Commentary

University Of California Praised For Ending Elsevier Publishing Deal

The University of California is being praised for this week’s decision to end its subscription deal with Elsevier, the world’s biggest publisher of scientific journals.

UC is the first major school university system to push for open-access publishing that makes research freely available to anyone in the world. UC’s nine colleges have 238,000 students and 190,000 faculty and staff.

University officials spent eight months negotiating with Elsevier on the renewal of a multimillion dollar contract on subscription fees to its scholarly journals, whose 2,500 publications have titles such as Journal of Dairy Science and The American Journal of Medicine.

UC insisted the publisher make all articles by UC authors immediately free to readers worldwide. The system’s subscription deal with Elsevier expired on December 31, but talks had continued through last week.

“We pay about $11 million a year to Elsevier in subscription fees, which is 25% of UC system-wide journal costs,” said Jeffrey MacKie-Mason, a UC-Berkeley librarian who co-chairs the team that negotiated with Elsevier, commenting in a Q&A on UC’s website.

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He said Elsevier was willing to provide open access to research if the UC system increased its payments of fees by about 80% to an additional $30 million over three years. UC subscribes to 2,000 subscriptions from Elsevier, and produces about 10% of the research produced in the United States.

“It’s ridiculous that, in this age of the internet, researchers are paying huge fees for access to academic papers and for publication of their own work,” the Mercury News editorial board said in an opinion piece on March 6.

The newspaper argued that taxpayers often pay for scientific research, and that Elsevier “doesn’t pay a dime for the articles it publishes.” The editorial also portrayed Elsevier as a greedy publisher with sales of $1.1 billion in 2017 and a profit margin estimated at close to 40%.

“Elsevier has every right to try to turn a reasonable profit for its services,” according to the Mercury News. “But UC and others should push back on excessive fees, especially when there are better alternatives.”

“It is disappointing that the California Digital Library (CDL) has broken off negotiations unilaterally, but we hope we can bridge this divide with them soon,” Tom Reller, vice president of global communications, Elsevier, said in an emailed statement to the Daily Cal.

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