A consortium of 300 South Korean universities and college libraries has reached an agreement with publishing giant Elsevier after long negotiations and a series of disagreements. The price hike to access ScienceDirect (Elsevier’s database comprising 3500 academic journals and several electronic books) was the underlying reason for the disagreements. Although Elsevier continued to provide access to ScienceDirect during the negotiations with the South Korean institutions, it threatened to discontinue access as talks prolonged. Ultimately, a price hike in the range of 3.5% and 3.9% was agreed upon.
South Korean universities typically renew their contracts with Elsevier in December. However, last year the publishing company decided to hike the price by 4.9% to which the consortium took a hard line. “We can no longer afford [Elsevier’s] excessive demands,” said Hwang In Sung, research analysis team director at the Korean Council for University Education (KCUE). Library budgets are tight in South Korea and ScienceDirect takes up the largest bite out of libraries’ annual budget, according to the consortium.
Apart from the proposed hike rate, the consortium also resisted the mandatory inclusion of journals that are of no relevance to these universities as part of ScienceDirect’s package deal. Lee Chang Won, secretary general of the Korea University & College Library Association, said "We want Elsevier to abolish the minimum flat rate system, in which our universities have to pay for digital content that nobody reads."
As per the negotiations, both sides agreed upon a subscription hike between the range of 3.5% and 3.9%. Thus, South Korean universities have the option to choose from these rates: one-year renewal at an increase of 3.9%, or a three-year contract with an increase of 3.5%, 3.6%, and 3.7% respectively above the baseline. The consortium has clarified that it is not completely satisfied with the newer rates as well. “We know our negotiated [increase] of 3.5% to 3.9% with Elsevier is above the international level of 2%," said Hwang In Sun. However, the consortium had to concede to Elsevier’s demands because access to ScienceDirect is vital for South Korean academics.
Affording access to Elsevier journals has become increasingly difficult for countries all over the world owing to the publisher’s high pricing. South Korean institutions are looking for better pricing for ScienceDirect in the next year and will continue to discuss pricing with the publishing giant.