Time for Elsexit?

This post is principally addressed to academics in the UK, though some of it may apply to people in other countries too. The current deal that the universities have with Elsevier expires at the end of this year, and a new one has been negotiated between Elsevier and Jisc Collections, the body tasked with representing the UK universities. If you want, you can read a thoroughly misleading statement about it on Elsevier’s website. On Jisc’s website is a brief news item with a link to further details that tells you almost nothing and then contains a further link entitled “Read the full description here”, which appears to be broken. On the page with that link can be found the statement

The ScienceDirect agreement provides access to around 1,850 full text scientific, technical and medical (STM) journals – managed by renowned editors, written by respected authors and read by researchers from around the globe – all available in one place: ScienceDirect. Elsevier’s full text collection covers titles from the core scientific literature including high impact factor titles such as The Lancet, Cell and Tetrahedron.

Unless things have changed, this too is highly misleading, since up to now most Cell Press titles have not been part of the Big Deal but instead are part of a separate package. This point is worth stressing, since failure to appreciate it may cause some people to overestimate how much they rely on the Big Deal — in Cambridge at least, the Cell Press journals account for a significant percentage of our total downloads. (To be more precise, the top ten Elsevier journals accessed by Cambridge are, in order, Cell, Neuron, Current Biology, Molecular Cell, The Lancet, Developmental Cell, NeuroImage, Cell Stem Cell, Journal of Molecular Biology, and Earth and Planetary Science Letters. Of those, Cell, Neuron, Current Biology, Molecular Cell, Developmental Cell and Cell Stem Cell are Cell Press journals, and they account for over 10% of all our access to Elsevier journals.)

Jisc has also put up a Q&A, which can be found here.

Roughly how much do universities currently pay for access to ScienceDirect?

Just to remind you, here is what a number of universities were paying annually for their Elsevier subscriptions during the current deal. To be precise, these are the figures for 2014, obtained using FOI requests: they are likely to be a little higher for 2016.

University Cost Enrolment Academic Staff
Birmingham £764,553 31,070 2355 + 440
Bristol £808,840 19,220 2090 + 525
Cambridge £1,161,571 19,945 4205 + 710
Cardiff £720,533 30,000 2130 + 825
*Durham £461,020 16,570 1250 + 305
**Edinburgh £845,000 31,323 2945 + 540
*Exeter £234,126 18,720 1270 + 290
Glasgow £686,104 26,395 2000 + 650
Imperial College London £1,340,213 16,000 3295 + 535
King’s College London £655,054 26,460 2920 + 1190
Leeds £847,429 32,510 2470 + 655
Liverpool £659,796 21,875 1835 + 530
§London School of Economics £146,117 9,805 755 + 825
Manchester £1,257,407 40,860 3810 + 745
Newcastle £974,930 21,055 2010 + 495
Nottingham £903,076 35,630 2805 + 585
Oxford £990,775 25,595 5190 + 775
* ***Queen Mary U of London £454,422 14,860 1495 + 565
Queen’s U Belfast £584,020 22,990 1375 + 170
Sheffield £562,277 25,965 2300 + 460
Southampton £766,616 24,135 2065 + 655
University College London £1,381,380 25,525 4315 + 1185
Warwick £631,851 27,440 1535 + 305
*York £400,445 17,405 1205 + 285

*Joined the Russell Group two years ago.
**Information obtained by Sean Williams.
***Information obtained by Edward Hughes.
§LSE subscribes to a package of subject collections rather than to the full Freedom Collection.

These are figures for Russell Group universities: the total amount spent annually by all UK universities for access to ScienceDirect is around £40 million.

An important additional factor is that since the last deal was struck with Elsevier, we have had the Finch Report, which has led to a policy of requiring publications in the UK to be open access. The big publishers (who lobbied hard when the report was being written) have responded by turning many of their journals into “hybrid” journals, that is, subscription journals where for an additional fee, usually in the region of £2000, you can pay to make your article freely readable to everybody. This has added significantly to the total bill. Cambridge, for example, has paid over £750,000 this year in article processing charges, from a grant provided for the purpose.

How were the negotiations conducted?

Jisc started preparing for these negotiations at least two years ago, for example going on fact-finding missions round the world to see what had happened in other countries. The negotiations began in earnest in 2016, and Jisc started out with some core aims, some of which they described as red lines and some as important aims. (I know this from a briefing meeting I attended in Cambridge — I think that similar meetings took place at other universities.) Some of these were as follows.

  1. No real-terms price increases.
  2. An offsetting agreement for article processing charges.
  3. No confidentiality clauses.
  4. A move away from basing price on “historic spend”.
  5. A three-year deal rather than a five-year deal.

Let me say a little about each of these.

No real-terms price increases

This seemed extraordinarily unambitious as a starting point for negotiations. The whole point of universities asking an organization like Jisc to negotiate on our behalf was supposed to be that they would be able to negotiate hard and that the threat of not coming to an agreement would be one that Elsevier would have to be genuinely worried about. Journal prices have gone up far more than inflation for decades, while the costs of dissemination have (or at the very least should have) gone down substantially. In addition, there are a number of subjects, mathematics and high-energy physics being two notable examples, where it is now common practice to claim priority for a result by posting a preprint, and in those subjects it is less and less common for people to look at the journal versions of articles because repositories such as arXiv are much more convenient, and the value that the publishers claim they add to articles is small to nonexistent. So Jisc should have been pressing for a substantial cut in prices: maintenance of the status quo is not appropriate when technology and reading habits are changing so rapidly.

Offsetting for APCs

An offsetting agreement means a deal where if somebody pays an article processing charge in order to make an article open access in an Elsevier journal, then that charge is subtracted from the Big Deal payment. There are arguments for and against this idea. The main argument for it is that it is a way of avoiding double dipping: the phenomenon where Elsevier effectively gets paid twice for the same article, since it rakes in the article processing charges but does not reduce the subscription cost of the Big Deal.

In its defence, Elsevier makes the following two points. First, it has an explicit policy against double dipping. In answer to the obvious accusation that they are receiving a lot of APCs and we are seeing no corresponding drop in Big Deal prices, they point out that the total volume of articles they publish is going up. This highlights a huge problem with Big Deals: if universities could say that they did not want the extra content then it might be OK, but as it is, all Elsevier has to do to adhere to its policy is found enough worthless journals that nobody reads to equal the volume of articles for which APCs are paid.

But there is a second argument that carries more weight. It is that if one country has an offsetting agreement, then all other countries benefit (at least in theory) from lower subscription prices, so in total Elsevier has lost out. Or to put it another way, with an offsetting agreement, it basically becomes free for people in that country to publish an open access article with Elsevier, so they are effectively giving away that content.

Against this are two arguments: that if somebody has to lose out, why should it not be Elsevier, and that in any case it would be entirely consistent with a no-double-dipping policy for Elsevier not to reduce its Big Deal subscriptions for the other countries. In the longer term, if lots of countries had offsetting agreements, this might cease to be sustainable, since nobody would need subscriptions any more, but since most countries are not following the UK’s lead in pursuing open access with article processing charges, this is unlikely to happen any time soon.

Personally, I am not in favour of an offsetting agreement if it works on a per-article basis, since that may lead to pressure from universities for their academics to publish with Elsevier rather than with publishers that do not have offsetting agreements: that is, it gives an artificial advantage to Elsevier journals. What I would like to see is a big drop in the subscription price to allow for the fact that we are now paying a lot of APC money to Elsevier. That way, if other journals are better, they will get used, and there will be some semblance of a market.

No confidentiality clauses

It goes without saying that confidentiality clauses are one of the most obnoxious features of Elsevier contracts. And now that FOI requests have been successful in obtaining information about what universities pay for their subscriptions, they also seem rather pointless. In any case, Jisc was strongly against them, as they certainly should have been.

Another remark is that if contracts are kept confidential, there is no way of assessing whether Elsevier is double dipping.

Historic spend

When we moved from looking at print copies of journals to looking at articles online, it suddenly ceased to be obvious on what basis we should be charged. Elsevier came up with the idea of not changing anything, so even if in practice with a big deal we get access to all the journals, nominally a university subscribes to a “Core Collection”, which is based on what it used to have print subscriptions to (they are allowed to change what is in the Core Collection, but they cannot reduce its size), and then the rest goes under the Orwellian name of the Freedom Collection.

This system is manifestly unfair: for example, Cambridge, with its numerous college libraries, used to subscribe to several copies of certain journals and is now penalized for this. It also means that if a university starts to need journals less, there is no way for this to be reflected in the price it pays.

Jisc recognised the problem, and came up with a rather mealy-mouthed formula about “moving away from historic spend”. Not abolishing the system and replacing it by a fairer one (which is hard to do as there will be losers as well as winners), but “moving away” from it in ways that they did not specify when we asked about it at the briefing meeting.

A three-year deal

At some point I was told (indirectly by Cambridge’s then head librarian) that the idea was to go for a three-year deal, so that we would not be locked in for too long. This I was very pleased to hear, as a lot can change in three years.

And what was the result?

For reasons I’ve given in the previous section, even if Jisc had succeeded in its aims, I would have been disappointed by the deal. But as it was, something very strange happened. We had been told of considerable ill feeling, including cancelled meetings because the deals that Elsevier was offering were so insultingly bad, and then suddenly in late September we learned that a deal had been reached. And then when the deal was announced it was all smiles and talk of “landmark deals” and “value for money”.

So how did Jisc do, by their own criteria? Well, it is conceivable that they will end up achieving their first aim of not having any real-terms price increases: this will depend on whether Brexit causes enough inflation to cancel out such money-terms price increases as there may or may not be — I leave it to you to guess which. (In the interests of balance, I should also point out that the substantial drop in the pound means that what Elsevier receives has, in their terms, gone down. That said, currency fluctuations are a fact of life and over the last few years they have benefited a lot from a weak euro.)

Jisc said that an offsetting agreement was not just an aspiration but a red line — a requirement of any deal they would be prepared to strike. However, there is no offsetting agreement.

Jisc also said that they would insist on transparency, but when Elsevier insisted on confidentiality clauses, they meekly accepted this. (Their reasoning: Elsevier was not prepared to reach a deal without these clauses. But why didn’t an argument of exactly the same type apply to Jisc in the other direction?) It is for that reason that I have been a bit vague about prices above.

As far as historic spend is concerned, I see on the Jisc statement the following words: “The agreement includes the ability for the consortium to migrate from historical print spend and reallocate costs should we so wish.” I have no information about whether any “migration” has started, but my guess would be that it hasn’t, since if there were to be moves in that direction, then there would surely need to be difficult negotiations between the universities about how to divide up the total bill, and there has been no sign of any such negotiations taking place.

Finally, the deal is for five years and not for three years.

So Jisc has not won any clear victories and has had several clear defeats. Now if you were in that position more than three months before the end of the existing deal, what would you do? Perhaps you would follow the course suggested by a Jisc representative at one of the briefing meetings, who said the following.

We know from analysis of the experiences of other consortia that Elsevier really do want to reach an agreement this year. They really hate to go over into the next year …

A number of colleagues from other consortia have said they wished they had held on longer …

If we can hold firm even briefly into 2017 that should have quite a profound impact on what we can achieve in these negotiations.

Of course, all that is just common sense. But this sensible negotiating strategy was mysteriously abandoned, on the grounds that it had become clear that the deal on offer was the best that Jisc was going to get. Again there is a curious lack of symmetry here: why didn’t Jisc make it clear that a better deal (for Jisc) was the best that Elsevier was going to get? At the very least, why didn’t Jisc at least try to extract further concessions from Elsevier by letting the negotiations continue until much closer to the expiry of the current deal?

Jisc defended itself by saying that their job was simply to obtain the best deal they could to put before the universities, but no university was obliged to sign up to the deal. This is not a wholly satisfactory response, since (i) the whole point of using Jisc rather than negotiating individually was to exploit the extra bargaining power that should come from acting in concert and (ii) Elsevier have made it clear that they will not offer a better deal to any institution that opts out of the Jisc-negotiated one. (This is one of many parallels with Brexit — in this case with the fact that the EU cannot be seen to be giving the UK a better deal than it had in the EU.)

A particularly irritating aspect of the situation was that I and some others had organized for an open letter to be sent to Jisc from many academics, urging them to bargain hard. We asked Jisc whether this would be helpful and they requested that we should delay sending it until after a particular meeting with Elsevier had taken place. And then the premature deal took us by surprise and the letter never got sent.

What is happening now?

Several universities have already accepted the deal, and the mood amongst heads of department in Cambridge appears to be that although it is not a good deal we do not have a realistic alternative to accepting it. This may be correct, but we appear to be rushing into a decision (in Cambridge it is due to be taken in a few days’ time). We are talking about a lot of money: would it not be sensible to delay signing a contract until there has been a proper assessment of the consequences of rejecting a deal?

For Cambridge, I personally would be in favour of cancelling the Big Deal and subscribing individually to a selection of the most important journals, even if this ended up costing more than what we pay at the moment. The reason is that we would have taken back control (those parallels again). At the moment the market is completely dysfunctional, since the price we pay bears virtually no relationship to demand. But if departments were given budgets and told they could choose whether to spend them on journal subscriptions or to use the money for other purposes, then they would be able to do a proper cost-benefit analysis and act on it. Then as more and more papers became freely available online, costs would start to go down. And if other universities did the same (as some notable universities such as Harvard already have), then Elsevier might start having to lower the list prices of their journals.

If the deal is accepted, it should not be the end of the story. A large part of the reason that Elsevier and the other large publishers walk all over Jisc in these negotiations is that we lack a credible Plan B. (For mathematics there is one — just cancel the deal and read papers on the arXiv, as we do already — but many other subjects have not reached this stage.) We need to think about this, so that in future negotiations any threat to cancel the deal is itself credible. We also need to think about whether Jisc is the right body to be negotiating on our behalf, given what has happened this time. What I am hearing from many people, even those who think we should accept the deal, is full agreement that it is a bad one. Even if we accept it, the very least we can do is make clear that we are not happy with what we are accepting. It may not be very polite to those at Jisc who worked hard on our behalf, but we have paid a heavy price for politeness.

If Elsevier will not give us a proper market, we can at least create mini-markets ourselves within universities: why not charge more from faculties that rely on ScienceDirect more heavily? Such is the culture of secrecy that I am not even allowed to tell you how the cost is shared out in Cambridge, but it does not appear to be based on need.

I am often asked why I focus on Elsevier, but the truth is that I no longer do: Springer, Wiley, and Taylor and Francis are in many ways just as bad, and in some respects are even worse. (For example, while Elsevier now makes mathematics papers over four years old freely available, Springer has consistently refused to make any such move.) I am very reluctant to submit papers to any of these publishers — for example, now that the London Mathematical Society has switched from OUP to Wiley I will not be sending papers to their journals. It will be depressing if we have to wait another five years to improve the situation with Elsevier, but in the meantime there are smaller, but still pretty big, Big Deals coming up with the other members of the big four. Because they are smaller, perhaps we are less reliant on their journals, and perhaps that would allow us to drive harder bargains.

In any case, if you are unhappy with the way things are, please make your feelings known. Part of the problem is that the people who negotiate on our behalf are, quite reasonably, afraid of the reaction they would get if we lost access to important journals. It’s just a pity that they are not also afraid of the reaction if the deal they strike is significantly more expensive than it need have been. (We are in a classic game-theoretic situation where there is a wide range of prices at which it is worth it for Elsevier to provide the deal and not worth it for a university to cancel it, and Elsevier is very good at pushing the price to the top of this range.) Pressure should also be put on librarians to get organized with a proper Plan B so that we can survive for a reasonable length of time without Big Deal subscriptions. Just as with nuclear weapons, it is not necessary for such a Plan B ever to be put to use, but it needs to exist and be credible so that any threat to walk away from negotiations will be taken seriously.


47 Responses to “Time for Elsexit?”

  1. David Roberts Says:

    Thanks, Tim, for setting out so clearly why this is not a great deal. It would be good if the Russell group could use some of their (somewhat smaller) bargaining power and collectively not sign up for this, and also refrain from agreeing to anything in the new year. This will put both Jisc and Elsevier in a position where they will have to reconsider what they were doing.

    • gowers Says:

      My understanding is that certain Russell Group universities have already signed up for the deal, so unfortunately it is too late for concerted action of this kind, though even a substantial subset would have some clout I would have thought.

  2. Masud Says:

    While I don’t disagree with your viewpoint, it is important for clarity that there is some capability for institutions to exit at the end of year 3. Also there are academic representatives on the Jisc Collections board so it is unfair to put the full blame on Jisc for this.

    • gowers Says:

      I agree. I don’t actually know what the capability to exit amounts to, but will happily add to the post above if anyone can enlighten me. And your second point is indeed important — it is pure speculation, but I think that the academic representatives may be the cause of the mismatch between what Jisc said and did.

  3. Mark C. Wilson Says:

    This does seem outrageous. Is it possible to think more globally, and create a list of Big Deals along with their expiration dates, so we can have more time to coordinate action?

  4. steelgraham Says:

    Likewise, I can’t get past the link entitled “Read the full description here”, which appears to be broken. Not sure it’s broken per se but can’t access. A contact has put out a request to their Librarian.

  5. antagomir Says:

    Similar negotiations are now taking place in Finland, and a number of researchers have signed in to support lower prices and increased openness (see tiedonhinta.fi for more info). The bargaining power of individual countries is limited. Could the research community take coordinated action at the European or global level to support the next round of negotiations? A plausible threat of systematic large-scale boycott on reviewer, editor and other positions, for instance? Even better if this could be done in collaboration with research libraries and other relevant institutions. The pressure is great in many different countries now, and there would be great momentum for action.

  6. telescoper Says:

    Reblogged this on In the Dark and commented:
    I, for one, agree very strongly that we should ditch Elsevier completely. Tim Gowers gives the lowdown on the scandalous situation.

  7. Ninth Level Ireland » Blog Archive » Time for Elsexit? Says:

    […] “This post is principally addressed to academics in the UK, though some of it may apply to people in other countries too. The current deal that the universities have with Elsevier expires at the end of this year …” (more) […]

  8. apkgold Says:

    Fantastic blog
    Thank you
    Good luck to yo^__^

  9. Wouter van Heyst Says:

    Is there someone in the position to leverage general Brexit sentiments and the parallels you mention to reject/overturn the deal?

  10. Anton Garrett Says:

    How strong are the links between Jisc and the institutes that represent scientists in various subjects in the UK? I ask because many of these institutes are themselves on the publishing gravy train and have a clear conflict of interest.

  11. Permission to walk away – Gavia Libraria Says:

    […] yes, Jisc is in trouble with vocal UK faculty after a license-renewal run-in with everyone’s friend Elsevier. Let us […]

  12. Philipp Says:

    To put an article online is nowadays very easy (e.g. arXiv, as you pointed out) and this will already disseminate the research worldwide. Thereby, the content can be discussed by colleagues and they can do some informal review. How much is the extra of what the publisher do worth? The 40 million pounds you give to Elsevier each year would equal around 1330 new research positions in UK…

  13. Reblogged: Time for Elsexit? | Laura's Dark Archive Says:

    […] this week, Timothy Gowers posted “Time for Elsexit?” about the new Elsevier deal negotiated with Jisc.  It’s not often that I can cater […]

  14. David Prosser Says:

    Professor Gowers make an interesting case for ‘Elsexit’, but in doing makes some comments on the negotiation process and resulting deal around future access to Elsevier content that I don’t recognise or that I don’t think are entirely justified. I therefore wanted to say a few words about the process of the negotiations, the deal itself, and some wider thoughts about the future of big deals.

    Before embarking on what may be a lengthy response, I should declare an interest. While I did not take part in any of the negotiations directly, I was involved in discussions around the nature of the deal, especially through sitting on the Jisc Collections Content Strategy Group.

    The Process

    At the moment there are about 160 UK institutions which have signed-up to the current Jisc Collections-brokered deal, which ends in a month’s time. As might be imagined, those 160 institutions have a wide range of priorities, both within the institutions (not every Library Director has exactly the same view as every PVC-Research) and between them. The challenge for Jisc Collections has been to hear all of these voices and to negotiate in a way that reflects all of the different perspectives. Added to this has been the additional complexity in the range of issues to be negotiated – price, term, relationship to APCs for open access, confidentiality, etc. It was a multi-variable negotiation between one vendor and 160 customers.

    I can’t think that there are many areas of HE spending of comparable size where so much time has been spent consulting all of the customers and involving them in the decision-making. As a result of extensive consultation, as noted by Professor Gowers, Jisc Collections determined a set of negotiation aims. Interestingly, I can’t remember any of them being described ‘red lines’, but they were the key features on which we hope the negotiations would make progress. Even this set is a compromise and a distillation of all of the views – not everybody would agree with these priorities or with the weight given to each of them.

    The negotiations were led by two UK Vice-Chancellors, with input from both the Russell Group and UUK, and liaison with the major funding bodies. Throughout the process Jisc Collections was in constant communication with institutions updating them with the latest state of the negotiations and listening carefully to determine what the appetite within the community was for further action.

    So, is this an agreement that pleases everybody? No, of course not. But no agreement would be considering all the different priories of the hundreds of people with an interest. Could the negotiations have gone on longer? Possibly. But it should be remember that there is always pressure from institutions on Jisc Collections to reach a deal. Some institutions were bullish about continuing to play hardball, deferring a decision until the New Year. Others were nervous about going any longer without an agreement. For Professor Gowers (who doesn’t publish in Elsevier journals and can access the papers he is interested in from arXiv) the answer is always going to be ‘hold out longer’, but that view is on a spectrum of opinion. It is that spectrum – both individual and institutional – that Jisc Collections has to judge.

    The Deal

    I want to focus on two aspects of the deal: price and confidentiality.

    I am amazed, as I am sure will be the majority of librarians reading, that Professor Gowers considers an attempt to move to no real-term price increases ‘extraordinarily unambitious’. Especially as he points out just two sentence later that ‘Journal prices have gone up far more than inflation for decades…’ Indeed they have (for reasons that have been well documented over those decades). To seek to end a decades-long practice does not strike me as ‘extraordinarily unambitious’. As has been widely acknowledged, the journals market (both in terms of individual titles and big deals) is hugely dysfunctional and this lack of functionality has allowed publishers to price accordingly. The current deal slowed that increase, the new one looks to have stopped it. That is not unambitious.

    For comparison, negotiations have just broken down with the Royal Society of Chemistry, a publisher that is seeking to increase UK revenues by over 10%. The RSC has now walked away from collective bargaining with Jisc Collections, obviously believing that they can better reach their revenue targets dealing one-on-one with institutions.

    I am no fan of confidentiality clauses. It is interesting to note that of the biggest publishers that Jisc Collections negotiates with it is now only Elsevier that insists on them. (There are smaller publishers who institutions deal with directly who still insert such clauses). Professor Gowers is right to point out that FOI requests have rendered them rather pointless – and he has done more than most to prove that. So, as the information may well get out anyway (if anybody thinks to put in an FOI request on the new agreement) was it worth going to the wall over this clause? I would say no – having it in doesn’t actually benefit the publisher, just makes them look rather shifty, and ultimately doesn’t stop the information becoming public. (But I would dispute Professor Gowers’ insistence that the confidentiality clause was ‘meekly’ accepted.)

    The Future

    A debate on the merits or otherwise of big deals has raged ever since they were introduced in the late 1990s. A few (very few to date) institutions have gone down the route of moving away from them and going back to title-by-title purchasing. Professor Gowers advocates this and it is very attractive in terms of returning control to the institution. Professor Gowers would even be willing to pay Elsevier more to take control. (But interestingly doesn’t mention where this money is coming from – existing library budgets? In which case what is to be cancelled to pay for it? New money?) The flip side is that at the end of a five year period institutions might well end up paying more than they would in a big deal for a lot less content. There is a reason why big deals have been so attractive!

    One aspect that the library community has been working hard on is the provision of a Plan B – both in terms of a reaction to specific negotiations and a wider strategic move away from big deals. I welcome Professor Gowers’ call to fully support librarians as they work further on alternatives to the big deals.

    There is, of course, an ultimate issue that is out of the hands of the library community and Jisc Collections. A quick search of ScienceDirect shows around 2000 items from authors with a Cambridge UK affiliation in 2016. As long as Cambridge academics (and others worldwide) continue to publish in these journals (giving away their copyright or exclusive publishing rights) and Cambridge academics (and other worldwide) want to read these papers there is going to be intense pressure on libraries to purchase the content. The owners of ‘must have’ content know the massively strong position they are in and they price accordingly.

    David Prosser
    Executive Director, Research Libraries UK

  15. Stephen Eglen (@StephenEglen) Says:

    hi David,

    1. for us, the price is continuing to go up astronomically if you factor in APCs. Sure, we get grants to pay them, but these grants come from the taxpayer and charities. With no recognition of APCs, just looking at the subscription price misses the point.

    2. Aside from us difficult academics at Cambridge, how many other meetings were held directly with academics? We academics need to work with librarians more to help negotiate more effectively…

    3. Ultimately we academics are to blame by continuing to support these legacy journals that care more about profit than access to the literature.

    4. As I understood it, aim 1 of negotiations was keeping it open. This should have been agreed before going a step further.

    Stephen Eglen, Cambridge

  16. coppenheim Says:

    Just for the record, the JISC/Elsevier agreement non disclosure clause only relates to pricing. The rest of the contractual terms are not subject to a non disclosure clause, though having said that, I’m not aware of anyone who has published those other clauses.

  17. Olivier Says:

    (As a French academic librarian) I would have written more or less the same post as Pr. Gower three years ago, when the fourth French Big Deal with Elsevier was signed (it was generally considered as a relatively good one, the problem is in the “relatively”). Other negociations, in Netherlands last year, for instance, have taken place since, always with the same result (“We had the best deal we could have”, which, I am afraid, is comically tautological).
    It appears that large consortia, dealing with a powerful publisher, tend to close deals more quickly than needed. The reason might be that the greater the numbers, the higher the amounts that are at stakes, the greater the fear of breaking the deal. More to lose, I suppose.
    I am afraid only individual researchers have the power of deciding for themselves that they won’t deal with publishers and stating it publicly (as you did, Pr. Gower). Individual institutions sometimes try it, but I suppose it is can feel very lonely when you are not Harvard or Cambridge (my university tried once with Elsevier, held up till after New year’s Eve, and then signed) and feel yourself entangled in worldwide competition.
    On the other hand, it is every day easier to do without big deals, since there are countless solutions for researchers now to access papers outside publishers databases. But no consortium, I am afraid, can make this step. Individuals (and individual institutions) have to make it first : stop joining deals, launch open access journals, publicly stand against publishers. Let us keep on trying, it certainly helps.

    • antagomir Says:

      One challenge for coordinated global action is that negotiations take place at different times in different countries. A series of boycott campaigns against selected publishers is one option. The campaign could be activated in each country before the negotiations, and independently of the negotiators.

  18. gowers Says:

    Just to defend my “extraordinarily unambitious” remark, I have three reasons for it.

    1. It implicitly accepts the status quo, when there is widespread agreement that the above-inflation increases over a long period have been unjustified, and also when the internet makes it much cheaper to disseminate.

    2. As a starting point for negotiations, it is more or less guaranteeing that the eventual result will be worse.

    3. Now that we are also paying plenty of money for APCs, which is supposed to be a transitional stage to full open access, we should have been asking for deep cuts in subscription costs so that at the very least our total costs do not substantially increase.

  19. gowers Says:

    In a further possible defence, here is the German equivalent of Jisc showing how things should be done. (I say “possible defence” because a final deal has not been reached in Germany, so it is perhaps premature to judge their negotiating skills. But at this stage it looks as though they are prepared to negotiate properly.)

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    […] Steuerzahler ein gutes Zeichen.  Äußerst lesenswert ist in diesem Zusammenhang der Blogpost  „Time for Elsexit?“ des Mathematikers Timothy Gowers. Laut Elsevier wurde jetzt beschlossen „die Gespräche bis […]

  21. Elsevier denunciata all’autorità antitrust britannica | AISA Says:

    […] riviste Elsevier. I loro prezzi sono pattuiti tramite un contratto collettivo negoziato da Jisc. I dettagli di questo contratto, a cui  le università sono libere di aderire o no, sono coperti da una clausola di […]

  22. Tom Worthington Says:

    Cambridge has a well developed entrepreneurial infrastructure, so
    perhaps a few like minded staff and students together and start a business to offer the universities a better deal than Elsevier does.

    I had a quick chat with Joanna Mills, Deputy Director, Centre for
    Entrepreneurial Learning, when at University of Cambridge last year. They run numerous programs to help students set up businesses. I was there to talk on e-learning:

    • David Roberts Says:

      Apologies in advance for what seems like a stupid question, but how will this putative business sell access to journals on which Elsevier has a monopoly for distribution?

  23. coppenheim Says:

    Yes, sorry to be a party pooper, but Tom’s idea is a total non-runner. Elsevier controls the distribution of its own materials (as do other publishers for theirs), and it would be outrageous copyright infringement to offer for resale materials these copyright owners control.

  24. Nicoletta Zar Says:

    Direct source of Martin Paul Eve complaint to the Competition and Markets Authority https://www.martineve.com/2016/12/03/referring-elsevierrelx-to-the-competition-and-markets-authority/

  25. Weltbolds Says:

    Do the prices include VAT or any other taxes, if so: at which rates?

  26. Does consortial scale matter in content licensing negotiations? – Gavia Libraria Says:

    […] with them all, and some hope of being able to be daring. ASC has many, many more stakeholders (see this comment by RLUK’s David Prosser to Gowers’s #elsexit post for an example), many of whom want a license at all costs, limiting ASC’s negotiating […]

  27. Tom Worthington Says:

    David, new businesses could “disrupt” (to use start-up jargon) academic publishing in the same way other oligopolies and cartels have been. This would involve getting access to existing content, plus offering the academics who decide where to publish and what to buy some reason to go elsewhere. There would be considerable support for this in universities.

    There is a well established process for working out how to do this, involving a lot of post-it notes. I went through the Kiln Incubator workshops sponsored by the Australian National University: http://blog.highereducationwhisperer.com/search/label/Kiln%20Incubator

    I am sure there are similar workshops run in Cambridge regularly, as the home of the “Cambridge Phenomenon”: http://blog.highereducationwhisperer.com/2015/04/designing-innovation-course-part-3.html#cambridge

  28. robertyuncken Says:

    For info, the Universities at Clermont-Ferrand have cancelled our subscription to the Wiley Full Collection for 2017. See link: https://alambic.hypotheses.org/6245

  29. Jakob Scholbach Says:

    In Germany, there is a relatively new organization called DEAL (https://www.projekt-deal.de/), its purpose is to negotiate a nation-wide agreement with major publishers such as Elsevier. I guess it is somewhat similar to Jisc.

    Just very recently, DEAL decided not to continue the agreement with Elsevier (German press statement here: https://www.leopoldina.org/fileadmin/redaktion/Publikationen/Allianz/2016_12_02_DEAL.pdf).

    • Philipp Says:

      DEAL is the name of the project and not a new organization. The goal is as you describe it, but behind the project there is the “Alliance of Science Organisations in Germany” resp. the “German Rector’s conference”. These are somehow the universities and the research institutes itselves and not a funding organization like JISC. Said this much, I don’t know if this changes anything about the goal or what can be achieved.

      However, I am quite sure they will now continue the negotiations with Elsevier to come to a “better” agreement. The question is, how much better it will be…

  30. Library News, no. 537 La Capucine Edition – The Passion & The Fury: the glamour of libraries Says:

    […] lot of discussion going on about this. None of it very coordinated up to now. This blog post by Tim Gowers explains things well. I would urge you to please make the time to read it as this is a very […]

  31. DR Says:

    If there’s ever a reason to bring pressure on Elsevier, this should help (I will not personally verify this, but it does need checking):

    I plan to inform my electronic collections librarian to tell her Elsevier contacts…

  32. Os boicots a Elsevier, as consecuencias e algunhas preguntas | Fonseca Says:

    […] sabemos se habería unha reacción tipo dominó, pero, polo momento, o xa mentado Tim Grovers pide desde o seu blog un “Elsexit”, solicitando que non se renoven as suscricións a Elsevier por parte dos consorcios […]

  33. Schweiz: Studie belegt massives Sparpotential beim Wechsel zu Open Access | wisspub.net Says:

    […] Man darf Forschenden für das wichtige Ziel OA auch temporär zumuten gelegentlich auf Pay-Per-View, Dokumentlieferdienste, Fernleihe, Repositories aus dem Ausland, Autorenwebseiten oder auf Sci-Hub zuzugreifen. Manche Forschende könnten so endlich ein akkurates Verständnis von der Problematik um OA und ihre Mitverantwortung entwickeln. Ebenfalls würden Bibliotheken feststellen, dass die Welt auch ohne Big Deals weiterläuft, was diesen dann bei Verhandlungen für mehr OA und vernünftigen Preisen helfen würde. Oder wie es Timothy Gowers kürzlich treffend auf den Punkt gebracht hat: […]

  34. DEAL: Das germanische Dorf gegen das Elsevier-Empire – Beyond Milchmädchen Says:

    […] Mehr zum Thema Wissenschaftspublikationen auch im englischsprachigen academia-Raum, hier und hier. […]

  35. richardprice100 Says:

    Hi Tim,

    In your post you write “Cambridge, for example, has paid over £750,000 this year in article processing charges, from a grant provided for the purpose”.

    Is this on top of the £1,161,571 that they are spending per year, according to the FOI data? If there is off-setting going on, do we know how much?


  36. Anonymous Says:

    News on Nature http://www.nature.com/news/german-scientists-regain-access-to-elsevier-journals-1.21482
    German scientists regain access to Elsevier journals
    Publisher restores access as negotiations for a nationwide licence continue.

    • gowers Says:

      Thanks for this. It shows that, surprise surprise, if you are prepared to bargain hard then you are in a far stronger position.

      One of the reasons that the negotiations in the UK had such disappointing results was a view that there was no realistic plan B. But the Germans have shown us that there’s a pretty good one: just manage somehow until Elsevier caves in.

      It will be very interesting to see whether Elsevier tries to get the Germans to pay for this access that has been restored. If I were a German negotiator, then one of the first things I would say is, “We didn’t ask for this, so we’re not paying for it.” My guess is that Elsevier has taken this action because it is very dangerous for them if it becomes widely known that a whole country can manage just fine when access to ScienceDirect was cut off — a bit inconvenient yes, but by no means a disaster.

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