Elsevier ScienceDirect Contract Negotiations

The contract between academic publisher Elsevier and UK Universities is due for renewal in December 2021.

The University of Aberdeen subscribes to around 2259 Elsevier ScienceDirect journals - a significant portion of the literature that our researchers engage with daily. In 2020, our annual academic journal subscription costs with Elsevier amounted to £724,021. This accounted for almost 25% of our entire Library content budget for the year.

These pages provide information on the ongoing negotiations between the HE Sector and Elsevier and will be kept up to date with the latest news.

What is happening?

The UK Universities sector is entering negotiations with Elsevier with two core objectives:

  • to reduce costs to levels UK universities can sustain, and
  • to provide full and immediate open access to UK research.

The aim is to secure a read and publish agreement with Elsevier, converting subscription expenditure to support immediate open access publishing, and maintaining access to paywalled content for a reduced fee.

UK Universities agreed their priorities for the next Elsevier agreement in 2020 and began negotiations in March 2021. The negotiations are governed by two groups; the Universities UK content negotiation strategy group and the content expert group. Representatives from each group will sit on the official negotiation team and Jisc, the UK not-for-profit digital services provider for education and research, facilitates the overall negotiations.

Key Questions


What are the options?

We expect Elsevier to offer us a proposal for a Transformative (“Read and Publish”) Agreement: one that combines both read (subscription) access and publishing costs. We will need to decide (both as a consortium and as an individual institution) whether this proposal satisfies our requirements in terms of collection content, costs and funder-compliant open access.

What alternatives are there to accessing journals through a 'big deal'?

There are several alternatives. Firstly the University has accrued perpetual access rights to a large amount of material published up to December 2021. This material will remain accessible irrespective of the outcome of future negotiations. Secondly the University could subscribe to selected individual journals outside of a big deal as we already do with many publishers. Other alternatives include making use of the increasing volume of Open Access articles and supplying articles via inter-library loan. We are taking a sector-wide approach to testing the feasibility of all options. This will increase our confidence levels about continued access to papers in the event of there being no deal.

Which journals does it cover?

A list of the titles in the deal is available here: https://www.elsevier.com/solutions/sciencedirect/journals-books/journal-title-lists

Does it cover Cell Press / Lancet / Society titles?

The negotiations are covering all Elsevier titles including imprints and society titles.

How long will this all take?

Our current deal ends in December 2021. It is possible the negotiations may take longer than this but in previous negotiations Elsevier have not switched off access whilst negotiations have been in progress.

What will happen if the sector doesn’t get a deal?

The sector is working hard to make sure we reach a reasonable agreement. However, we are also working with Jisc and a number of other universities on no-deal scenario plans to ensure that our students and academics can continue to access the content they need.

Authors at the University also publish extensively in Elsevier journals. This incurs a separate cost - why?

Most major research funders mandate that grant-holders provide open access to the outputs of their research: authors are required to make their publications openly accessible by academic and non-academic audiences.

The University of Aberdeen supports Open Research.

Likewise, this principle is central to the international Plan S initiative which requires that, from 2021, scientific publications that result from research funded by public grants be published in compliant Open Access journals or platforms.

Many publishers impose article processing charges (APCs) to make a publication open access in one of their journals.

An individual article published open access in an Elsevier journal can incur between £120 - £7,800 in Article Processing Charges.

Is there an alternative?

Publishers and research institutions are developing a range of new business models to find sustainable approaches to open access publishing.

The University of Aberdeen has entered into 'transitional' open access agreements with many major publishers on a read & publish model. Under these agreements, the publisher receives payment for providing access to their journal portfolio and payment for publishing, bundled into a single contract.

In this way, the University supports the wide dissemination of its research and scholarship at a sustainable cost - with the further benefit that the process of publishing open access in these journals is simpler for Aberdeen authors.

Transitional agreements are supported by cOAlition S funders: they help to transform scholarly publishing towards the Plan S goal of achieving full and immediate open access to peer-reviewed scholarly publications from research funded by public and private grants.

There is currently no open access agreement in place with Elsevier, and open access fees are paid on an article-by-article basis where funding is available.

Despite publishing over 20% of UK output, Elsevier is unusual in not having established a transitional and Plan S-compliant open access agreement with UK universities.

The contract between Elsevier and UK Universities is due for renewal in December 2021.

I use Elsevier papers in teaching. How will this affect me?

In the first instance we would encourage you to source alternative Open Access papers that could be used instead. However if an agreement is not achieved it is very likely that we will subscribe to a limited number of key journals following the negotiations. In this event current usage data and analysis of reading lists within Leganto will help us decide which ones these will be. If you are already using a particular journal for teaching purposes we would expect this to be reflected in our usage data and therefore it is likely to be included in any future subscription agreements we come to with Elsevier. We also retain access to a significant volume of already published content regardless of the outcome of the negotiations. And finally, course coordinators are able to request a copyright fee paid article extract for their course reading list using Leganto if they deem an Elsevier article to be essential to their teaching.

How will I know I can access a particular Elsevier journal if there isn't a 'big deal'?

We will be ready with data for analysis once we are clear on the likelihood of the need to access material through the various other routes available.

Wouldn't access via inter- library loan mean I could wait a long time for a paper?

We are working with other institutions to investigate and develop systems and services which would greatly improve delivery times for articles requested via inter-library loan.

I am a researcher. Can I take out my own subscription to an Elsevier?

It is possible to take out a personal subscription to an Elsevier journal, however if everyone did so it would result in increased costs overall and may have a negative impact on our negotiations. We would therefore strongly encourage staff not to do this to ensure our collective negotiating hand remains strong.

If it came to it, who would make the decision to cancel ScienceDirect at Aberdeen?

The decision will be taken at a senior level in the University, following appropriate consultation.


What should I do if Elsevier contact me?

Elsevier are likely to contact University of Aberdeen authors and editors, to encourage us to accept their offer. We would be interested to hear from you if this happens. If you are not sure how to respond please talk to the University Librarian Simon Bains.

How can I find out what's happening with the negotiations?

Bookmark this page and keep checking it for information about the negotiations. It will be regularly updated as negotiations proceed throughout this year, with FAQs, details of planned events, and information specific to the deal at Aberdeen.

Simon Bains, University Librarian, is working with a consultative group of academics from the University to ensure the academic community’s views are properly represented. He is very happy to receive feedback on this topic at simon.bains@abdn.ac.uk

Adapted from an original version written by Hannah Haines for the University of Cambridge and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Jisc has produced the following video to highlight the key issues.