Elsevier maintains German access despite failure to strike deal

Some of the biggest universities in Germany are now without contracts with the publisher

January 4, 2018
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The publishing giant Elsevier has said that it will maintain German universities’ access to its journals, despite failing to negotiate a new deal before many institutions’ contracts expired on 1 January.

Germany’s research institutions and Elsevier have been locked in an at times rancorous negotiation for more than a year, as the country’s research organisations for the first time collectively try to strike what they regard as a better deal on open access, pricing and payment models.

No new deal was reached by the end of 2017, meaning that some of the biggest universities in Germany, including the Humboldt University of Berlin and the Free University of Berlin, now have no contract with the publisher.

In a statement to Times Higher Education, the publisher said that for institutions whose contracts expired on 1 January, “we’ve informed these institutions that we’d maintain access to our content while we continue to work with HRK [the German Rectors’ Conference] on a solution and, specifically, a one-year extension to existing contracts, covering 2018”.

The same continued access applies to German institutions whose contracts expired at the beginning of 2017. After at least a dozen were cut off at the start of last year, Elsevier restored access about six weeks later even though no deal had been struck.

"Elsevier and HRK have had constructive conversations well into December. We will continue our conversations with HRK in the first quarter of 2018 to find an access solution for German researchers in 2018 and a longer-term national agreement," the statement said. 

A spokesman for Elsevier refused to say whether the universities would be charged now or in the future for continued access while negotiations went on. “We are maintaining access to our content while we try to find a solution with individual institutions for 2018,” the statement said. “It is normal practice for Elsevier to keep access open during talks about extensions or renewals.” 

However, a spokesman for Humboldt University said that the university was not aware of Elsevier’s offer to keep access open, and referred THE to preparations that the university had made to cope with reduced access using interlibrary loans.

As well as lower prices, the German side wants effectively to pay per article published – a major challenge to traditional publishers’ business models, which have relied on subscriptions to journals.

The latest sticking point in the negotiations, the publisher has said, is that as part of the deal the German side wants to have access to Elsevier publications anywhere in the world that in other countries would still require subscription access, something it does not think is reasonable.  

david.matthews@timeshighereducation.com

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