeley Library News

“The University of California has struck a deal with Elsevier, the largest academic publisher in the world — a landmark victory for the university and for open access publishing.

The transformative agreement comes after a much-publicized split between UC and the publishing giant, and more than two years of negotiations. The deal is the culmination of UC faculty members, librarians, and leaders coming together and standing strong in our efforts to make UC research freely available to everyone, and to transform scholarly publishing for the better.

The four-year agreement — going into effect on April 1, 2021 — restores UC’s direct online access to Elsevier journals and doubles the number of articles covered by UC’s open access agreements….”

UC secures landmark open access deal with world’s largest scientific publisher

“The University of California today (March 16) announced a pioneering open access agreement with the world’s largest scientific publisher, Elsevier, making significantly more of the University’s research available to people worldwide — immediately and at no cost. The deal will put more UC research into the hands of individuals across the globe at a time when international collaboration to fight COVID-19 has illuminated the value of open access to scientific findings.

The agreement is the largest of its kind in North America to date, bringing together UC, which generates nearly 10 percent of all U.S. research output, and Elsevier, which disseminates about 17 percent of journal articles produced by UC faculty. The deal will double the number of articles made available through UC’s transformative open access agreements….

Under the four-year deal, all research with a UC lead author published in Elsevier’s extensive portfolio of hybrid and open access journals will be open access by default. It is the first such agreement to include open access publishing in the entire Cell Press and Lancet families of journals, which are considered among the world’s most prestigious scientific and medical titles. University researchers will also be able to read articles published in Elsevier journals….”

International Diamond Open Access Journals Conference

“Digital Commons is pleased to announce the inaugural International Diamond Open Access Journals Conference, taking place virtually 13-15 April 2021.

In recent years, the Diamond OA model has opened space for emerging research, innovative formats, and diverse voices. Spurred by significant shifts in the global research and publishing landscapes, this model is often used at the university, national, or societal level and provides a compelling entry point to internationalization for journals publishing in local languages, on regional issues, or non-STM disciplines….”

2020 Elsevier Journal Title Level Pricing for Five U.S. Research Universities

“This data includes 2020 Elsevier title level pricing for five universities, including Florida State University; Iowa State University; University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; West Virginia University; and an anonymous university named “Institution A” in the data set.

In addition, the data includes a summary analysis that includes for each university the 2020 Published List Price, Adjustment from List Price, Average Cost per Journal, and number of Subscribed Titles. This data will be of interest to anyone interested in examining title level pricing from a major commercial publisher….”