UK signals move away from journal subscription model

Negotiator says universities ‘no longer willing to pay’ big publishers without significant step towards open access

May 7, 2019
Secret deal
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The UK could soon follow the example of Norway and Germany in ditching costly journal subscriptions in favour of more “read and publish” agreements, according to its lead negotiator.

Liam Earney, director of licensing at Jisc Collections, said it was clear that UK universities, like those in many other countries, were “no longer willing to pay for outdated systems” pushed by commercial publishers of the likes of Elsevier.

“A huge number of consortia are beginning to think about how to reconfigure their [subscription] deals,” he said. “Internationally, I think we are witnessing a shift, and we will start to see more of these types of publish-and-read agreements.”

His comments followed news that the UK sector has signed a £9.6 million, three-year agreement to extend its read-and-publish deal with Springer Nature via the consortium. The deal allows UK researchers access to 2,150 Springer titles, but does not include access to Nature journals. Crucially, members will be able to make their articles freely available in Springer’s hybrid-model journals, a move that the publisher said was in keeping with open access guidelines under the Plan S initiative.

The agreement was announced after rival publisher Elsevier struck its first read-and-publish deal with Norwegian universities following a pushback against traditional subscription-model contracts by universities on the Continent.

In negotiating the Springer deal, Mr Earney said he had been “struck by how firmly the commitment towards open access has been at the forefront of discussions, in a way it wasn’t three or four years ago”.

“The fact that the UK is managing to reach transitional agreements helps to create more open access material, but more generally we want that to act as the inspiration for other agreements with other publishers that speed up the transition,” he continued.

Agreeing a contract to suit both parties had been difficult, he said. “Unsurprisingly, Springer had raised its revenue expectations. They had engaged with our efforts to move towards open access swiftly – therefore I can imagine they felt they should be rewarded over and above other publishers who hadn’t.”

Given that “universities are in the midst of a period of real financial uncertainty…I think [they] want to be sure the publisher is fully committed to the open access transition in a sustainable manner before signing”, Mr Earney continued.

“From our point of view, we want to continue to work with Springer Nature. But it’s important that they put a workflow in place to support the transition to open access. That promise cannot just be rhetorical,” he said. “If we renew this next time around, I would hope that upfront [subscription] payments would be redundant.”

rachael.pells@timeshighereducation.com

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POSTSCRIPT:

Print headline: UK subscription renewals may wane as institutions press for open access

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