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#OAWeek2023: Is DEAL a Good Deal? Elsevier, Springer & Wiley

What was DEAL again? For most of you, it’s the ability to easily read journal articles from the publishers Springer Nature and Wiley in October 2023. Researchers are also happy to have an open access option, for their articles, if they are accepted to journals from these publishers. However, DEAL also has something to do with the fact that newer articles from journals at Elsevier have generally been behind a paywall since 2019.

How did it come about, and what’s next?

In the beginning was the journal crisis

“The term serials crisis describes the problem of rising subscription costs of serial publications, especially scholarly journals, outpacing academic institutions’ library budgets and limiting their ability to meet researchers’ needs. The prices of these institutional or library subscriptions have been rising much faster than inflation for several decades, while the funds available to the libraries have remained static or have declined in real terms. As a result, academic and research libraries have regularly canceled serial subscriptions to accommodate price increases of the remaining subscriptions.” (Wikipedia)

Publishers also increasingly made their journals available as a complete package. By paying an additional fee, Elsevier, for example, no longer only made the 50 or so journals it subscribed to permanently available at the TUHH, but – as long as the contract ran – also provided access to the entire journal portfolio. Some journals in the new “ScienceDirect Freedom Collection” were read frequently, others not at all. The money was generally well spent for reading access, but was no longer available for other publishers.

Millions for the paywall

The contracts with the publishers were secret. But it was clear that millions were spent on reading access to journals, especially for the STM publishers in Germany. While we in Germany could perhaps still afford this access, many scientists in other countries were cut off from access to this literature. Also, despite all the millions, the publications of German scientists continued to remain behind the paywall by default. Couldn’t this be changed by joining forces in Germany and negotiating with one voice?

DEAL comes into play

DEAL is an initiative of the Alliance of Science Organisations in Germany. Under the leadership of the German Rectors’ Conference (Hochschulrektorenkonferenz – HRK), DEAL negotiates nationwide transformative  “Publish and Read” agreements with the largest commercial publishers of scholarly journals (Elsevier, Springer Nature, Wiley) on behalf of German research institutions (including universities, universities of applied sciences, research institutes, state and regional libraries).

And what do the DEAL contracts accomplish?

Many (see beginning) were delighted about the full access to journals and various OA publications, but we in the library were rather disillusioned. We had hoped for a clear commitment to pure OA journals, coupled with a feasible way to transform closed (hybrid) journals. Contracts are always a compromise and money is rarely saved. But with DEAL, since 2019 we have been funding the previously rejected “free-buying” of articles in subscription journals, while only providing a discount for articles in pure OA journals. Research results from TUHH can now be better read worldwide and research at TUHH is supported by literature access. But for many researchers worldwide, nothing has changed in the fact that for them OA is linked to fees (APCs) that can hardly be financed.

And what about Elsevier now? There is a contract!

DEAL and Elsevier have broken the deadlock and signed an agreement that scientific institutions in Germany can join with immediate effect: DEAL & Elsevier. With the contract, a payment for publication and read access (PAR fee) is only due when an article is published. That’s new. Whether the contract actually goes into effect in January depends on whether the institutions, whose researchers collectively generate a majority of the publications, join the contract.
The TU Hamburg has signed up to participate. With this, we would like to be able to offer you reading access to Elsevier journals again as soon as possible and support you in open access publishing in these journals.

And is DEAL a good deal now?

Disclaimer: The DEAL contracts with Wiley and Springer expire at the end of the year and conditions for the term from 2024 are not yet known to us today.
When it comes to affordable reading and publishing and the associated rights, the DEAL contract with Elsevier is a good compromise for TUHH. On the other hand, when it comes to digital sovereignty and disruption of the publishing market, which in our field is dominated by a few large corporations, we are treading water with contracts like these. Publishers make good money on subscriptions and publications with transformative contracts, and there is little reason from their perspective to change anything.

Are there alternatives?

If you imagine the long-term possibilities that would be available with the budget for “transformation contracts”: quite a lot. But it’s up to science. The scientific community decides where it meets, how it communicates, and how it evaluates each other. From within these scientific communities, there are many ideas about how publishing could be today. One aspect is the separation of content (which belongs to the scientists) and service (which is provided by publication service providers such as publishers), another is the avoidance of tracking. This is accompanied by new funding models that allow centralized and sustainable funding of quality-assured publications without charging authors and readers on an “article-by-article” basis. One option of the so-called Diamond Access was presented and discussed yesterday with Subscribe to Open at the TUHH. So far, however, only small publishers are on board with these models.

PS If you are interested in the topic, then you should know these recommendations:
German Science and Humanities Council | Wissenschaftsrat (2022): Recommendations on the Transformation of Academic Publishing: Towards Open Access; Cologne. https://doi.org/10.57674/0gtq-b603


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