Update: Elsevier has granted the German institutions who let their contracts with the publisher expire at the end of last year uninterrupted access to its journals through 2018, Nature reports today (January 4). Harald Boersma, a spokesman for Elsevier, tells Nature that the two sides had “constructive conversations” into December.
Günter Ziegler, a mathematician at the Free University of Berlin and a member of the negotiating team for the German side, tells Nature that researchers have an upper hand in the negotiations. “Most papers are now freely available somewhere on the Internet, or else you might choose to work with preprint versions,” he says. “Clearly our negotiating position is strong. It is not clear that we want or need a paid extension of the old contracts.”

Eight German researchers have announced their resignation from the editorial and advisory boards of a handful of Elsevier’s journals since...

“It's a symbolic gesture—obviously, scientists could be replaced on editorial boards,” says Wolfgang Marquardt, an engineer and the chairman of the Jülich Research Center in Germany. Marquardt is stepping down from the editorial boards of three Elsevier journals—Computers and Chemical Engineering, Current Opinion in Chemical Engineering, and Chemical Engineering Science. “I think it’s important to show that the science community is not happy with the way the negotiations went.”

Others who have stepped down include Marino Zerial of the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, Jörg Raisch at the Technical University of Berlin, and Anton Möslang of the Karhlsrule Institute of Technology.

This is the latest development in the ongoing fight for favorable pricing and open access by the DEAL project, an alliance of German institutions led by the German Rectors’ Conference. DEAL is pushing for publishers to adopt a “publish and read model,” where one combined fee would include access to all of Elsevier’s journals and “golden open access,” which would allow all papers with German first authors to be freely accessible to readers around the world.

According to Horst Hippler, the president of the German Rectors’ Conference and the spokesperson for DEAL, more scientists are expected to resign from their positions on the editorial boards of Elsevier journals.

“Elsevier respects the decisions of the editors to consider stepping down if an agreement with [German Rectors’ Conference] isn’t reached,” Harald Boersma, Elsevier’s corporate relations director, writes in an email to The Scientist. “We remain dedicated to achieving a successful outcome of these negotiations. This requires constructive dialogue and collaboration.”

See “Major German Universities Cancel Elsevier Contracts

Negotiations between Elsevier and DEAL, which began in 2016, have come to a standstill. According to Hippler, representatives from the two parties plan to meet for an unofficial discussion about resuming these talks, but this meeting has not yet been scheduled.

“What we want is a change of paradigm that when scientists publish, they publish with the intention that the paper can be read,” Hippler says. “So this means immediate golden open access and nothing else.” 

Project DEAL is also working to establish new licensing agreements with two other major publishers, Springer Nature and Wiley. “[These] negotiations are running smoothly,” Hippler says. “These two publishers have understood the change of paradigm that will come anyway.”

To date, approximately 200 German institutions, which include universities, research organizations, and regional libraries, have announced that they will not renew their contracts with Elsevier. This means that many of the country’s libraries may lose access to Elsevier’s journals at the end of this year.

When the first wave of German institutions let their contracts expire last year, the company restored access while talks continued. “But we don’t know if they will proceed in the same way in 2018,” says Andreas Degkwitz, the director of the library at Humboldt University in Berlin, which is one of the institutions whose contract with the publisher will terminate at the end of 2017.

According to Degkwitz, if a deal is not reached with Elsevier and Humboldt loses access to the publisher’s journals, researchers will still be able to access papers through inter-library loans and document delivery. In addition, he adds, scientists may have already been circulating their preprints themselves.  

“Open access is an international movement—we need to do this in order to allow for better progress in science and to better serve society,” Marquardt tells The Scientist. “Sharing results quickly without any hurdles promotes and accelerates the progress in science.” 


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