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.
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.