The conflict between publishers and consortia around the world is showing no signs of ending. After the consortia (including universities and libraries) in Germany, France, and the Netherlands failed to renew their contracts with academic publishers, the Bibsam Consortium in Sweden became the most recent addition to this list. This group, which represents 85 Swedish higher education and research institutions, declared that it will not renew its agreement with publishing giant Elsevier after June 30.
According to the consortium’s members, till date they have collectively spent €12 million ($14.2 million USD) to access Elsevier’s content. Their researchers have also had to pay article processing charges to publish in Elsevier journals. “Increasing costs of scientific information are straining university budgets on a global scale while publishers operate on high profit margins,” stated Astrid Söderbergh Widding, President of Stockholm University and Chairman of the Bibsam consortium. He further added that Elsevier’ is not meeting the consortia’s demands for a shift toward open access, leading to the cancelation of contract renewal.
The European Commission is taking steps toward making all scientific research freely available by 2020. While it is likely that this target might not be met, European libraries and universities are making efforts to strike deals that align with this vision and the consortia are part of these efforts.
The growing frustration among universities and libraries over the access charges levied by publishers led negotiators from various European countries to meet earlier this month to discuss the way forward. Since several consortia have been unsuccessful in reaching agreements with large publishers, as reported by Nature, the negotiators have agreed to join forces to bargain for better deals with publishers such as Elsevier and Springer Nature.
In a big move toward open access publishing, a Sweden consortium VSNU was the first to broker a ‘read and publish’ contract with Springer Nature and Oxford University Press. According to this deal, libraries are charged to access publisher content but viewing paywalled articles and publishing open-access reports is combined into one fee. Consortia in countries such as Austria, Finland, and the U.K. are trying to strike similar deals with big publishers.
According to Heather Joseph, executive director of the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), some of the main reasons that libraries are taking the bold step of ending contracts are the widespread use of Sci-Hub and the availability of articles as preprints and accepted manuscripts.
The libraries and universities in Europe are exerting a strong push toward open access in an attempt to coerce publishers into acceding to their demands. Whether and how this wave of change transforms the way research is published and made accessible remains to be seen.