Germany Secures a Deal with Elsevier
By Sarah Frideswide
Academic journals play an essential role in disseminating research globally. In recent years there has been an increasing movement towards open access (OA) publishing which has numerous benefits. It increases exposure for authors and makes good quality research freely available to everyone no matter where they live in the world – particularly beneficial for researchers in developing countries or those without the means to afford subscription fees. However, it isn’t easy to balance the demand for open access publishing with the costs to the publisher or journal of making high quality research freely available.
Since 2014, Germany has been one of the leaders in trying to negotiate deals with academic publishers which enable open access for its institutions whilst also being financially sustainable for the publications. It did so by creating an organisation called Projekt Deal, now called DEAL Konsortium, whose aim is to simplify the financial model used and to ensure a robust and future-proofed means for researchers across German institutions to access articles and journals necessary for their research. Projekt Deal successfully negotiated a deal with Wiley in 2019. That agreement was initially signed for three years, but has since been extended and is still ongoing. A deal with Springer Nature followed in 2020.
According to the DEAL Konsortium website, “just under half of the annual German research output is published in the journals of the publishers addressed in the DEAL negotiations, Elsevier, Springer Nature and Wiley.” However, until recently a deal with Elsevier proved difficult to broker. Initial talks collapsed in 2018 and resulted in upwards of 200 German institutions having no access to Elsevier’s journals at all, causing a negative impact on researchers across those institutions. According to The Times, the main stumbling block to negotiations was the question of access to research whose authors came from outside Germany. It was a major triumph, therefore, when a five-year deal between Germany and Elsevier was finally signed last week. The deal is transformative in that it enables German institutions to choose whether to join it or not – they are free to opt out of membership or to negotiate their own deals. The value to Elsevier is about €35 million per year as each article published will come at a cost of €2,550 to the author or their institution. This is a significant drop from the collective price previously paid across all of Germany’s institutions. This deal means that institutions across the world can now access the research of top academics from Germany. Internationally, institutions which participate in open access deals with Elsevier also benefit from discounts on publications in which their researchers’ work appears. Elsevier’s CEO, Kumsal Bayazit, says this: “The DEAL Konsortium and Elsevier worked together collaboratively and pragmatically to support Germany’s world leading academic and science organizations achieve their research goals for the benefit of society. Elsevier is committed to continue to support our customers to achieve their objectives.”
As with everything, there is another side to this news. There have already been papers and articles published on the impact of Germany’s deals on the overall competitive market. It is likely to speed up the ongoing international transformation in academic publishing which is moving steadily towards universal open access. However, the long term results may not all be positive, especially for smaller publishers, since academics will naturally prefer to publish in journals their institution has an agreement with, which will reduce the ability of small publishers to compete. There is also a concern that in the long term, academic libraries will be left with fewer funds to subscribe to journals not covered in the DEAL Konsortium agreements, although the full impact will take time to become apparent.
Germany is not unique in negotiating national deals with the larger academic publishers. The UK has JISC, the Joint Information Systems Committee, which has a supporting role in the transition to open access and which, together with Universities UK, has a content negotiation strategy group which assists JISC in negotiating publishing agreements. They reached an agreement with Elsevier in 2022 and also have agreements with Wiley, Springer and SAGE, amongst others. Meanwhile, Sweden has its own organisation called the Bibsam Consortium which came into being in 1996 and which is taking the lead in navigating a way forward through the current minefield where some journals are open access and some still operate with paywalls. It has published a 2022–2024 action plan to further its aims. Unlike the DEAL Konsortium and JISC, its plan includes provision for smaller publishers as well as a commitment to finding innovative ways of supporting open access publishing going forwards.