Dutch Open Access Fight

Universities "unbending" on fee-free demand as talks with Elsevier resume.

January 9, 2015

Dutch universities have vowed not to soften their groundbreaking demands for publishers to permit all papers published by their academics to be made open access for no extra charge.

In January last year, Sander Dekker, the Dutch minister for education, culture and science, decreed that 60 percent of Dutch research articles must be open access by 2019 and 100 percent by 2024. Dutch university presidents responded by agreeing to make their renewal of subscription deals dependent on publishers taking steps to realize this goal.

Gerard Meijer, president of Radboud University and one of the lead negotiators for the Dutch universities, said that in addition to preserving access to their subscription journals, the universities wanted publishers to permit all future articles whose corresponding author has a Dutch affiliation to be published on an open access basis for no extra charge. He said universities were also unwilling to tolerate any more above-inflation price rises.

A deal that meets the universities’ requirements was recently made with Springer, the world’s second-largest science journal publisher. Professor Meijer said this showed that the transition to a fully open access business model could be made by traditional publishers.

Discussions have also begun with Wiley, Sage and Oxford University Press. But in November, the Association of Universities in the Netherlands, known by the acronym VSNU, revealed that negotiations with Elsevier, the world’s largest science journal publisher, had broken down after the Amsterdam-based firm tabled an offer that “totally fails to address” the universities’ demands.

In December, the VSNU announced that negotiations had resumed after Elsevier made another offer. It also said that Dutch universities’ current big deal with the publisher, which was due to expire January 1, would automatically be extended by one year, temporarily maintaining Dutch universities’ access to the publisher’s suite of 2,200 journals, which include Cell and The Lancet.

Research Libraries UK was involved in a four-month stand-off with Elsevier in 2011 over the cost of its big deals. The consortium of 34 major research libraries demanded “significant real-terms price reductions,” thought to be in the region of 15 percent, but – as often occurs – a compromise was eventually reached.

However, Professor Meijer insisted that Dutch universities were determined not to bend.

“We are willing to pay publishers for the work they do, but Elsevier’s profit margin is approaching 40 percent, and universities have to do the [editing] work and pay for it. We aren’t going to accept it any longer. I think from the fact that Elsevier is not willing to move much, they simply still don’t believe it. Well, they got us wrong,” he said.

Elsevier declined to comment.

That the Dutch government has bucked international trends and followed the UK’s lead in preferring journal-based gold open access over repository-based green open access – which publishers fear could prompt journal cancellations – has been attributed to Elsevier’s lobbying power in its home country.

Professor Meijer admitted that while Dekker was a strong advocate of open access, Elsevier “goes to the Ministry of Economic Affairs and tells them they are one of the biggest taxpayers in the Netherlands.”

“But I am a scientist, and I am going to fight for the scientists,” he added.

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