THE COST OF SCIENTIFIC PUBLICATIONS MUST NOT GET OUT OF HAND
[UPDATE 2016-12-21] Elsevier and Finland’s higher education and research institutes have agreed on one year’s extension to negotiations on electronic journals. Similar extensions have been agreed on with Wiley and American Chemical Society. More time is needed in order to find a solution for advancing open access. Deals covering multiple years have been made with Taylor & Francis and Sage.
Large international scientific publishers are currently enjoying remarkable profit margins. Their business is heavily indebted to the voluntary work of the researchers. The scientific community produces research, usually publicly funded, edits the publications as unpaid volunteers, and then buys back the scientific publications. Publishers have increased the price of publications significantly year by year although in this digital era the trend should be the opposite. In 2015 Finnish research organisations paid a total of 27 million euros in subscription fees and in the future the price looks to be higher still. The hikes in fees are especially problematic at a time when funding cuts are narrowing the scope of opportunity for science as it is. In currently ongoing contract negotiations Finnish scientific libraries are demanding that prices be made more reasonable and open access publishing more prevalent. We, the signatories, support these goals. We are prepared to abstain from refereeing and editorial duties for the journals of the publishers involved in these negotiations if the goals of the Finnish negotiators are not realised.
The price tag for scientific journals in 2017 is currently under negotiation. The talks between FinElib consortium, which represents the Finnish scientific community, and international scientific publishers over subscription conditions have proved extremely challenging. Some publishers have been unwilling to meet the demands of the Finnish negotiators that prices be made more reasonable and open access to content more prevalent.
The matter is urgent. The deadline for some of the negotiations, including Elsevier, is 31 Dec 2016. If the negotiations do not yield a mutually agreeable resolution thousands of essential scientific journals will at once become unavailable to the Finnish scientific community. This would significantly encumber the work of researchers.
The current system favours the publishers unilaterally: the scientific community produces and reviews scientific articles free of cost to the publisher after which the publisher charges the scientific community (and the rest of society) for access to these same articles. The profit margins for scientific publishers are remarkably high, for instance 37% in the case of Elsevier in 2015. The profits for these private agents come largely from public funds.
In 2015 our research organisations paid a total of 27 million euros in subscription fees. In recent years these costs have risen by as much as ten percent in a single year. At the same time funding for science is trending in the opposite direction (see figure 1): government funding of universities increased from 2011 to 2015 a total of under four percent. In 2015 the Finnish government announced it would cut over 600 million euros from teaching, science, and education.
The transition to open access model publishing could be financially less burdening to society according to reports by the Max Planck Institute and the Open Science and Research (Avoin tiede ja tutkimus – ATT) Initiative by the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture. This, however, does not happen overnight but rather it is a slow, international process.
Similar demands that prices be made more reasonable and open access publishing be expedited have successfully been made for example in the Netherlands. In Finland, too, we need the support of the research community for the defence of the resources for academic research and openness.
It is time for publishers to step up and stand beside the scientific community in furthering the cause of openness. If the publishers’ unwillingness to agree to the demands of FinElib, that subscription fees be made more reasonable and open access to content be increased, leads to the termination of subscriptions we, the signatories, are prepared for it and in addition will abstain from peer review and editorial duties for the journals of the participating publishers until an accord is reached.