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French Universities Cancel Subscriptions to Springer Journals

Negotiations between the publisher and a national consortium of academic institutions have reached a stalemate.

Mar 31, 2018
Diana Kwon

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French research organizations and universities have cancelled their subscriptions to Springer journals, due to an impasse in fee negotiations between the publisher and Couperin.org, a national consortium representing more than 250 academic institutions in France.

After more than a year of discussions, Couperin.org and SpringerNature, which publishes more than 2,000 scholarly journals belonging to Springer, Nature, and BioMedCentral, have failed to reach an agreement on subscriptions for its Springer journals. The publisher’s proposal includes an increase in prices, which the consortium refuses to accept.

Although Couperin.org and its members were expecting the publisher to cut access to Springer journals on April 1, a SpringerNature spokesperson tells The Scientist that the publisher will continue to provide French institutions with access to its journals while discussions continue. “Springer Nature is disappointed by Couperin’s decision. . . . It is with regret that our concessions have been deemed to be insufficient,” the spokesperson writes. “[As] requested by Couperin, we are considering a further proposal and during this time access will remain open.”

According to a statement published by Couperin.org yesterday (March 30), the consortium was pushing for a reduction in subscription costs to account for the increasing proportion of open-access articles—for which authors pay an article processing fee to publish—in Springer's journals. “The continuous increase in the share of articles published [as] open access makes it difficult to maintain a policy of increasing subscription costs,” they write (translated from French with Google Translate). “On the contrary, it justifies Couperin.org’s request for a price reduction.”

Sandrine Malotaux, the head of Couperin.org’s document negotiations department, tells The Scientist in an email that subscriptions to SpringerNature’s other titles are not included in this agreement. Discussions for 2019 contract renewals, she adds, have not yet begun.

See “Major German Universities Cancel Elsevier Contracts

The French stalemate is the latest in a series of disputes between publishers and universities around the world. In Germany, around 200 institutions have terminated their Elsevier subscriptions in order to put pressure on the publisher during ongoing negotiations for a new nationwide licensing agreement. Discussions between Elsevier and Project Deal, an alliance of German universities and research institutions, have made little process since they began in 2016.

Subscription negotiations between library consortia and Elsevier in Finland and South Korea had also become heated, but deals in those countries were reached with the last few months.

In other parts of the world, such discussions appear to be on the horizon. This February, the Canadian Association of Research Libraries, which represents more than two dozen university and national libraries in Canada, published a brief describing “unsustainable” subscription costs and calling for a “coordinated national approach” against rising journal prices. 

“CNRS like others is willing to have the most [smooth] negotiations possible,” Laurence El Khouri, Director of the Scientific and Technical Information Department at the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), one of the organizations represented by Couperin.org, writes in an email to The Scientist. “Scholarly communication is getting fully digital and needs to progress and develop in all ways that addresses the way science is being done. Open access is a goal but not at any price. Access to scholarly literature must meet a good balance between costs and service.”

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