UK universities near Elsevier deal after publisher drops price

Rigorous ‘no deal’ planning paved way for significant concessions, says library head

January 19, 2022
Shaking hands with a Cheesemaker at a market at the opening of the Dutch Cheese season in Goudato illustrate UK universities near Elsevier deal after publisher drops price
Source: Getty

UK universities are poised to strike their first open access deal with Elsevier next month after the world’s biggest academic publisher agreed to cut the cost of its previous £50 million-a-year agreement.

The agreement would follow almost a year of negotiations with the Netherlands-based company whose seventh offer to the UK sector, submitted in late November after a previous proposal was publicly rebuffed, is believed to have been received favourably by institutions.

According to Paul Ayris, pro vice-chancellor for library services at UCL and a member of the Universities UK-Jisc committee negotiating the deal, the proposed offer was “far simpler, less costly [than previous offers] and provides unlimited publishing in all eligible journals including Cell Press and Lancet”.

He added that there was a “real possibility of striking an effective, transformative deal with Elsevier…to allow 100 per cent open access output in Elsevier titles”.

Jisc, the UK sector’s main technology body, told Times Higher Education that its consultation with institutions on Elsevier’s “new and improved proposal” would conclude at the end of January. Elsevier, which has extended subscription access until 31 January while negotiations continue, said that the offer met “all the requirements Jisc set out on behalf of the sector to enable a sustainable transition to open access for UK research”.

THE understands that UK institutions have managed to obtain a slightly larger discount – about 10 per cent – to that obtained by the University of California, which said it had secured a 7 per cent reduction in costs, allowing for inflation, when it struck a $13 million (£9.4 million) a year open access deal in March, following nearly two years without access to Elsevier titles.

Phil Sykes, director of libraries, museums and galleries at the University of Liverpool, which pays about £940,000 to Elsevier annually for access to more than 1,800 of its electronic titles, believed the offer represented a “good, balanced deal” that was likely to be accepted by universities.

“It’s fairer than any deal we’ve had from Elsevier in my working lifetime,” said Mr Sykes, who said it “points the way for future negotiations with other publishers, which are now going to be about the extent of price reductions, not price increases”.

“This is a breakthrough because it accepts the reality that there needs to be a more reasonable balance of costs and benefits between universities and publishers,” Mr Sykes said.

Previous negotiations with Elsevier – which resulted in price increases either above or in line with inflation – had been hampered by a lack of “no deal” planning, but university libraries had worked together this time to model how a “speedy interloans system” would allow researchers to access Elsevier papers, on request from their library, in a matter of hours, explained Mr Sykes.

That project – which initially began with the N8 group of northern research libraries but later included all Russell Group universities and members of Research Libraries UK – helped Jisc create a “detailed and robust back-up plan for if the offer from Elsevier was unacceptable”, said Mr Sykes.

“It has been difficult to contemplate cancelling ‘big deals’ in the past, because of the inconvenience it would visit on our researchers, but we found a way of substantially mitigating that inconvenience,” he said.

“Together with superb work from Jisc, it alters the balance of power between publishers and universities, because it makes big deal cancellation less risky for universities but much riskier, given the huge loss of revenue they would incur, for the publisher,” he continued, adding that, nonetheless, “our favoured option is always going to be a reasonably priced big deal”.

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Reader's comments (3)

This is a great win for the academic community including academic libraries, and the open access movement. The balance of power between universities and publishers has indeed been altered with this move, and this paves the way for similar wins for smaller universities with shrinking budgets.
Absolutely. Remember the academics in the univesities produce the content and that is the only reason these publishers and journals exist not the other way around. It is time well time someone remined them of that and this is a great step. But we should aim for a world where middle men are completely eliminated. Exploit the power of the internet and the myriad channels of communication that it provides to cut these middlemen out completely. That will get rid of this whole setup of gatekeepers, cliques and clubs that domninate journals.
Are there any updates regarding the new agreement?