In a Push for Open Access, University of California Cuts Ties With Major Journal Publisher

Amid a growing global effort by academics to shift toward greater open access in research, the University of California (UC) has announced that it will not renew its subscriptions to journals published by Elsevier, the world’s largest scholarly publisher.

The decision follows a breakdown in contract negotiations between the university system and the Netherlands-based publisher, during which UC proposed an altered payment structure that would roll article-preparation fees into the more than $10 million it pays to Elsevier annually for journal access. This move would have effectively made open access the default for any article published by UC researchers. Elsevier’s counteroffer was not accepted.

Research produced by UC’s 10 campuses accounts for nearly 10 percent of all U.S. publishing output, and the university’s decision to terminate its subscriptions could have ripple effects at other institutions.

“The prices of scientific journals now are so high that not a single university in the U.S. — not the University of California, not Harvard, no institution — can afford to subscribe to them all,” said Jeffrey MacKie-Mason, PhD, university librarian and economics professor at UC Berkeley, in a press release. “Publishing our scholarship behind a paywall deprives people of the access to and benefits of publicly funded research. That is terrible for society.”

In a letter to UC-based editors of Elsevier journals, an executive at the publisher said the company is “concerned about the impact a loss of access would have on UC researchers’ effectiveness and the UC’s overall research competitiveness.” Elsevier disseminates approximately 18 percent of journal articles produced by UC faculty.

Source: STAT News, February 28, 2019; UC press release; February 28, 2019.