India ‘in strong position’ heading into talks with publishers

Nation ‘would do well’ to seek out global expertise for its 2023 national publishing plan, with negotiations expected to be ‘long and protracted’

November 29, 2022
Bookseller, Tamil Nadu
Source: iStock

India could drive a hard bargain with academic publishers, leveraging its massive higher education system to secure a favourable nationwide deal for journal subscriptions, according to Europe’s open access guru.

The comment comes as the country readies itself for negotiations that could see it become the world’s largest subscriber to academic journals, representing millions of readers and authors.

From April 2023, India will adopt a “One Nation, One Subscription” policy, a move that would replace individual subscriptions with a single centrally negotiated deal, bringing all government-funded universities under one umbrella and putting it on par with countries such as Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland.

In a letter this month to university heads, K. Sanjay Murthy, secretary for higher education in India’s Ministry of Education, said negotiations with 70 publishers would get under way shortly, national media reported.

Vice-chancellors at India’s public universities have been asked to halt any renewals of academic journals as the nation prepares for a massive overhaul of its academic subscription system, which currently involves hundreds of universities each securing their own individual deals with publishers so their academics can read and publish scholarly work.

Johan Rooryck, executive director of the Coalition S group of funders advocating for open access in Europe, said India was in a “very strong position” heading into the talks.

“They seem to have unified…subscribers into a single national negotiation consortium. That puts them in a very different position from when subscriptions were negotiated with individual universities,” he said.

The move comes at a time when institutions increasingly have come to expect open access, following the removal of paywalls during the pandemic. Just months ago, a Biden administration decision mandated that all federally funded research in the US be made freely available, seen as paving the way for global open access.

“The seemingly unassailable position of publishers as providers of access to reading and publishing in prestige journals is being eroded,” noted Professor Rooryck.

Currently, there exist numerous options to make scholarly articles freely available – so-called open access routes that include publishing preprints with post-publication review and rights retention strategies allowing authors to deposit paywalled articles in a repository.

With a “highly fragmented” higher education landscape in the US making national negotiations with publishers “virtually impossible” and with China’s attempts at securing a national deal in the doldrums since 2018, India could become the largest county with such an arrangement.

Were it to go through, a national deal would make the journals freely accessible for India’s population of 1.4 billion citizens even as the country is poised to eclipse China as the world’s most populous.

Still, negotiations will require a lot of patience, with experience from other jurisdictions “absolutely crucial”, according to Professor Rooryck.

“Negotiations like these may seem local, but publishers bring global expertise to the table. India should do the same by relying on the expertise of other national negotiation teams.”

While Professor Rooryck was optimistic that a deal could be reached, he was not too hopeful that this would happen quickly.

“I expect negotiations to be long and protracted, with a long back-and-forth process. This was the case in the UK for the deal with Elsevier; I do not expect it to be different in India,” he said.

Ideally, the price for India’s deal would be made public and would be tied to the nation’s purchasing power, paving the way for similar deals in other countries, said Professor Rooryck.

“It could set the stage for a truly equitable global approach to payments for academic publishing,” he said. “But I am no doubt too optimistic.”

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