Logo for Elsevier, a scientific and medical journal publisher, that SUNY is negotiating a contract renewal with. Stony Brook University hosted a town hall on Nov. 25 that provided updates on those negotiations. PUBLIC DOMAIN

Stony Brook University hosted a town hall on Monday, Nov. 25, that offered updates on negotiations between State University of New York (SUNY) and Elsevier.

SUNY is currently negotiating a contract renewal with Elsevier, a scientific and medical journal publisher. Elsevier holds “a monopoly over access to high-quality peer reviewed content,” according to a slideshow presented at the town hall.

“We have been going around trying to promote the awareness and consequences and create open discussion to hear about the potential of not having an Elsevier contract anymore,” Shafeek Fazal, Interim Dean of Stony Brook Libraries, said. He’s already met with the School of Medicine Faculty Senate, the University Senate and the Graduate Student Organization, in an attempt to spread awareness.

The town hall focused specifically on ScienceDirect, which is the only Elsevier product that will be affected by the ongoing negotiations. SUNY paid more than $9 million for access to ScienceDirect last year, totaling nearly $45 million over the life of the contract. 

“Elsevier has failed to expeditiously engage in the SUNY ScienceDirect contract negotiation process and, if the contract is not extended, the SUNY community will no longer have unlimited access to Elsevier’s collection,” according to a resolution passed in October by the SUNY University Faculty Senate. 

The SUNY-wide subscription to ScienceDirect includes about 3,800 journal titles.

Heath Martin, associate dean of collection strategy and management of Stony Brook Libraries, said that one of the state school system’s main contentions is that the price for the package has continuously increased.

“[The price] has grown to the point where it no longer represents adequate value for the system and for the individual institutions involved,” he said.

According to an update from the SUNY University Faculty Senate on its contract renewal with Elsevier in 2015, the net invoice value of the five-year Science Direct offer was $8M and in 2018, it was $9M.

Martin said the situation was “unsustainable.” He added that the amount that SUNY can afford to pay and a need to prioritize resources will impact negotiations going forward. Martin said that the rising price isn’t worth the number of journals SUNY uses in the package.

“We [SUNY] end up increasingly seeing a less strong argument for the value of the package, given the amount we’re [SUNY] paying for it,” he said.

During the town hall, an attendee asked about the “free labor” that Elsevier receives through researchers — there are 67 Elsevier titles with leading editors from Stony Brook University, according to Fazal. SUNY is attempting to negotiate a contract that automatically gives open access for all SUNY authored Open Access articles in Elsevier titles.

In addition to the already high subscription cost, Elsevier also requires SUNY authors to pay Article Processing Charges (APCs), a fee charged to authors that makes their work open access in a journal. Typically, APCs range from $8-3,900, according to an article from the American Journal Experts. SUNY authors have paid over $8.1M in APCs. 

“Those APCs can run pretty high into the several thousands of dollars in some cases, and the funding for those most frequently will come from a funding agency,” Martin said.

He explained that if the authors are getting some funds in support of their research from a funding agency, they are then building the publication costs to publish Open Access into grants they may have.

“We continuously remind Elsevier and other publishers of that fact and that fundamental lack of fairness in the traditional publishing model,” Martin said.

If negotiations for the Elsevier subscription goes sour, SUNY is prepared to cancel it, which will have a direct impact on campus.

According to the update from the SUNY University Faculty Senate, some campuses have relinquished library staff to pay for the subscription. If the subscription is canceled, SUNY library purchases will be negatively impacted and their collections will become less diverse.

SUNY is currently preparing a counter offer, which will be discussed in another town hall on Dec. 10. The current contract expires Dec. 31.

If there isn’t a SUNY deal, alternative means of access to the content that would be lost include an interlibrary loan, paying per article with reprint charges and having open access copy from online repositories such as Unpaywall and PubMed Central.

“Open access as a publishing model has increased in visibility and relevance over the years, we have more and more SUNY faculty publishing open access,” Martin said. Since a lot of content from Elsevier is published open access, that access is still provided if the package is lost.

“We still have the rights and abilities to access all of that open access content, but we won’t have the Science Direct platform to provide that access directly,” Martin said. “We’ll work with these other services and repositories to facilitate access and discovery of that content.”

According to Martin, one of SUNY’s primary goals of the negotiation is to retain access to Elsevier in the future. A website with updates on the negotiations can be accessed here

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