Norway becomes latest country to ditch Elsevier

Publisher expected to lose about €10 million a year, while Norwegian researchers face being unable to access new papers

March 13, 2019
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Norway has become the latest country to sever its contract with Elsevier in a move that could cost the publisher €10 million (£8.6 million) a year.

It follows Germany, Sweden, Hungary and the University of California system, which have ditched the publisher over complaints of high prices and insufficient progress towards open access.

Norway’s negotiating consortium started talks in earnest with Elsevier in spring 2018, but no agreement had been reached by the time the previous contract expired at the end of the year.

This year, Elsevier has been providing access free of charge as negotiations continued.

But with talks stalled, Norwegian universities have accepted that there will be no contract in 2019, meaning that researchers will lose access to new papers in the publisher’s journals.

Katrine Weisteen Bjerde, director of research services strategy at the Directorate for ICT and Shared Services in Higher Education and Research – the body that has represented 44 institutions in negotiations with Elsevier – said that the parties were “so far apart that we don’t see any solution in the next few months”.

The outage could cost Elsevier about €10 million this year. In 2018, the Norwegian consortium of institutions paid €9 million in subscription fees plus €1 million in open access publishing charges.

But this is a tiny fraction of the company’s revenue, which in 2018 stood at about £2.5 billion and was growing despite mounting boycotts by European universities.

All libraries in the Norwegian consortium will lose access to new papers published in Elsevier journals, Ms Bjerde said, and some will be cut off from their back catalogue, too, although the exact proportion that will be affected is unknown.

It is also unclear exactly when the publisher will halt access, but a statement from an Elsevier spokesman said that company “cannot continue service indefinitely without being paid”.

Norway has been emboldened by the experiences of other countries that have ended contracts with Elseiver, Ms Bjerde said. “We know that Germany and Sweden are doing quite OK,” she said, adding that Norway was in close discussions with other European countries in a similar position as well as with the California system.

During negotiations, Elsevier had offered to make only a “small proportion” of Norwegian research open access, she said, and had refused to contemplate cutting subscription charges for universities.

Instead, “what we want is a transitional deal”, she said, in which subscription costs to read journals were steadily eclipsed by charges to publish research openly.

Elsevier’s statement accused Norway of “essentially asking to receive two services for the price of one”.

“While Elsevier is working hard to accommodate the desire of some for an ‘author pays to publish’ (open access) world, the reality is that current author choices mean that 85 per cent of journal articles globally are published under the reader-pays (subscription) model, where authors publish for free,” it said.

“It’s possible to come up with a negotiated agreement at reasonable costs, and Elsevier offered Norway multiple low-cost options for a rapid transition to gold open access publishing, but open access is a service that has to be funded in some form.”

david.matthews@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (1)

Another reason to support Sci-Hub. Elsevier is nothing short of evil and greedy.

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