Max Planck Society cancels Elsevier subscription over open access

Organisation follows nearly 200 German research organisations in cutting ties with publishing giant

December 20, 2018
Divorce

Germany’s Max Planck Society – one of the world’s largest research organisations – is cancelling its subscription to Elsevier journals in a bid to secure a decisive shift towards open access publishing.

The society, which has about 14,000 scientists and publishes roughly 12,000 new research articles each year – 1,500 of them in Elsevier periodicals – said that its access to the company’s titles would end with the expiry of the current contract on 31 December.

The society expressed its support for Germany’s Project Deal initiative, led by the German Rectors’ Conference, which is seeking to replace the subscription model with a system under which articles are made freely available in return for the payment of article processing charges. Nearly 200 German universities and research institutions have cancelled their Elsevier agreements in the past two years in protest at the publisher’s refusal to strike a deal on its terms.

Elsevier, for its part, maintains that it supports open science, but argues that German researchers cannot have free access to articles in its portfolio published by academics from other countries that still use the subscription system – a key demand of Project Deal. Negotiations between the company and Project Deal were suspended in July.

“The system of scholarly publishing today is a relic of the print era, and we want to activate a real paradigm shift in order to finally utilise the opportunities of the digital age,” said Gerard Meijer, director of the Max Planck Society’s Fritz Haber Institute and a member of the Deal negotiating team.

This is the latest in a series of steps taken by the Max Planck Society in support of Project Deal: 13 of its scientists resigned from their positions as editors or editorial board members on Elsevier journals in 2017.

Other German institutions that have cancelled their Elsevier subscriptions have been using interlibrary loans and other techniques to access research contained in the company’s journals. The Max Planck Digital Library said that it “has already set in place mechanisms to address the content needs of its researchers when Elsevier shuts off access at the beginning of January”.

Ralf Schimmer, the digital library’s deputy general manager, said that the society had already signed open access deals with publishers including Springer Nature, the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Institute of Physics Publishing, and that “further publishers will follow in 2019”.

“As both producers and consumers of the research articles circulated through their journal platforms, we have the leverage to demand a system that meets the needs of our researchers, and by adopting these transformative agreements, we will be able to achieve our society’s goal of publishing the vast majority of our researchers’ articles open access in a matter of a few short years,” Dr Schimmer said.

Tom Reller, vice-president for global communications at Elsevier, said that the company “regret[s]” the Max Planck Society’s decision.

“Elsevier has made every effort to reach a national agreement with Project Deal, including agreeing that the ‘publish and read’ model can be a driving force in a worldwide transition towards gold open access. We also committed to working together with Project Deal to significantly accelerate the transition to open access in Germany,” Mr Reller said.

“We regret that – despite all our efforts – Project Deal has unilaterally suspended negotiations with us after our last meeting in July. We remain open for talks and committed to reaching a compromise with Project Deal about a national license for the benefit of German research.”

The German Rectors’ Conference said earlier this month that negotiators had “made considerable progress” in talks over a new deal with Springer Nature, with the aim of signing a new agreement “by mid-2019 at the latest”.

chris.havergal@timeshighereducation.com

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