Dec 7, 2018

Jeff MacKie-Mason on the University's Battle with Academic Publisher Elsevier

From Los Angeles Times

In UC's battle with the world's largest scientific publisher, the future of information is at stake

By Michael Hiltzik

Boiled down to dollars and cents, the battle between the University of California, the nation’s premier producer of academic research, and Reed Elsevier, the world’s leading publisher of academic journals, can seem almost trivial. UC is paying almost $11 million this year for subscriptions to some 1,500 Elsevier journals. That’s not much when measured against the university’s core budget of $9.3 billion.

But in fact it’s a very big deal — big enough for the university to consider dropping the subscriptions entirely when its current five-year contract with Elsevier expires on Dec. 31. Scores of town hall meetings for UC faculty to discuss the ongoing negotiations between UC and Elsevier have been scheduled across the system as the deadline approaches. What faculty are likely to hear, in the words of Jeff MacKie-Mason, the university librarian at UC Berkeley, is that “we’re pretty far apart at this point.”...

“They’re the most powerful publisher in the world, and they act like it,” MacKie-Mason says of Elsevier. In negotiations, “they’ve been unyielding.”

Elsevier and the university have agreed to keep details of their talks under wraps until they conclude. But in general terms, UC wants to move to a so-called publish-and-read contract, in which the preparation fees paid by UC authors for papers to be subject to open access are combined with subscription fees in a single deal, hopefully at a money-saving rate. UC estimates that its authors pay Elsevier about $1 million a year in open-access fees that can reach thousands of dollars per paper.

“Elsevier has not shown any interest in discussing a publish-and-read contract,” MacKie-Mason told me. Instead, the publisher is insisting on a traditional subscription deal. Elsevier has expressed some willingness to test a new open-access fee arrangement as a pilot program, says Ivy Anderson, the associate executive director of UC’s California Digital Library, which is the signatory to the master subscription agreement. But it would be on a small scale and not integrated with the subscription contract. As a result, she says, the proposal wouldn’t advance the university’s goal of “effecting a large-scale transition to open access for the entire UC system.”

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Jeff MacKie-Mason is the University Librarian and Chief Digital Scholarship Officer, University of California, Berkeley, and a professor in the UC Berkeley School of Information and the Department of Economics. 

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Related Press Coverage

In Talks With Elsevier, UCLA Reaches for a Novel Bargaining Chip: Its Faculty (The Chronicle of Higher Education)

Jeffrey MacKie-Mason
Jeffrey MacKie-Mason

Last updated:

December 20, 2018