Scientific publishing: does access to subscription journals risk being cut off?

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The world of scientific publishing is undergoing significant restructuring and is set on a course towards Open Science from which there is no turning back. While some publishers have understood this phenomenon and are working with it, negotiations between those which are entrenched in their positions and the public institutions are tense. Researchers need to be aware of this issue and share in the changes taking place in the landscape of scientific information dissemination.

Negotiations are tense between the public institutions and publishers. This is due in part to the difficulty in funding the recurrent rises in subscription fees and, most particularly, to the international convergence in the development of Open Science. The paywalling of scientific articles is now seen as an obsolete practice that harms the rapid circulation of scientific data and is no longer acceptable. Open Science is not just about free access to scientific output. It is also about an end to authors surrendering copyright to publishers because not only must Open Science be accessible, it also must be freely reusable.

A number of examples illustrate this mounting tension. In Germany, access to Elsevier journals for its hundreds of universities is in danger. Talks which have been ongoing for more than two years have not led to a satisfactory outcome and the universities are getting ready to not renew their subscriptions for 2018. Germany is in particular demanding contracts that are better suited to the services they expect, with subscription fees that include immediate free access to articles written by authors from the institutions concerned.

The past few years in France have seen several university libraries cancel their subscriptions. Current and forthcoming negotiations with major publishers are also shrouded in tension, as illustrated by a recent column in Libération as well as an INSMI update bulletin on French negotiations with Springer published in December 2017 which concludes by evoking the need to envisage access being cut off.

Significant restructuring has been taking place in the scientific publishing world for several years now and, combined with the development of new models for disseminating and sharing scientific data, it is set on a course towards Open Science from which there is no turning back. While some major publishers have understood this need for change in the digital era and are working with it, others are holding firm in order to make the most of the considerable profits that the old model guarantees them.

Researchers need to be aware of this issue and they need to share in these changes taking place in the landscape of scientific information dissemination.

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