Dispute over EUR 27 million annual subscription costs for scientific journals
Finnish universities and research institutions have decided to call a time out on negotiations over journal subscription fees with science publishers Elsevier. Meanwhile, the Tiedon hinta (Price of Knowledge) petition has been signed by nearly 3,000 Finnish scientists.

Journal subscriptions paid by Finnish universities and other research institutions to large international science publishing houses continue to see year-on-year rises. In 2015, costs reached EUR 27 million, and continue to increase by up to 10% per year. One such industry giant is Elsevier, with a catalogue of more than 2,000 titles, including The Lancet and Cell.

Intense negotiations have been taking place regarding subscription costs and related terms and conditions. The existing subscription deal was due to expire at the end of 2016 but has now been extended into 2017.

The university negotiating team are keen to ensure that subscription rate rises are reasonable. They also want to see more open access to research data. The publisher has been reluctant to extend open access without considerable additional cost.

“We currently pay for an Elsevier subscription package as well as a significant sum for each open access publication,” said Professor Keijo Hämäläinen, Vice Rector of Helsinki University, who is in charge of the negotiations.

If the negotiating team’s objectives are not met, the universities’ Elsevier subscriptions will expire by the end of the year. Maintaining a shared set of objectives matters, not least because the University of Helsinki has set its sights on a 40% increase in open access provision by 2025. There are growing demands for publicly funded research to be made freely available.

This issue is not confined to Finland alone. At the beginning of 2016, the journal subscriptions of more than 60 German research organisations lapsed following unsuccessful negotiations with Elsevier. Internationally, opposition to unsustainable price increases is growing along with the desire for greater openness. Hämäläinen says European research organisations are maintaining a united front on the issue.   

Discontent among the scientific community means that the pressure is now on for the negotiations to deliver a positive outcome. The Tiedon hinta petition, calling for restraint on subscription price increases has attracted signatures from nearly 3,000 Finnish scientists, including a significant number of highly distinguished academics ranging from Academy Professors to Deans. By taking part, the signatories have undertaken to decline peer review or editorial work where necessary for publishers with whom agreement has not been reached.

”I’m aware of researchers who have already refused to review articles for Elsevier journals as the publisher is refusing to listen to the research community. I am confident these petitions will not go unnoticed,” noted Hämäläinen, the first signatory to the Tiedon hinta petition.

This article was published in issue Y/01/16 of Yliopisto magazine.

Yliopisto magazine is a popular science publication covering a wide range of topics. It is published by the University of Helsinki.
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