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Elsevier strikes its first national deal with large open-access element

Agreement with Norwegian consortium allows researchers to make the vast majority of their work free to read on publication in Elsevier journals.

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Oslo University library interior

Academic libraries in Norway have forged a deal with the Dutch publisher Elsevier.Credit: Grethe Ulgjell/Alamy

After a year of talks, Dutch publishing giant Elsevier has struck a deal with a group of Norwegian universities that will allow academics to publish the vast majority of their work under open-access terms.

The two-year pilot scheme marks the largest such agreement — often called a ‘read and publish’ deal — that Elsevier has made with a national consortium of research libraries.

Library consortia around the world have increasingly been pushing for such packages from scholarly publishers, in an attempt to reduce the costs of reading and publishing articles and to make more of the scientific literature free to read.

Under the agreement, scientists in the 46 Norwegian universities and research institutes represented by the consortium will have access to 2,800 Elsevier journals. It will also allow 1,850 articles authored by those academics to be immediately free to read on publication in Elsevier titles. On the basis of historical data, this total should cover about 90% of Norwegian academics’ yearly publications in the company’s journals.

The universities’ previous subscription contract expired on 31 December, and negotiators had begun talks with Elsevier about renewing their licensing agreement in spring last year. The publisher allowed researchers in Norway to continue accessing its latest articles even though the contract had lapsed.

The latest deal is “cost neutral” compared with the previous agreement, which did not include open-access fees, says Margareth Hagen, a negotiator for the Norwegian consortium and pro-rector of research at the University of Bergen. The consortium paid €9 million (US$10 million) to Elsevier in subscription costs in 2018, plus an estimated €1 million in open-access publishing fees.

Lengthy negotiations

Several other big publishers, including Wiley, have begun brokering read-and-publish deals in recent years, as many in the academic community and governments have pushed to make more scholarly articles free to read. The Norwegian government, for example, wants all publicly funded research to be freely available by 2024. But Elsevier has largely opposed the change, saying that libraries are trying to get two services for the price of one.

The Dutch firm has engaged in lengthy negotiations in countries including Germany, Sweden and Hungary, and with the University of California system — the United States’ largest public university — but these talks have stalled over disagreements about the cost of open-access publishing. Because no new contracts have been signed, researchers in all but the University of California system are working without access to the latest Elsevier papers.

In 2016, Elsevier made a smaller read-and-publish deal with a library consortium that represents all Dutch research universities. The agreement allows 30% of these academics’ output to be immediately made freely available.

The Norway agreement does not cover around 400 Elsevier titles owned by academic associations, or by the prestigious Cell Press journals or The Lancet. Even so, the fact that Norwegian authors can publish openly is a “promising first step”, says Hagen.

doi: 10.1038/d41586-019-01349-6
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