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Setting a trend? Norway and Elsevier enter into a two-year transformation pilot agreement


 On April 23, Elsevier and the Norwegian Unit jointly issued a press release, announcing a two-year pilot agreement on access to research and open publishing. This news took many by surprise since Unit only the month before had announced its decision not to renew their agreement with Elsevier. This decision came after a lengthy period of negotiations and was not made lightly. We quickly got back to our talks with Elsevier, however, and were able to work out the details of the pilot in a very short time. The agreement is made up of a standard Science Direct Licence with an "Elsevier – Unit Open Access Pilot Terms" added at the end. The licence was signed with a confidentiality clause but stated that it is without prejudice to the applicable Norwegian public Act and Public Administration Act. Within a couple of days after announcing the agreement, a Request for Information came from a university paper claiming the right of these Acts. After consulting with Elsevier, the licence including the Open Access Terms was sent over, and duly published in the paper Khrono. We then published the licence on our website openaccces.no (we will also publish our agreement with Wiley shortly) and have registered both of them in the excellent ESAC registry

The Unit Science Direct Unit consortium has 44 members, including universities, research institutes, university colleges, and government agencies.

The outline of the agreement is:
  • We pay around €9 mill per year for the next two years to Elsevier. Also, we pay an increase of 3,8% in year 1 and 3% in year 2. The previous subscription spends for Science Direct Freedom Collection was €9 mill in 2018. In addition, we (and Elsevier) estimated that Norwegian researchers spent around €1 million on APCs, which will now mainly be included in the pilot.
  • The agreement allows for 1850 articles to be published in SD-journals, both subscription and Gold OA-journals. The exception is around 400 society-owned journals and 47 journals in Cell Press and Lancet.
  • The 1850 articles per year are close to our estimate of the yearly output from Norway in Elsevier journals included in the agreement. Since some articles will continue to be published in the journals exempt from the agreement, we think that we will cover around 90% of the output from Norway, and we do not believe there will be much demand for publishing above the quota, but if there is, institutions will most likely agree to cover the list-price APC.

If researchers publish above 1850 articles, Elsevier's normal APCs will apply. Any unused articles will not carry over to the next year.

  • Archival rights are continued as under the previous agreement.
  • There is no definition of reading fee, publishing fee or archive fee in the agreement, just a lump sum which covers reading in all Elsevier journals, Open Access publishing within the same journals, with the exceptions above, and archival rights.
  • If this is being interpreted as if we pay €4500 per article, then the value of reading of the subscription content has dropped from €9 mill in 2018 to 0 in 2019.
  • Elsevier will contact corresponding authors of already published articles in 2019 that are eligible and offer to publish them OA with a CC-BY-4.0 or a CC-BY-NC-ND licence. If an APC has already been paid by a corresponding Norwegian author, they will offer to refund the money.

We have not, as the French consortium Couperin recently did, negotiated with Elsevier on a direct deposit in a repository, but we will monitor each article, and deposit all articles published under the pilot in a repository through our CRIS-system. 

The deal has been very well received in Norway at large. Some critical voices have claimed we should have stood by Sweden, Germany, Hungary and UoC and continued our boycott. But most researchers are happy that they can continue to access Elsevier content, and that they now can publish OA in the same journals. We have also had strong support from our Ministry of Education and Research. Since our main funder is part of Plan S, there has been a lot of worry in the research community that they could no longer publish in their accustomed journals. Our deals with Wiley (also popular, and not at all controversial) and Elsevier give them hope that they need not change their publication behaviour, even though it has been pointed out that the Elsevier pilot is not exactly Plan S compliant. 

The pilot will be closely monitored by Unit, and we hope the next two years will give us valuable input to prepare ourselves for transformative agreements in the years to come, and hopefully publishing deals in the future. Will our researchers continue to publish as previously, with the same amount that the allocated numbers of articles are based on? (Elsevier came up with the number 1850, and Unit checked them against our national CRIS-system). Will they publish more in Elsevier and Wiley journals since we have transformational agreements with them? Will institutions be willing to put up extra money to pay for hybrid OA above the quota? How will our negotiations with all the other publishers with whom we have agreements be affected? We do not know the answers at this time, but we know that this agreement is of interest to many, and we will, of course, share our findings as best we can. 

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18 Jun 2021

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