Higher Education library

Libraries become more assertive negotiating terms with big journal publishers.

As libraries attempt to manage rising subscription costs for journals some universities have canceled their “big deal” subscriptions. Big deal subscriptions offer access to multiple journals for a single price which is often discounted from the total price of all individual journals but includes journals that may not have otherwise been purchased. While these agreements have been canceled before due to rising costs and shrinking budgets, their frequent lack of affordable Open Access publishing options is also increasingly being seen as a point of contention with universities.

On February 28, 2019, the University of California System (UC) canceled its $10 million dollar plus per year subscription deal with academic publisher Elsevier. UC wanted default Open Access publishing for authors in their system, and for subscription fees for journals to be integrated with fees for publishing articles as Open Access. According to UC, Elsevier’s terms for doing this would have increased UC’s costs by about eighty percent, or an additional $30 million paid out over a three-year contract.

Other academic library systems (notably in Germany, Sweden, and Hungary) have also canceled subscription packages with Elsevier, as have other universities in the United States; however, the UC System accounts for almost 10 percent of the scholarly publishing in the United States. Faculty at UC have backed the cancellation decision, and if they are determined to publish their work as Open Access this could lead to a shift away from publishing in Elsevier’s journals. Depending on their commitment this could also lead to a shift in service activities, as peer reviewers and editorial boards move away from paywalled to Open Access journals.

The impact on UC’s students and faculty may not be as great as imagined, either. Some journals were purchased with perpetual access, and they will retain this access for articles published prior to 2019. This cancellation was also only for the large package deal often favored by publishers. UC still has the option to subscribe to individual journals, purchase access to individual articles, or inter-library loan materials from other institutions.

There are also other options for authors who publish in paywalled journals but wish to provide some form of increased access to their materials. Authors can often place pre-prints or even published articles on institutional repositories (such as our own ISU ReD), or they can be contacted directly for copies of an article by readers. If you wish to discuss these options further, for current or already published research, please contact Milner Library’s Scholarly Communication Team at isured@ilstu.edu.

by Eric Willey, Special Collections and Formats Cataloger