By now, I’m guessing that every Scholarly Kitchen reader is aware that after renewal negotiation bogged down for months and then culminated in the cancellation of all Elsevier subscriptions in February 2019, the University of California (UC) and Elsevier have now announced a new transformative deal that includes discounted open access (OA) publishing for UC authors and full online access to virtually all Elsevier journals for the UC community. (See Lisa Hinchliffe’s useful overview from last week.)
As is so often the case with transformative deals, this one is complex; it’s also somewhat controversial, and the scholarly communication discussion space has been buzzing with questions. The good news is that the UC-Elsevier MOU is publicly available and it answers quite a few of them — while also fully illustrating the complexity of the deal.
Here I’d like to focus on six questions that I’ve had about the new UC-Elsevier deal, and share the answers I was able to find.
What Are the Article Processing Charges?
One of my questions was about what kind of article processing charge (APC) UC had managed to negotiate with Elsevier. The MOU indicates, first of all, that APCs are discounted under this deal, and second, that the UC Libraries will pay the first $1,000 of any UC author’s APC, with the expectation that the author’s research funds will cover the balance; if the author has no (or insufficient) research funding to draw upon, the Libraries will cover the remainder. These funds will be drawn from the Libraries’ collections budget.
But what I wondered was: what are the actual APCs? And, as you might expect, the answer is complicated. On the surface it seems like it might be simple: for the first year of the agreement, the anticipated base number of published articles is 4,370, and the charge for that number of articles is $10.7 million. Simple division yields an average APC of $2,449. However, as Ivy Anderson of the California Digital Library (and one of the lead negotiators) explains, this represents a maximum APC spend: “If publishing volume and combined discounted APCs for those articles should fall below $10.7 million, we would pay the actual, lower fees. If (publishing) volume and combined value at discount is high enough to equal or exceed that maximum… the effective cost per article would be” $2,449. And of course, different journals have different list prices for their APCs, which complicates things further.
But wait: if UC authors publish either more or fewer than 4,370 articles in Elsevier journals during the first year of the deal, what effect will that have on pricing in the second year? Read on…
How Are Annual Price Increases Handled?
One question I always have regarding transformative deals, subscribe-to-open, and similar multi-year arrangements between libraries and publishers is this one: what kind of annual price increase is provided for? Clearly there has to be some increase, because the cost of doing business in any organization (yes, including libraries) generally goes up from year to year. But since one reason usually given for these new arrangements is the desire to contain those price increases, I’m always curious as to how this particular issue gets negotiated. In the case of the UC/Elsevier deal, the publishing volume baseline of 4,370 articles is based on UC authors’ publishing volume in Elsevier journals in 2019. The base fee for that service will go up by 2.6% in each year of the deal, thus providing organic growth. However, what UC actually pays will vary from year to year based on a number of factors, notably including the number of articles actually published; as noted above, if UC authors publish fewer than the threshold number, the libraries will pay a lower amount in the aggregate, equal to the actual (discounted) APCs; if they exceed that publishing volume, a prorated fee will be applied.
Is Author Choice Preserved?
Whenever an academic institution adopts an OA policy, an important question arises: do authors at that institution retain the right to publish their work as they see fit, or are they required to publish according to the institutional policy? In the US, it’s quite rare for an academic institution to truly force authors’ hands in this regard; virtually all institutional OA policies allow authors to opt out if they choose, and this has always been the case at UC. The new transformative deal with Elsevier does preserve this element of authorial freedom. Most of Elsevier’s journals are hybrid publications, which means they are subscription journals that offer authors the option of publishing individual articles on an OA basis in return for payment of an APC. There are also a few journals in the Elsevier stable that are published on behalf of societies that prefer to publish on a traditional toll-access basis. UC authors who want to publish in one of these journals on a non-OA basis (and therefore without incurring an APC) are free to do so, by invoking the waiver option to UC’s OA policy.
What Licenses Are Allowed?
I was interested to see that UC authors are permitted to choose between two Creative Commons (CC) licenses for their OA articles: CC BY (the most liberal in terms of granting reuse rights) and CC BY-NC-ND (the most restrictive). I wondered whether this really meant that these are the only two options, or whether defining that scope in the MOU meant that authors could pick any license on the spectrum (perhaps even including the CC0 copyright waiver). I posed this question to UC, and was told that authors really are restricted to those two license versions, and that this restriction originates with Elsevier. I reached out to Elsevier for clarification and got this response from Andrew Davis, VP for Communication: “We have found that authors generally prefer to choose between these reuse license choices or, more specifically, the reuse terms they offer. Offering multiple additional licenses is also operationally unwieldy to implement and adds to author confusion on this issue.” I have to say that I found this response a bit puzzling; I can’t really see why authors would be more confused by four license choices than by two, and I’d be quite surprised if offering the full range of CC options would create more operational challenges than offering a subset of them — but I’m not a publisher and there may be implications at play that I’m not aware of. Clarifications in the comments would certainly be welcome.
Even as currently written, this range of choice is sure to be controversial in the OA advocacy community, given that for some in that community, CC BY is the only acceptable license. (Some go so far as to say that unless it’s published under CC BY or the equivalent, it’s not OA at all.)
What about Perpetual Rights?
Under a conventional subscription model, the library typically pays for content as it’s published from year to year, and retains perpetual access to all paid-for content going forward (usually at a nominal recurring administrative cost, since online archiving and access are being provided by the publisher). But the UC/Elsevier deal, like all publish-and-read transformative arrangements, flips the model in a way: UC is paying to make a subset of Elsevier’s content — articles written and contributed by UC authors — available on an OA basis, and gets access to the rest of Elsevier’s journal content as something of an add-on benefit. So does UC get perpetual access to that content, the way it would if it were paying for it directly in the usual way? The answer is: sort of, but on an opt-in basis. As Ivy Anderson explains (pay close attention, because this is complicated):
“The optional perpetual rights fee covers perpetual rights to content published in that year (as in a typical subscription). The $1M fee covers perpetual rights to our previously subscribed title list (with swapping provisions as in a typical license) — there is also a modular perpetual rights option for more selective perpetual rights to individual or added titles. We can purchase full or modular rights for any year of the contract for the price enumerated in the MOU (i.e., there are no [year-on-year] inflationary increases). We can also choose to pay those fees in any year of the contract, we don’t have to purchase them in the specific year of coverage.”
How Many Elsevier Journals Are Included?
As we all know, even comprehensive Big Deals aren’t always fully comprehensive—they may include virtually all journals, but rarely every single one. Elsevier’s Big Deal is no exception, nor is the new UC/Elsevier deal. I asked Elsevier for clarification on this, and received the following response, again from Andrew Davis:
“The UC agreement includes all Elsevier journals that offer an OA option and are eligible for inclusion in transformative agreements. This represents the overwhelming majority of our portfolio, and covers the overwhelming majority of UC articles published with Elsevier. There are a small number of journals we publish on behalf of society or other third party partners, where we do not have permission to include these in transformative agreements and/or that are subscription-only. There are also some journals that offer OA publishing but of course wouldn’t make sense for inclusion in a transformative agreement per se e.g., subsidized or diamond journals – these are available for OA publishing, including to UC authors, but do not charge an APC.”
By no means have I covered all the questions that people might have about this new arrangement. I’d be very interested to know what others have occurred to our readers. Please comment!