Earlier this week, Timothy Gowers posted “Time for Elsexit?” about the new Elsevier deal negotiated with Jisc. It’s not often that I can cater for my readers interested in Brexit and scholarly publishing simultaneously (enjoy!). I found the parallels with Brexit interesting, and it’s an excellent summary of the problems that persist in the new deal.
Here is some background to the situation
- Elsevier is one of the world’s major providers of scientific, technical, and medical information.
- ScienceDirect is their main platform (website), which provides subscription-based access to a large database of articles and other research. Despite the name, it covers a wide range of subject areas.
- Jisc Collections is the negotiation and licensing service that supports the procurement of digital content for higher education and research institutions in the UK.
- A Big Deal is a subscription to most of a publisher’s content as a package, rather than having subscriptions to individual journals. Publishers often swap titles in and out of the package.
- Historic spend refers to a figure for each university, established at the point when Big Deals were launched (circa 1997). Elsevier’s contract requires each subscribing university to match or exceed their historic spend, thus controlling cancellations, as cancellations of individual title subscriptions do not result in lower subscription fees.
- Why the secrecy? Mike Taylor explains: “when negotiating contracts with libraries, publishers often insist on confidentiality clauses — so that librarians are not allowed to disclose how much they are paying. The result is an opaque market with no downward pressure on prices, hence the current outrageously high prices, which are rising much more quickly than inflation even as publishers’ costs shrink due to the transition to electronic publishing.”
- Serials crisis – the chronic subscription cost increases of many serial publications such as scholarly journals
- The Cost of Knowledge – a protest by academics against the business practices of academic journal publisher Elsevier
- Elsevier journals — some facts – including the following questions: How willing would researchers be to do without the services provided by Elsevier? How easy is it on average to find on the web copies of Elsevier articles that can be read legally and free of charge? To what extent are libraries actually suffering as a result of high journal prices? What effect are Elsevier’s Gold Open Access articles having on their subscription prices? How much are our universities paying for Elsevier journals?
Update: Martin Paul Eve, Jonathan Tennant, and Stuart Lawson have referred Elsevier/RELX to the Competition and Markets Authority on the grounds of abuse of a dominant market position, and problems in a market sector.