Germany-wide consortium of research libraries announce boycott of Elsevier journals over open access

Germany's DEAL project, which includes over 60 major research institutions, has announced that all of its members are canceling their subscriptions to all of Elsevier's academic and scientific journals, effective January 1, 2017.

The boycott is in response to Elsevier's refusal to adopt "transparent business models" to "make publications more openly accessible."

Elsevier is notorious even among academic publishers for its hostility to open access, but it also publishes some of the most prestigious journals in many fields. This creates a vicious cycle, where the best publicly funded research is published in Elsevier journals, which then claims ownership over the research (Elsevier, like most academic journals, requires authors to sign their copyrights over, though it does not pay them for their writing, nor does it pay for their research expenses). Then, the public institutions that are producing this research have to pay very high costs to access the journals in which it appears. Journal prices have skyrocketed over the past 40 years.

No one institution can afford to boycott Elsevier, but collectively, the institutions have great power. The high price-ticket on journals means that the entire customer base for them is institutions, not individuals, and the increasing prices have narrowed the field of institutions that can afford to participate -- but that has also narrowed the number of institutions that need to cooperate to cripple Elsevier and bring it to heel.

Even so, this kind of boycott was unimaginable until recently -- but the rise of guerrilla open access sites like Sci-Hub mean that researchers at participating institutions can continue to access Elsevier papers by other means.

All participants in this process are aware of the imminent effects this has on research and teaching. However, they share the firm conviction that, for the present, the pressure built up by the joint action of many research institutions is the only way to to reach an outcome advantageous for the German scientific community.

No full-text access to Elsevier journals to be expected from 1 January 2017 on [Göttingen State and University Library]

Notable Replies

  1. Knome says:

    'Tis a beautiful thing. Brings a tear to the eye.

  2. Boycott is a bit too strong here. They (DEAL and Elsevier) are in negotiations over a new contract since the old one was running out. The German universities tried to negotiate a contract that would have included automatic open access for all papers published by researchers at the institutions in question - which is a great idea and as far as I know unprecedented. (Up until now, authors or their institutions have to pay for every article they would have wanted to be in open access in most journals, except in the few journals which are open access by default.) However, Elsevier was, naturally, very reluctant and, if at all, wanted it to charge the DEAL institutions dearly. So they let the negotiations fail.

    So it's more of a "passive" boycott (letting the contract run out) rather than an active one. Still, good on them (and I'm proud that my home institution is a part of this)! Of course, not being able to access papers in many major journals across disciplines is tricky but librarians have already made sure that all issues up until the end of 2016 will be available in as straightforward a manner as possible - which is hard considering that most of it is digital and, of course, usually licensed and not owned by the libraries. Sending paper copies around the country is no fun...

  3. JonS says:

    Yep. If Elsevier, et al, added some value that might be one thing, but they really don't appear to add anything other than a high financial barrier to publicly funded research.

  4. As @JonS pointed out, if Elsevier didn't make an absurd profit putting articles behind paywalls, these wouldn't be needed. In one of the journals in my field that is served by Elsevier, papers go to associate editors, who (unpaid, or paid in vouchers) make a first pass on whether or not to send them to handling editors, who (unpaid, or paid in voucher) send them to peer review. The peer reviewers (unpaid) then review them. There are multiple levels of unpaid labor before Elsevier even has to spend money on labor associated with a paper. Very little paid labor goes into adding any value to a paper by Elsevier.

    As a result, they have huge profit margins. If they want me to appreciate their charity, they can get me to do that by phasing out the need for such charity.

    Edit: And they advertise on Breitbart. Fuck 'em.

  5. KXKVI says:

    Yeah, like the journal editor, who is paid by her university, and the peer review people, who are paid by their universities, and the author who is paid by his university. The important part, the content is all done by the authors, who are paid nothing by Elsevier. Everything else is window dressing.

    It's like there's this enormous, complicated, beautiful toll-bridge made out of gold, that costs a fortune to use, when the stream it crosses is only an inch deep and a foot wide, and you can just step across.

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