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To read and be read

The state universities in Baden-Württemberg are demanding fair pricing and better conditions from scientific publishers

Freiburg, Jul 07, 2017

To read and be read

Foto: Baschi Bender

DEAL: That is the name of the nationwide group that has been negotiating with the publishing house giants Elsevier, Springer Nature und Wiley on behalf of the alliance of German scientific organizations. The scientific publishers are offering, among other things, electronic access to thousands of scientific journals, something that is indispensible to researchers and students. But the universities’ discontent is on the rise. They are demanding more appropriate conditions and fairer pricing from the publishers. The pressure is rising: The State Rectors’ Conference (LRK) in Baden-Württemberg wants to cancel the state contract with Elsevier. At the end of 2016 around 70 well-known scientific institutions in Germany ended their cooperation with the publisher. Dr. Antje Kellersohn, Director of the University Library Freiburg and spokesperson for the DEAL project group told Rimma Gerenstein what that means for users.

Indispensible for studies, research and teaching: Open Access and permanent access to e-Journals. Photo: Baschi Bender

Dr. Kellersohn, it is actually quite easy: The universities purchase the publishers’ service and make a contract with them. What’s the problem?

Antje Kellersohn: The issue lies in the fact that the three major publishing houses have gained an extremely strong market position over the years, including internationally. Their pricing demands go well beyond the general inflation rate. As a result, most scientific communities in Germany – including universities, state and regionally run libraries or universities of applied sciences have not been able to provide their users with appropriately current literature for their studies, research and instruction. The licenses are way too expensive and more and more institutions are having to cancel them. At the same time, the publishers follow a business model that doesn’t take into consideration modern academic life against the backdrop of digitalization. Take the example of “Open Access”. It is aligned with the European Union’s strategy, along with that of the federal government and the funding policies of the German Research Foundation. The publishers are still having a hard time to create an appropriate framework.

What does DEAL specifically want from the scientific publishing houses?

We want to make nationwide licensing contracts with Elsevier, Springer Nature und Wiley that include the complete portfolio of e-Journals. That means we would receive permanent access to all texts from the scientific journals, all publications by authors of German institutions would automatically be made available via Open Access and the pricing would be measured by the number of publications. Keyword “publish and read.” Several hundred institutions nationwide have joined the DEAL consortium because we want to finally have sustained improvement in content and pricing. We are not alone in Germany, by the way. Colleagues in neighboring countries that have similar negotiations underway on the national level are in regular contact with us. For instance, there is a campaign in Finland called “No deal, no review “.

“Our demands are clear – it’s in the publishers’ court now”: Antje Kellersohn is heading the negotiations for the nationwide group DEAL. Photo: Baschi Bender

Why should publishers enter a deal that is not favorable to them? In other words: are the universities’ demands justified?

Yes, we are convinced they are. That can be explained by taking a look at every day academic life: The authors of scientific publications do not receive any payment from the publishers. In addition, the scientists customarily take on the editing responsibilities for their articles and the research described in them is also paid with taxpayers’ money. Furthermore, most publications are published electronically these days: The printing and distribution costs have been eliminated. Despite all of this, the publishers charge horrendous prices. At Elsevier, for instance, the profit margins are 40 percent and yet the publisher wants to raise their licensing prices. Their latest offer to the DEAL group was a several hundred million Euro sum. That is simply unacceptable. We have continuously asked Elsevier to give us a revised, fairer offer. We are still waiting for it to this day.

At the moment, negotiations with Elsevier have been stopped – discussions with the other publishers have continued. What does that mean for the users?

The LRK decision won’t have any impact on the information flow for our university members until the end of 2017 as the contract with Elsevier still holds. Besides the project group DEAL has worked out an emergency plan in the face of our negotiations to buffer the impact on researchers and students. At the beginning of the year, Elsevier had blocked access for the various scientific institutions that had canceled their contracts. Starting in mid-February, they had only partly opened access. Some of these institutions have had to resort to an emergency supply going on more than six months now. That includes interlibrary loans, document delivery and pay-per-view services. It is not very convenient, but luckily the users have shown great understanding for the situation. That is how it will be in Freiburg as well if we can’t reach an agreement by the beginning of next year. But I am very optimistic that we will come to a DEAL agreement. Our demands are clear – it’s in the publishers’ court now.


Pressemitteilung der Landesrektorenkonferenz