University of California Drops Elsevier – A Wake-Up Call for Publishers

By Kyle Kutz on May 21, 2019
An aerial view of UC Berkeley's campus.

Amid talks of Plan S and Open Access, the University of California (UC) has, in essence, made the first move—on U.S. soil—in an impending war between institutions and publishers. But, how exactly did UC expose academic publishing at large with its decision to drop Elsevier?

Background

Feb. 28, 2019, the University of California released a statement that revealed UC would not be renewing its subscription with Elsevier. While negotiations transpired between both parties, Elsevier’s proposal required university authors to pay article processing charges (APCs), or publishing fees, in addition to UC’s annual subscription – amounting to $11 million in 2018. The university sought to merge APCs into their subscription fee, defaulting Open Access (OA) as the go-to publishing method for all UC articles. Elsevier refused to meet the university’s terms; hence, UC decided to sever ties with “the largest scholarly publisher in the world.”

A Recent Trend

UC’s dismissal of Elsevier sent shockwaves throughout the academic publishing industry, and rightfully so. After all, this sort of rebellion usually only manifests itself outside of the United States.

And, no, we aren’t referring to Plan S.

Instead, let’s turn back the clock to Jun. 30, 2016, when “major academic institutions” throughout Germany refused to renew their subscriptions with Elsevier. Then, in March of 2018, a Hungarian consortium also decided not to renew their subscription with Elsevier. Next, in May of 2018, a Swedish consortium, again, unveiled its intent not to renew their subscription with Elsevier. Now, in 2019, UC has become the latest institution to join that list.

The State of Academia

So, how does this recent pushback reflect the overall state of academic publishing? It tells us that, in short, institutions—scholars and libraries, in particular—are fed up.

As Sarah Zhang said in The Real Cost of Knowledge, “At the same time academic institutions are paying for access to journals, their employees are providing labor to journals for free.” Within the realm of academia, researchers produce articles, peer reviewers evaluate articles, and then corporations profit, without contributors receiving any sort of monetary compensation. This truly doesn’t add up because, as Adrianne MacDonald and Nicole Eva remind us, “In any other industry, such experts would charge up to $1,500/hour for their services; in academia, this expertise is given away to for-profit companies.”

Scholars are not only providing these publishers with free labor, content, and editorial services, but they’re also paying APCs after being accepted by Open Access journals. Institutions, likewise, are responsible for multi-million-dollar subscription fees, under which “the most important journals… continue to be secured behind paywalls.” And, yes, those “important journals” must be purchased separately.

That’s where all this pent-up frustration lies. In the end, institutions—scholars as a whole—are doing a lot to aid publishers, but what are publishers doing to aid these institutions? Not enough.

We must, however, take into account that these fees exist for a reason. The price of publishing academic research is, after all, at an all-time high, and publishers cannot simply absorb their operational costs; but, as Vox’s Brian Resnick put it, this still doesn’t excuse taxpayers in the U.S. “[spending] $140 billion every year supporting research they can’t easily access.”

IGI Global

While some publishers are standing firm amidst this widespread debate, not all are dead set on maintaining the status quo.

Dr. Mehdi Khosrow-Pour, CEO and President of IGI Global, hosted a Neapolitan panel session at the 2018 Charleston Conference titled “Sustainable Open Access Approaches: Benefits for Researchers, Librarians, and Publishers.” During this session, Dr. Khosrow-Pour expanded on IGI Global’s newest initiative – InfoSci®-Journals’ Open Access Fee Waiver (Offset Model) Program.

Under this program, libraries who subscribe to InfoSci®-Journals receive APC funding in an amount that equals their investment into the database. As an even trade-off, these funds can then be used to finance articles submitted under Open Access by faculty to any of InfoSci®-Journals’ 175+ hybrid OA publications.

Here’s an example from Dr. Khosrow-Pour’s presentation:

A library invests US$ 4,500 into IGI Global’s InfoSci®-Journals for a 2019 annual subscription.

IGI Global will create an OA fund equal to US$ 4,500 which will allow [the Open Access fees to be covered for three] articles (the current IGI Global APC fees for each article is US$ 1,500) [from] faculty of that institution for 2019 when their work is submitted and accepted into any of the 175 current hybrid journals in the InfoSci®-Journals collection.

Through this initiative, “Libraries will be able to maximize their investment in continuing resources, patrons will still be able to access the content they so desperately need to conduct their research, and faculty will enjoy the added benefit of having their OA article processing charges (APCs) covered while having their work published in credible, peer-reviewed journals.”

Learn more about InfoSci®-Journals’ Open Access Fee Waiver (Offset Model) Program

The Future of Open Access

IGI Global’s latest subscription model eloquently addresses the institutions’ demand for return on investment in a fair and transparent manner. And, thus far, the publisher has received “a tremendous amount of positive response,” Dr. Khosrow-Pour said. “We’re hoping that, perhaps, other publishers will follow suit.”

But will they? Only time will tell.

It does seem apparent, however, that if publishers do nothing to address institutional demands, scholars could, slowly but surely, invest their funds, resources, and knowledge elsewhere.

Find this article helpful? Check out more free nuggets of wisdom from eContent Pro International:

How Plan S Impacts Academic Research
Don’t Fall Prey to Unethical Publishing Practice
What Is COPE (The Committee on Publication Ethics)?

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