University of California signs open access publishing deal with Elsevier

Zhuoying Lin

Elsevier and the University of California came to a new agreement, effective since Thursday, April 1, under a four-year contract enabling all the UC campuses to read and publish academic research in Elsevier journals. 

The agreement provides UC affiliate access to all Elsevier journals through the ScienceDirect platform, including journals that did not subscribe before. In the open access agreement, works by UC authors are freely accessible upon publication. The new four-year contract marks a successful transition from a traditional subscription model to open access publishing. 

The negotiation between the California Digital Library, on behalf of the UC system, and the world’s leading academic-journal publisher took two years after the old contract expired in December 2018. In accordance with the UC system’s commitment to “disseminating its research and scholarship as widely as possible,” the University of California did not immediately opt-in for another contract to run on Elsevier’s costly subscription model. This traditional business model limits published articles to clients who subscribe or pay for the journal articles. In terms of the negotiation, UC requested a hybrid model with a large-scale transition to open access publishing while constraining the cost of the subscription. 

As a world-leading research system, the University of California contributed about 9 percent of all research output in the nation from 2012 to 2017, and about 18 percent of Elsevier papers were published by UC authors

“We are a considerable client and customer,” Roger Smith, associate university librarian, scholarly resources and services said to The UCSD Guardian. “Looking at the academic goals and the institution size of UC, it’s good press for Elsevier to engage in a good-faith negotiation which yielded a result that aligns with our goal and reflects their willingness to approach a different business model with an eye toward sustainability on access model and cost.” 

The new contract prices at $13 million per year with benefits on both sides. All publishing articles will have a reduced article processing charge (APC), which typically costs thousands of dollars. There will be a 15 percent discount for most journals and a 10 percent discount for the prestigious journals, Cell Press and The Lancet midway through the agreement. The first $1,000 of an APC is automatically covered by the UC Library budgets. Depending on the authors’ research funding, the Library can also provide partial or full coverage of an APC. In the open-access business model, the final published paper will be free for everyone to read.

“By virtual scale and international prominence, it’s a pretty critical and noteworthy deal that marks the transition to open access model,” Smith said. “We hope it marks a trend that pushes continuous reframing of the subscription model into transformative publishing structures.” 

The agreement with Elsevier is the largest of its kind in North America and the ninth recent open access publishing deal the UC system reached with different publishers. The success of an open-access model will be gauged over the next four years to assess its sustainability by using metrics such as the number of UC authors published in Elsevier. 

“I use Elsevier quite frequently, at least once a week through the UCSD VPN,” Sixth College senior Uttam Kalluri said. “Though I do not know the intricacies of the agreement, I think that if there is a cost for authors to publish articles in Elsevier journals, it should ensure that the quality of work that researchers produce is not affected and the quality of work that publishers accept is not decreased.”

Open access publishing is now the default option for the UC system, but UC authors can also choose to opt-out if they wish. 

“We anticipate there will be strong uptake, and in some ways there is an expansion in the availability and attractiveness of publishing in an open access environment,” Smith said. “We hope to support the author’s professional goal and accessibility to their research output.” 

Smith believes that open access publishing brings significant value during the pandemic. 

“There’s been a lot of collaboration on COVID-19, and the timing of the deal is noteworthy because it brings the capacity for a publisher to deliver more content openly into the hands of more people working on a major collaborative issue,” Smith said. “At this time of broad international collaboration, we can show how important it is to have open access to scientific information and findings.”

Last month, the University of California made open access agreements with three other publishers: The Company of Biologist, The Royal Society, and Canadian Science Publishing. The UC system is working its way to bring full open access for UC authors so that they can present their research on a global scale.  

Photo courtesy of Hazel Leung for The UCSD Guardian.

This article was modified on Apr. 13, 2021 at 2:22 PM to make slight modifications to the discount availabilities of various Elsevier journals.