The Librarians’ Dilemma: Contemplating the Costs of the “Big Deal” (2001)

“The most important thing that librarians can do to change the rules of the game is to invest in bold new experiments in scholarly communication; by which experiments I mean The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) partners such as MIT CogNet, BioOne, Columbia Earthscape, New Journal of Physics, Project Euclid, and others.

In investing in these new forms of scholarly communication, we are steadily building the publishing infrastructure so that future scholars may never have to publish in an expensive commercial journal in order to be academically successful. Despite the fact that we are spending a small percentage of our budgets compared to the Big Deals, these initiatives are profoundly subversive to the commercial publishing system — and the commercial publishers know it….”

Libraries Face a Future of Open Access – The Scholarly Kitchen

“When librarians prepare for a negotiation, they now routinely reach for the muscle. At least that’s how I read the news about the Swedish library consortium and its dealings with Elsevier. If you have been too preoccupied with the Royal Wedding to pay attention to news coming out of the world of STM publishing, you can get a good backgrounder here. Briefly, the Swedish consortium attempted to dictate terms to Elsevier, terms that Elsevier would not accept. The result is that Elsevier’s contract will be cancelled, meaning that there will be no authorized access to Elsevier content for the consortium users.

I have written previously about how the current landscape looks to publishers. In every negotiation, publishers are mindful that their ability to control access to their publications is compromised by unauthorized access from such sites as Sci-Hub and ResearchGate. How can Elsevier or any publisher shut off the Swedes or the Germans when Alexandra Elbakyan is waiting in the anteroom? Librarians have learned to reach for the muscle and now confidently demand terms that no publisher can or will accept. This raises the obvious question of whether librarians knowingly and actively seek the support of copyright pirates; or perhaps librarians simply are going about their business in their usual upbeat way, working diligently to make the world a better place, and the critical involvement of the shady characters is neither sought nor recognized. My own view has changed. I think the cynicism quotient in academic libraries, measured against other organizations and institutions, is very low. This is not, after all, Wall Street or, lord help us, the telecommunications business. But, like the populist governments that have now been installed in a number of Western democracies, the party of cynicism has taken control of some leading library organizations. Thus a nod to the likes of Luca Brasi no longer seems out of line. Having grown up in New Jersey, I have some qualms about what it means for anyone to form an alliance with unsavory characters. What do you do when they ask for a favor in return?

So it’s about time to consider what happens if the libraries win. By “win” I mean they refuse deals with publishers and turn their constituencies over to unauthorized sites. This will save them huge amounts of money, of course, money that they would surely like to put to other uses. Publishing is an ecosystem, however, and a significant change in one element can ripple across the entire field. If Sci-Hub becomes the default place to go for full-text content, what else will change?


Europe’s open-access drive escalates as university stand-offs spread

“Sweden is latest country to hold out on journal subscriptions, while negotiators share tactics to broker new deals with publishers.

Bold efforts to push academic publishing towards an open-access model are gaining steam. Negotiators from libraries and university consortia across Europe are sharing tactics on how to broker new kinds of contracts that could see more articles appear outside paywalls. And inspired by the results of a stand-off in Germany, they increasingly declare that if they don’t like what publishers offer, they will refuse to pay for journal access at all. On 16 May, a Swedish consortium became the latest to say that it wouldn’t renew its contract, with publishing giant Elsevier. Under the new contracts, termed ‘read and publish’ deals, libraries still pay subscriptions for access to paywalled articles, but their researchers can also publish under open-access terms so that anyone can read their work for free. Advocates say such agreements could accelerate the progress of the open-access movement. Despite decades of campaigning for research papers to be published openly — on the grounds that the fruits of publicly funded research should be available for all to read — scholarly publishing’s dominant business model remains to publish articles behind paywalls and collect subscriptions from libraries (see ‘Growth of open access’). But if many large library consortia strike read-and-publish deals, the proportion of open-access articles could surge….”

A DEAL for open access | EMBO Reports

“The negotiations between the German DEAL project and publishers have global implications for academic publishing beyond just Germany

Open access (OA) publication dates back at least 40 years in some fields such as computation research, but, for the past decade, has attracted increasing attention among scientists from all disciplines as an alternative to subscription?based journals as the main route for disseminating the results of research. The life sciences were rather slow to join the movement for OA, which took root early in the Millennium. One important step then was the “Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities” in October 2003. It was inspired by Germany’s Max Planck Society and the European Cultural Heritage Online (ECHO) to support “[n]ew possibilities of knowledge dissemination not only through the classical form but also and increasingly through the open access paradigm via the Internet” ( The declaration sets out two key principles, firstly that authors grant “to all users a free, irrevocable, worldwide, right of access to, and a license to copy, use, distribute, transmit and display the work publicly and to make and distribute derivative works, in any digital medium for any responsible purpose, subject to proper attribution of authorship”. The second principle is that authors deposit copies of their work in a suitable OA repository. Back then, proponents of OA had hoped that the mandate would help to transform scientific publishing towards payment for publication rather than subscriptions, especially as it gained support from other major funding bodies, such as the UK’s Wellcome Trust and the US Howard Hughes Medical Institutes (HHMI). Yet, progress towards OA has been patchier and slower than expected. “I think that most people involved in the open access debates in the early years, including myself, did not expect that changing the scholarly publishing system would take that long”, commented Georg Botz, Coordinator for Open Access Policy at the Max Planck Society. …”

The Race to the Bottom – Short-term Bargains versus Long-term Vitality – The Scholarly Kitchen

“It’s tempting to blame faceless corporate overlords for this, but I believe consumers are the actual culprits (and, in a sort of justice, victims). By being cheapskates, they have driven the bargains, supported the leaders, and tolerated the deals that are now coming back to haunt them….

In the midst of this short-term thinking is a set of irreconcilable ideas, namely the idea that publishers have to charge less and do more — manage more business models, deal with endless mandates and the related compliance complexity, review and reject more papers, invent and validate new impact measures, create and promulgate more and better technology, and support every little notion about research outputs academia can dream up, from text- and data-mining to open data….”

OA2020-DE – What to do with funds after subscriptions with Elsevier are cancelled? | National Contact Point Open Access

“At the start of 2017, fifty German universities and libraries cancelled their license agreements with Elsevier, and a further 90 or so have announced that they, too, will let their agreements expire at the end of 2017. As allotted funds in subscription budgets must be employed or lost, many librarians in Germany are faced with the decision of how best to use the monies liberated from their Elsevier deals.

OA2020-DE, the German constituency of the Open Access 2020 Initiative, proposes that institutions seize the funds that were destined to Elsevier renewals and reinvest them, at least in part, in publishing initiatives that support the open access transformation. …”

Push Versus Pull | April 2018 | Communications of the ACM

“The best consequence of the proposed Pull Model is access for all. It also introduces a free market mechanism for scholarly publications, whereby publishers must compete for institution submission subscription fees, by establishing themselves to be worthy outlets for dissemination, maintaining their reputation for quality, and preserving the integrity of the peer-review process. Lastly, it encourages institutions and their faculty to work more closely in assessing publication quality. With these ends in mind, the future of publications will continue to change, and the Pull Model, though disruptive to the existing publishing ecosystem, is one step to initiate a discussion on such a transformation.”

Major German Universities Cancel Elsevier Contracts | The Scientist Magazine®

“In Germany, the fight for open access and favorable pricing for journals is getting heated. At the end of last month (June 30), four major academic institutions in Berlin announced that they would not renew their subscriptions with the Dutch publishing giant Elsevier once they end this December. Then on July 7, nine universities in Baden-Württemberg, another large German state, also declared their intention to cancel their contracts with the publisher at the end of 2017.

These institutions join around 60 others across the country that allowed their contracts to expire last year….”