Thursday, December 22, 2016

Walking Away From The Table

Last time we were buying a car, at the end of a long and frustrating process we finally decided that what we wanted was the bottom end of the range, with no options. The dealer told us that choice wasn't available in our market. We said "OK, call us if you ever find a car like that" and walked away. It was just over two weeks before we got the call. At the end of 2014 I wrote:
The discussions between libraries and major publishers about subscriptions have only rarely been actual negotiations. In almost all cases the libraries have been unwilling to walk away and the publishers have known this. This may be starting to change; Dutch libraries have walked away from the table with Elsevier.
Actually, negotiations continued and a year later John Bohannon reported for Science that a deal was concluded:
A standoff between Dutch universities and publishing giant Elsevier is finally over. After more than a year of negotiations — and a threat to boycott Elsevier's 2500 journals — a deal has been struck: For no additional charge beyond subscription fees, 30% of research published by Dutch researchers in Elsevier journals will be open access by 2018. ... The dispute involves a mandate announced in January 2014 by Sander Dekker, state secretary at the Ministry for Education, Culture and Science of the Netherlands. It requires that 60% of government-funded research papers should be free to the public by 2019, and 100% by 2024.
By being willing to walk away, the Dutch achieved a partial victory against Elsevier's defining away of double-dipping, their insistance that author processing charges were in addition to subscriptions not instead of subscriptions. This is a preview of the battle over the EU's 2020 open access mandate.

The UK has just concluded negotiations, and a major German consortium is in the midst of them. Below the fold, some commentary on their different approaches.

In the UK, JISC Collections negotiates a national deal with each publisher; Universities can purchase from the publisher under the deal. Tim Gowers reports that:
The current deal that the universities have with Elsevier expires at the end of this year, and a new one has been negotiated between Elsevier and Jisc Collections, the body tasked with representing the UK universities.
According to Gowers, JISC Collections had some key goals in the negotiation:
  1. No real-terms price increases.
  2. An offsetting agreement for article processing charges.
  3. No confidentiality clauses.
  4. A move away from basing price on “historic spend”.
  5. A three-year deal rather than a five-year deal.
Gowers quotes a JISC representative saying:
We know from analysis of the experiences of other consortia that Elsevier really do want to reach an agreement this year. They really hate to go over into the next year …

A number of colleagues from other consortia have said they wished they had held on longer …

If we can hold firm even briefly into 2017 that should have quite a profound impact on what we can achieve in these negotiations.
This isn't what happened:
But this sensible negotiating strategy was mysteriously abandoned, on the grounds that it had become clear that the deal on offer was the best that Jisc was going to get.
Gowers' assessment of the eventual deal against the goals is bleak
  1. it is conceivable that [JISC] will end up achieving their first aim of not having any real-terms price increases: this will depend on whether Brexit causes enough inflation to cancel out such money-terms price increases as there may or may not be
  2. there is no offsetting agreement.
  3. when Elsevier insisted on confidentiality clauses, [JISC] meekly accepted this. ... It is for that reason that I have been a bit vague about prices above.
  4. "The agreement includes the ability for the consortium to migrate from historical print spend and reallocate costs should we so wish." I have no information about whether any “migration” has started, but my guess would be that it hasn’t
  5. the deal is for five years and not for three years.
In other words, because JISC wasn't prepared to walk away they achieved little or nothing. In particular, they failed to make the progress the Dutch had already achieved against Elsevier's double-dipping on APCs.

Contrast this with the German DEAL project:
The DEAL project, headed by HRK (German Rectors' Conference) President Prof Hippler, is negotiating a nationwide license agreement for the entire electronic Elsevier journal portfolio with Elsevier. Its objective is to significantly improve the status quo regarding the provision of and access to content (Open Access) as well as pricing. It aims at relieving the institutions' acquisition budgets and at improving access to scientific literature in a broad and sustainable way.

In order to improve their negotiating power, about 60 major German research institutions including Göttingen University cancelled their contracts with Elsevier as early as October 2016. Others have announced to follow this example.
The 60 institutions are preparing their readers for the result of cancellation:
From 1 January 2017 on, Göttingen University — as well as more than 60 other major German research institutions — is to be expected to have no access to the full texts of journals by the publisher Elsevier. In Göttingen, this applies to 440 journals. There will be access to most archived issues of Göttingen journals (PDF 95 KB), but there may be no access to individual Göttingen e-packages for the economic sciences in particular (PDF 89 KB).

From this time on, we will offer you a free order service on articles of these journals: Please send your email request citing the necessary bibliographical data to our colleagues at the library (email). Should an inter-library loan not be possible, we will endeavor to procure the article on another delivery route for you. This service will be free of charge.
Elsevier's press release indicates that DEAL is sticking to the strategy JISC abandoned:
Since such negotiations for 600+ institutions are complex, both sides have met regularly during the second half of this year and it was a mutual agreement to pause talks until early in the new year.
And that being hard-nosed has an impact:
In fact, it was those institutions themselves that informed us of their intention not to auto-renew their expiring individual access agreements based on the assumption that a national deal would be reached by the end of 2016. It goes without saying that all institutions, even if they cancelled their contracts, will be serviced beyond 2016 should they so choose.
It will be very interesting to see how this plays out.

9 comments:

David. said...

Nature reports that Germany isn't the only country walking away from the table with Elsevier:

"In Taiwan, meanwhile, more than 75% of universities, including the country’s top 11 institutions, have joined a collective boycott against Elsevier, says Yan-Jyi Huang, library director at the National Taiwan University of Science and Technology (NTUST, also known as Taiwan Tech).

On 7 December, the Taiwanese consortium, CONCERT, which represents more than 140 institutions, announced it would not renew its contract with Elsevier because fees were too high. Elsevier switched to dealing with universities individually. But the NTUST and many others — including Taiwan’s leading research institute, Academia Sinica — have each decided to uphold the boycott, from 1 January 2017. “In the spirit of camaraderie with the other schools, the Taiwan Tech library has decided to join the collective boycott against Elsevier with other top universities in Taiwan,” an NTUST statement says."

Peru is also walking away:

"In Peru, researchers are also set to lose online access to Elsevier’s Science Direct and Scopus platforms from 2017 because of a lack of government funding. But some scientists there say that it’s not a problem, because they can get the papers they need illegally from the Sci-Hub website. “I’m not worried. Downloading papers is rather easy now with Sci-Hub,” says one plant biologist who doesn't want to be named."

David. said...

Nature reports that in the DEAL face-off, Elsevier blinked first. They have restored access to German researchers, because the researchers were discovering that life without Elsevier wasn't that bad:

"The loss of access to Elsevier content didn’t overly disturb academic routines, researchers say, because they found other ways to get papers they needed, or because Elsevier journals happened not to be of prime importance in their fields. To help scientists cope with the situation, librarians organized speedy inter-library loans."

and:

"Robin Korte ... was finalizing a list of references for his thesis on allergens in processed foodstuffs when his university lost access to Elsevier journals. Being blocked from journals highly relevant in his field — such as the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology and the Journal of Proteomics — prompted him to cite other sources instead."

DEAL walking away from the table has greatly strengthened their negotiating position.

David. said...

Yet again Elsevier has been caught charging for access to open access articles. This problem is endemic with hybrid journals; the default is pay for access so anything that goes wrong in the system will cause the article to be pay for access, irrespective of whether an APC has been paid (as it had been in this case).

David. said...

The Gates Foundation and AAAS have announced a "partnership" that allows Gates-funded research to be published in AAAS' flagship journals under a CC license.

Jon Tennant points out that this "partnership" is an incredible rip-off:

"The cost of this is partnership is $100,000 for one year, in which the Gates Foundation estimate that they will publish 10-15 articles during that time (source). This works out at anywhere between $10,000 to $6667 for each paper to ‘cover the costs of publishing’. Which puts each paper at around 2-3 times the industry average (source), more than 5 times the cost per article in PeerJ or PLOS ONE, and even more than the coveted Nature Communications (source), with it’s high impact/prestige factor.

...

Overall, the transaction makes very little sense, as all articles in Science can be self-archived immediately upon publication anyway, or after a six month embargo, including uploaded to PubMed Central. That means all the peer-reviewed science, minus the fancy type-setting and copy-editing, is freely available upon publication anyway, without an additional penny being spent by authors or funders.

David. said...

Ross Mounce, who found Elsevier charging for OA articles, has been checking Wellcome Trust funded open access articles and finding three classes of problem:

1.) Paywalled Articles That Should Be Open Access
2.) Misuse of funds set aside to cover Open Access charges
3.) Elsevier ‘open access’ articles are not accessible to all machine methods

David. said...

As I reported in The Medium-Term Prospects for Long-Term Storage Systems, the Emerald journal Library Hi Tech has accepted an abbreviated version of the post for publication.

On Feb 14 I got e-mail asking me to proof-read the article by clicking on a link in the e-mail. This isn't a wise thing to ask people to do these days, but after taking precautions I clicked on it and got a blank page. Further down the e-mail was this paragraph:

"If you have not already done so, you will need to set up your computer before you can access your proof. How to do this is explained in the computer setup instructions guide."

That link returns 404. Presumably, what the un-findable document wants me to do is to install an Adobe plugin in my browser. Given Adobe's lamentable record of vulnerabilities, this isn't a wise thing to do either.

I replied to the e-mail explaining these issues, but got no response. Today, I got the same e-mail with the following addition:

"*/If we do not receive any corrections from you by 20-Feb-2017 we will assume that no changes are required and will proceed with publication of the article./*"

This level of total IT incompetence is what subscribers and APC payers get for their money. Total stupidity about security, and an inability even to answer e-mail.

David. said...

Having been ripped off by Science, the Gates Foundation is to work with Vitek Tracz's Faculty of 1000, following the lead of the Wellcome Trust.

The EU is planning a similar effort.

NARA and the Mellon Foundation have announced that they are working on a similar effort.

David. said...

In How Elsevier plans to sabotage Open Access Sicco de Knecht discusses the leaked details of the Open Access agreement that the Dutch finalized with Elsevier after walking away. They did get something:

"An increase of 2,5% and 2.0% of the subscription fees in 2017 and 2018 respectively, grants the Dutch universities a yearly 600, 1200 and 1800 open access articles in 2016 through 2018. Starting from a combined fee (all institutes together) of € 11,697,147.38 per year in 2016 this means a net increase of € 836,638.45 to publish a maximum of 3600 articles with Elsevier.

A mere € 232.40 per open access article might seem like a fairly good price for an open access article"

But the devil is in the details. For exxample:

"the journal titles eligible for open access. Each consecutive year Elsevier adds another 133 titles to the list of journals in which the Dutch institute affiliates can publish their work open access, free of charge. This results in roughly 20% of Elseviers 2000+ journal titles eligible in 2018.

A closer inspection of the long list of eligible journals reveals obscure titles such as: Clinical Genitourinary Cancer, Internal Journal of Coal Geology and Ticks and Tick-borne diseases, and even German and Polish journals. Said journals have an h-index of 34, ‘unknown’ and 22 (for reference, Elsevier’s flagships Cell and The Lancet have 616 and 600 respectively). Also, a lot of the journals selected already publish some articles under open access rules, at a price of course."

He concludes:

"Right now the same uphill battle for open access is fought in many other countries such as Finland, Germany and in the European Union in general. The recent publication of the Dutch contracts might change the conversation there, making parties reconsider whether the way forward for open access is with Elsevier and its competitors at all. At least we now have a glimpse of what a major publisher like Elsevier is willing to concede — not much."

David. said...

In European Commission considering leap into open-access publishing, Martin Enserink reports:

"The European Commission, which spends more than €10 billion annually on research, may follow two other big league funders, the Wellcome Trust and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and set up a “publishing platform” for the scientists it funds, ... at a closed meeting of the Open Science Policy Platform (OSPP), European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation Carlos Moedas suggested a “decision” to create the platform had already been made"