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Posted on Jan 18, 2022

2021 CSU/Elsevier Science Direct Negotiation

This article was written by CSU Libraries on January 18th, 2022.

Why do we need to find a different approach with Elsevier?

In short, because the existing spending on Elsevier is disproportionately large compared to other academic publishers and is unsustainable for the CSU Libraries.  

Elsevier, like most other academic publishers, has built a business model underwritten by publicly-funded research, faculty scholarship, faculty peer review, and faculty editorial board management. Elsevier then charges libraries annual or multi-year subscription fees to buy access to journals and scholarly materials that exist only because of the public research funding and faculty work effort. This business model leverages scholarly standards and expectations deeply entrenched in academia, including the very important Promotion and Tenure process that requires faculty to publish in highly ranked journals in order to achieve tenure and get promoted subsequently. 

As libraries, we have been entrusted by our university community to acquire access to high quality scholarly material that enables scholarship and knowledge creation and supports the aforementioned scholarly standards and expectations. The publications of Elsevier and other scholarly publishers (e.g. SAGE, Springer, IEE, etc.) are fully aligned with this mission. As such academic libraries depend on Elsevier and other publishers to fulfill this mission.

Where things get complicated is when we look at the amount the CSU spends on Elsevier. The breakdown in the table below shows how the CSU combined spending on Elsevier exceeds the cumulative spending on the next three most expensive academic packages.

database cost comparison for 2020/2021. Elsevier: $3,949,133.  Top three databases after Elsevier: $3,538,875.

To be clear, these numbers do not measure usage, access, or productivity based on these vendors. It simply serves to illustrate how outsized the relative cost of the Elsevier package is. Further, this complaint about the cost of Elsevier is not limited to the CSU. Our colleagues in the UC system have also renegotiated their Elsevier deal. Similarly, university libraries all across North America have also had to completely renegotiate their Elsevier packages. For further information, please have a look at Ithaka S+R’s recently published study entitled: “What’s the Big Deal?” and how libraries are faring post cancelation of the big publisher packages.

In 2011-2012, the CSU spend for the package was $2,711,923.  In less than 10 years, we’re looking at an increase of over $1 million.

Why does it matter?

Collections budgets in libraries are limited and consistently under pressure. Spending collection funds is an exercise in deciding about what to purchase and what not to buy. The opportunity cost imposed by an unnecessarily expensive journal package leads CSU libraries to purchase fewer other scholarly resources, thereby greatly hampering the ability of the libraries to support emerging fields and inhibiting a diverse representation of ideas and research. Less access to research is bad for science. For more insight into the current landscape of academic publishing, see the free documentary, Paywall: The Business of Scholarship.

What we would like changed in our Elsevier package?

While we recognize the value of academic publishers such as Elsevier, we have come to a point where the cost to maintain our Elsevier deal is unsustainable. What were once well priced products have become unaffordable due to consistent annual increases in the cost of these packages. Compounding these increases over many years, has increased the cost of our Elsevier deal to a point where it exceeds the CSU Libraries collective ability to maintain our Elsevier package. This is the time to design a working model for read institutions; one where we partner with Elsevier in making our faculty’s research available via OA and access is available to all of our campuses. As such we are requesting a reset of the Elsevier package to be in line with the cost of our other packages and subscriptions. The new cost should be affordable while allowing Elsevier acceptable annual increases. While there may be some negotiations around content,  the Open Access agreement continues to be a high priority.