Bold efforts to push academic publishing towards an open-access model are gaining steam. Negotiators from libraries and university consortia across Europe are sharing tactics on how to broker new kinds of contracts that could see more articles appear outside paywalls. And inspired by the results of a stand-off in Germany, they increasingly declare that if they don’t like what publishers offer, they will refuse to pay for journal access at all. On 16 May, a Swedish consortium became the latest to say that it wouldn’t renew its contract, with publishing giant Elsevier.
Under the new contracts, termed ‘read and publish’ deals, libraries still pay subscriptions for access to paywalled articles, but their researchers can also publish under open-access terms so that anyone can read their work for free.
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Despite decades of campaigning for research papers to be published openly — on the grounds that the fruits of publicly funded research should be available for all to read — scholarly publishing’s dominant business model remains to publish articles behind paywalls and collect subscriptions from libraries.
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On 2 May, negotiators from countries across Europe agreed to align their bargaining strategies at a closed meeting in Berlin attended by the European Commission’s special envoy for open access, Robert-Jan Smits. According to Gerard Meijer, one of the German negotiators present, consortia are “frustrated” by the lack of progress in talks and feel the limits of partnerships between institutions and large publishers “have been reached. It is up to us now to act, and to step out of these negotiations if these are going nowhere,” he says.
The meeting was the latest in a string of events in which negotiators from different countries swapped tactics. “More and more people are willing to share their experiences,” says Matthijs van Otegem, director of the library at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, and chair of the open-access working group at the Association of European Research Libraries (LIBER) in The Hague, the Netherlands.
In September last year, LIBER published a list of principles to guide negotiators seeking to change their deals. These include ending non-disclosure agreements that publishers customarily place on contracts (which would enable negotiators to compare deals in different countries) and not agreeing to price hikes without open-access agreements in place.
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A key driver behind the activity in Europe is the European Commission’s goal that, by 2020, all research will be freely accessible as soon as it is published.
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One reason that libraries no longer fear an end to their contracts with publishers is that a growing number of free versions of paywalled articles can be found online as preprints or accepted manuscripts, notes Heather Joseph, executive director of the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), an advocacy group in Washington DC. Sci-Hub, a website that illicitly hosts full copies of papers and is used by academics around the world, is also a big factor, says Joseph Esposito, a publishing consultant in New York City. “Without Sci-Hub the researchers would be screaming at the libraries and state agencies not to cut them off,” he says.
Link to the rest at Nature