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SAN FRANCISCO — After months of negotiations, the University of California system has decided not to renew its subscriptions to journals put out by the major publisher Elsevier — a decision that could have big ripple effects for the way that academic research gets read and paid for.

The move, announced in a release from the university system on Thursday, follows a breakdown in negotiations over payments for open-access research, which is made freely available to the public online. The dispute comes amid a larger effort by academics to try to shift toward greater open access in research and loosen the grip of publishers like Elsevier on the process.


In 2018, under a previous contract that expired at the end of the year, the UC system paid Elsevier more than $10 million so that its affiliates could access hundreds of Elsevier journals. In addition, its researchers collectively pay nearly $1 million each year in preparation fees for open-access articles. Those fees can reach thousands of dollars per article.

UC wanted to change the payment structure to roll the subscription fee and the open-access fees into a single annual payment — which would come at an overall discount. That would have made open access “the default” for any article published by a UC researcher, the university system said in its statement.

But Elsevier balked at the proposed terms. Elsevier counter-offered with a model that it said would support the university system’s request and provide “a clear path that allows every researcher to choose to publish for free or open access and provides a scaled path to reduce the costs for each campus library,” an executive at the Netherlands-based publisher said in a letter sent on Thursday to UC-based editors of Elsevier journals.


In that same letter, the Elsevier executive said the company is “concerned about the impact a loss of access would have on UC researchers’ effectiveness and the UC’s overall research competitiveness.”

The UC system, which has 238,000 students and more than 190,000 faculty and staff, is a huge player in the world of academic publishing, and its decision could sway other institutions that have contracts with Elsevier. Research produced by UC affiliates accounts for nearly 10 percent of all U.S. publishing output, according to the university system’s statement.

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