‘We must stand up to Elsevier’

In the fight for open access, Dutch scientists should heed the example of their German colleagues, who have taken a stand against Elsevier publishing house.
Roelof Kleis

Bram Büscher, professor of the Sociology of Development and Change, proposes this in an editorial response in Geoforum.

More than 200 German academic institutions have taken a stand against Elsevier under the flag of ‘Projekt Deal’. Their aim is to force Elsevier to adapt its business model and do more to promote open access. Early this year, the conflict almost led to the researchers in question being excluded from academic journals published by Elsevier.

Büscher fiercely condemns the practices of publishers such as Elsevier, who refuse to give up their business model. ‘They have a fantastic business model at present. Elsevier’s profit is often between 35 and 40 percent. That is simply scandalous. That profit is made from research conducted with public funding. That money should flow back into science. And that is not happening at the moment.’

Geoforumis published by Elsevier and is not open access. That means that German readers could be deprived of the journal if negotiations with Elsevier break down. Büscher proposes to the Geoforum editors that they should show solidarity with the Germans and consider turning their backs on the journal if Elsevier does not drastically adapt its business model. He wants to bring things to a head.

The issue concerns Geoforum in the first instance, but the appeal is intended for a wider audience, says Büscher. ‘This is our way of showing our German colleagues that their battle is important. That is why I am also appealing to my Dutch colleagues. Maybe we should join forces and create our own ‘Projekt Deal’. I think it is time to take a stand.’

Those are phoney constructions in which the unfair business model remains in place.

The Universities’ Association VSNU negotiates about open access with the major publishers on behalf of the Dutch universities. Progress has been made with some of them. ‘A few big steps have been taken,’ acknowledges Büscher, ‘but that is only half the work.’ He cites the ‘green open access formula’, a form of open access in which the subscription system remains intact. ‘Those are phoney constructions in which the unfair business model remains in place.’


Maybe we should set up an organization which will help journals to switch completely to open access, suggests Büscher, allowing profits to flow back into publicly funded science. ‘Say the Dutch universities put five percent of the budget they currently spend on journals and books into an independent body of that sort.’ That would fill a fair-sized fund. Between them, Dutch universities pay out 42 million a year to publishers. Elsevier is by far the biggest supplier of journals.

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