Sweden cancels Elsevier contract as open-access dispute spreads

Sector’s move follows similar rows in France and Germany

May 16, 2018
Tear up contract

Swedish universities have moved to cancel their contract with journal publisher Elsevier as concern over slow progress towards open access spreads.

The Bibsam Consortium, which represents 85 higher education and research institutions in the country, said that its current agreement with Elsevier would not be renewed after 30 June.

The consortium said that the publisher had been unable to meet its requirements of immediate open access to all articles in Elsevier journals published by researchers affiliated to member organisations; reading access for member organisations to all of Elsevier’s journal content; and a “sustainable price model that enables a transition to open access”.

Sweden’s government has said that all publicly funded research should be made freely available by 2026.

The country’s universities are the latest to pull the plug on journal subscriptions in a bid to force big publishers to move to an open-access model, following a long-running row between Germany and Elsevier, and in the wake of French research institutions’ refusal to agree a new deal with Springer. In both of these cases, the publishers have continued to offer access to their content to researchers.

The Bibsam Consortium complained that, while its organisations had spent €12 million (£10.5 million) on subscription fees to Elsevier journals in 2017, they were now also spending €1.3 million annually on article-processing charges for open-access publishing, without a reduction in the cost of their subscriptions. Swedish researchers publish about 4,000 articles a year in Elsevier periodicals, according to the consortium.

Astrid Söderbergh Widding, president of Stockholm University and chair of the consortium’s steering committee, said that the increasing costs of scientific communication were “straining university budgets on a global scale while publishers operate on high profit margins”.

“We need to monitor the total cost of publication as we see a tendency towards a rapid increase of costs for both reading and publishing,” Professor Widding said. “The current system for scholarly communication must change, and our only option is to cancel deals when they don’t meet our demands for a sustainable transition to open access.”

Bibsam said that articles dating to between 1995 and 2017 would continue to be available to Swedish researchers under the current agreement’s post-termination terms, but content published after 30 June would be unavailable. It has advised academics to search for open-access versions of papers, to contact authors directly for a copy, or to consider an inter-library loan.

Elsevier has been asked for a comment. The company has previously said that it does not object to an open-access model but has concerns about allowing a country’s researchers to freely read content from other sectors that still operate on a subscription model.


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