Finnish researchers are calling for improved transparency in academic journal pricing

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.

This was the original statement which more than 2800 members of the Finnish academic community endorsed after we launched the tiedonhinta campaign in 2016. At the time, FinELib was engaging in negotiations with several big publishers, most notably with Elsevier. In 2017, the No Deal, No Review campaign was launched in turn to show support for the Elsevier negotiations.

After prolonged negotiations and temporary deals, FinELib and Elsevier reached a 3-year deal regarding the Science Direct freedom collection. With this, the nodealnoreview.org campaign website, which was specifically targeted for this negotiation round, will be soon taken offline. Whereas the outcome of the deal has been thoroughly analysed elsewhere (see here and here) we would like to share some thoughts about the negotiation process and how it could be improved.

In particular, we are calling for increased transparency of the agreements. FinELib has publicly endorsed a strategy titled “Five Principles for Negotiations with Publishers” by LIBER (the Association of European Research Libraries). Of these principles, Principle #3 calls for transparency and even mentions Finland as an example of how the society will not accept confidential agreements. We fully agree with this and welcome the commitment for increased transparency. Whereas we wanted to see this principle applied more rigorously also for the new Elsevier deal,  it initially turned out to be difficult to get information on the agreement details in order to evaluate whether the outcome was satisfactory. in our view, the full contract information should be openly shared by default and without delays for all new contracts. FinELlib did release the contract text after public requests. However, annual costs per subscribing institution were not published. This is a key piece of information in terms of price and service comparison. Making the contract terms and the associated cost data openly available by default is the only sustainable way forward, a position that is clearly articulated also in the LIBER principles.

To facilitate greater transparency of academic publishing deals, we are hereby making a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to FinELib, in accordance with the Finnish Freedom of Information Act (“Julkisuuslaki”). In particular, we request the full contract texts and the total cost information per subscribing institution and per year, as specified in the contracts for all recent deals whose terms are starting from the beginning of 2018. These include, at least, the deals with Emerald (journal package) and IEEE (IEL database) and  with Wiley-Blackwell (the 2014 Full Collection), American Chemical Society (journal package), OVID (LWW journal package) and  Springer (SpringerCompact journal package).

We would expect FinELib to disclose the information accordingly and thus demonstrate its commitment to the LIBER principles. Almost two years later, the original statement of Tiedonhinta.fi campaign still holds. This is why we are keeping the website online and encourage everyone to show their support. We welcome the LIBER principles as a starting point for more open licensing deals and hopefully for more affordable and openly accessible scholarly publishing.