Talks collapse as Germany rejects ‘unacceptable’ Elsevier offer

Publisher says it remains ‘committed’ to striking a deal, but question mark hangs over institutions’ continuing access

July 9, 2018
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Negotiations between publishing giant Elsevier and German research organisations have collapsed, after academic leaders refused a subscription deal they said was “unacceptable” for the academic community.

At the German Rectors’ Conference in Bonn, Horst Hippler, lead negotiator and spokesman for the Deal Project Steering Committee – a nationwide coalition of nearly 200 institutions – said “excessive demands put forward by Elsevier” had left the group with “no choice but to suspend negotiations”.

The committee has been locked in talks with Elsevier for several months following disagreements over pricing and progress towards open access publishing.

Subscription contracts for a number of German institutions expired on 1 January this year, but Elsevier agreed to maintain access to content in the short term, in the hope that an agreement would eventually be met.

Speaking at the time, an Elsevier spokesman confirmed that a “one-year extension would be made to existing contracts, covering 2018”. Following the rectors’ conference, however, the publisher was unable to clarify whether that promise would be upheld.

In a written statement, Hannfried von Hindenburg, senior vice-president of global communications at Elsevier, confirmed that the company’s latest offer to Germany had been rejected.

Despite a shared agreement to “work together to significantly accelerate the transition to open access” and “an attractive offer” from Elsevier, the two parties were “unable to agree an interim solution bridging the time needed to conclude negotiations”, he said.

“Some German institutions decided not to renew individual contracts with Elsevier in anticipation of a national licence,” Dr von Hindenburg added. “While Elsevier has maintained access for those institutions awaiting progress in the Deal negotiations, we are now contacting those institutions to confirm their service requirements going forward.”

Dr von Hindenburg said that Elsevier remained “committed” to reaching an agreement with Project Deal and that the publisher “remain[ed] open to constructive talks to find a sustainable national solution in support of German research”.

The major sticking point in negotiations has been access to research written by authors based outside Germany. German negotiators want to have free access to all of Elsevier’s content, wherever it is written, but Elsevier has argued that this content will not be covered by the article-processing charges paid by German authors. German negotiators, meanwhile, have countered that making countries pay to publish their own research and to subscribe to read international papers would lead to publishers being paid twice for each article.

“What we want is to bring an end to the pricing trend for academic journals that has the potential to prove disastrous for libraries as it stands...We have our sights set on a sustainable publish and read model, which means fair payment for publication and unrestricted availability for readers afterwards," said Professor Hippler at the rectors’ conference. 

“Elsevier, however, is still not willing to offer a deal in the form of a nationwide agreement in Germany that responds to the needs of the academic community in line with the principles of open access and that is financially sustainable.”

The Deal Group had taken the “necessary precautions” in case access is suddenly cut for those institutions without contracts, he added. Many institutions are likely to rely on inter-library loans.

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