The mammoth University of California (UC) system announced today it will stop paying to subscribe to journals published by Elsevier, the world’s largest scientific publisher, headquartered in Amsterdam. Talks to renew a collective contract broke down, the university said, because Elsevier refused to strike a package deal that would provide a break on subscription fees and make all articles published by UC authors immediately free for readers worldwide.
The stand by UC, which followed 8 months of negotiations, could have significant impacts on scientific communication and the direction of the so-called open-access movement, in the United States and beyond. The 10-campus system accounts for nearly 10% of all U.S. publishing output and is among the first U.S. institutions, and by far the largest, to boycott Elsevier over costs. Many administrators and librarians at U.S. universities and elsewhere have complained about what they view as excessively high journal subscription fees charged by commercial publishers.
Indeed, UC’s move could ratchet up pressure on additional negotiations facing Elsevier and other commercial publishers; consortia of universities and labs in Germany and Sweden had already reached an impasse last year with Elsevier in their efforts to lower subscription fees.
Jeff MacKie-Mason, who heads UC Berkeley’s library and is also co-chair of the negotiation task force, says Elsevier just didn’t move far enough to UC’s position. The publisher’s final offer “was closer to what we wanted in terms of open access” but nevertheless included a price increase, he says.
UC published about 50,000 articles last year, and a substantial share, about 10,000, appeared in Elsevier journals. For subscriptions and article fees, UC paid about $11 million, the Los Angeles Times reported recently. (UC says the information is confidential under a nondisclosure agreement.)
UC also noted that some of Elsevier’s newer content is already freely available through open-access publishing, open-access repositories, interlibrary loans, and “other legitimate forms of scholarly sharing.”
That last bit is actually the folks at the University of California system in talking in code.
What they are really saying is that, not withstanding the multi-million dollar judgement that Elsevier got against it, the Russian based Sci-Hub has is the future:
Little more than three years ago, Elsevier, one of the world’s largest academic publishers, took Sci-Hub to court.
It was a mismatched battle from the start. With a net income of more than $2.4 billion per year, the publisher could fund a proper case, while its nemesis relied on donations.
Elsevier won the case, including millions of dollars in damages. However, the site remained online and grew bigger. Ironically, the academic publisher itself appears to be one of the main drivers of this growth.
Several universities from Germany, Hungary, and Sweden previously let their Elsevier subscriptions expire, which means that tens of thousands of researchers don’t have access to research that is critical to their work.
This is where Sci-Hub comes into play.
The “Pirate Bay of Science” might just quietly play a major role in this conflict. Would the universities cancel their subscriptions so easily if their researchers couldn’t use Sci-Hub to get free copies?
Sci-Hub founder Alexandra Elbakyan has always been forthcoming about her goals. Sci-Hub wants to remove all barriers in the way of science. She also made that crystal clear when we interviewed her back in 2015.
“Everyone should have access to knowledge regardless of their income or affiliation. And that’s absolutely legal. Also, the idea that knowledge can be a private property of some commercial company sounds absolutely weird to me,” she said at the time.
I feel nothing but glee at the misfortunes of Elsivier.
They are a bunch of contemptible parasites.