A few days ago we were informed that the Bibsam Consortium in Sweden has cancelled the agreement with Elsevier. It is now likely that after 1 July 2018 Swedish universities will not have access to new articles in Elsevier’s journals. Articles published before this date will remain accessible.

This turn of events is highly unfortunate, not least for those of our researchers that depend on the wide range of journals that Elsevier offers.

Unaccaptebal proposal

We have ended up in this unfortunate situation for the simple reason that the negotiations with Elsevier broke down. Elsevier’s final proposal was unacceptable, since the costs entailed would preclude consortium members from pursuing the goal for immediate open access set by the Swedish government and by the institutions themselves. The aim of the consortium has been to transform the subscription-based licensing model to the open access publishing model.

The most worrying development in the publishing industry has been the phenomenon called “double dipping” which means that researchers and institutions pay twice for the same product: first, for the publishing of articles, and second, for the access to the same articles. In addition, many researchers invest a lot of efforts in the peer review process, without economic compensation. In this way universities and research institutes pay publishers several times over. The only sustainable solution is to change the business model, as requested by the Bibsam Consortium.

More than 1/3

In order to get access to Elsevier’s journals, KI spent about 14 MKr in 2017. This is more than 1/3 of the library’s total e-media expenses in 2017. Our researchers published 553 articles in Elsevier journals in 2017 with a KI researcher as corresponding author. Sixty two of these articles were open access. Our library has estimated that the open access fee was close to 2 MKr. This means that in 2017 KI paid Elsevier a total of 16 MKr.

We acknowledge the importance and quality of Elsevier’s journals and are well aware of the extra work and difficulties this cancellation will cause our researchers. However, at one point in time we must react to the increasing costs and set an example. Now is the time to do this. We hope and trust that our stance on this matter will meet with understanding and support in the academic community. Karolinska Institutet’s library, KIB, will work hard to alleviate the inconvenience incurred by pulling the plug on Elsevier.

Why open access?

Finally, a note on the key question that is at the root of the present problem. Why go for open access?

This was one of several issues that we discussed in our commission on global governance for health. We concluded – in no uncertain terms – that restrictions on access to knowledge serve to aggravate extant knowledge disparities and health inequities. Equal access to information – irrespective of geography and economy – is central to improvement of health, the very mission of KI.  In my mind, it is in society’s interest – and also in our own interest as scientists – that what we publish actually reaches all those who need the knowledge and who stand to benefit from it.

Almost 600 years ago the development of the printing press led to dramatic changes in how knowledge was spread and communicated. This did not happen without opposition. Today digitalization opens for an equally dramatic and welcome change towards the democratization of knowledge. Again we see that new opportunities meet with resistance. But I am convinced that eventually we all will see how absurd it is to have dollars, euro, pound, Swedish kroner or other currencies intervene between the keystrokes on your PC and one’s access to “the open pool of knowledge.” It’s time that knowledge becomes a public good.


  1. Magnus Ingelman-Sundberg says:

    The national agreement with the publishing house Elsevier will be cancelled as from 1 July 2018, which will affect all Swedish universities. The reason is that Elsevier does not meet the open-access requirements of the Bibsam Consortium.

    1264 different Journals unable to reach after this decision in the area of Medicine including:
    • American Heart Journal
    • Anaesthesia and Intensive Care Medicine
    • Atherosclerosis
    • BBA
    • Biological Psychiatry
    • Biomaterials
    • Cancer Cell
    • Cancer Genetics
    • Cell
    • Cell Metabolism
    • Cell Stem Cell
    • Cellular Signalling
    • Current Opinion in Cell Biology
    • Developmental Cell
    • Drug Discovery Today
    • Free Radical Biology & Medicine
    • Gastroenterology
    • Gene
    • Journal of Hepatology
    • Kidney International
    • Lancet and all other Lancet journals
    • Metabolism
    • Pharmacology & Therapeutics
    • Seminars in Cell and Developmental Biology and other in the Seminar series
    • Stem Cell Reports
    • The Lancet and other in the Lancet series
    • Trends in Biochemical Sciences and other Trends journals

    Discussion: KI paid Elsevier a total of 16 MKr in 2017. How many billions of SEK do we pay to Academiska Hus with the monopoly to be in charge of our buildings. What pressure is put on Akademiska Hus to be more effective? Does the investment on BIomedicum cause better research output per SEK??
    The decision is political and not judged in comparison to the necessary academic input needed for producing good science.

    • Ole Petter Ottersen says:

      Thank you for your comments

      We have a common interest in facilitating and strengthening research at KI. Let me be clear: Easy, fast and effective access to knowledge is at the core of all serious research. As I wrote in my post, I am well aware of the extra work and inconvenience this cancellation will cause our researchers. However, at one point in time we must react to terms that are unacceptable in regard to principles as well as costs.

      Rental rates figure prominently in recent discussions on KI:s research, and rightly so. However, comparing the cost of publishing with rental rates is comparing apples and oranges. New buildings and modern premises inevitably entail increased costs. There are always pros and cons when moving into a new building: Infrastructure is improved and will become more competitive and attractive, but at the same time there will be an increased rental rate per square meter. I am convinced, though, that the benefits are greater than the disadvantages. The new buildings on our two campuses will strengthen KI:s core activities and not least the basic research that has made KI famous worldwide. But we need to review the current model for estimating rental costs and we need to look at how rental rates affect KI as a whole. I give this very high priority. It goes without saying that costs must be reasonable and predictable for research to thrive and prosper.

      We have had an excellent collaboration with Akademiska Hus, and Biomedicum was completed under budget. However, the government imposes on Akademiska Hus a required return (avkastningskrav) that increases significantly the costs incurred. We have raised this issue with the ministry, most recently at our dialogue meeting (myndighetsdialog) last Tuesday.

  2. David Lawrence says:

    The statement that articles published before 1 July 2018 will remain available is puzzling. Is this because KI owns hard copies of the journals or does KI retain license to access online the journal issues that were paid for before the end date?

    • Ole Petter Ottersen says:

      Thanks for your comment
      According to information from Bibsam Concortium, researchers can still read articles published between January 1995 and June 30, 2018 under the terms of current agreement.

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