MIT ends negotiations with Elsevier

Bourg and Levy: Elsevier was unable to align with the MIT Framework for Publisher Contracts

After several months of discussion over a new contract, MIT has ended negotiations with the academic publishing company Elsevier. Starting July 1, Elsevier journal articles published in and after 2020 will no longer be available at MIT through Elsevier’s website. 

Director of MIT Libraries Chris Bourg and Chair of the Committee on the Library System Roger Levy wrote in an email to the MIT community June 11 that Elsevier was unable to present a proposal that aligned with core principles of the MIT Framework for Publisher Contracts, a guide to negotiations based on open access policies as well as MIT’s mission and vision for scholarship.

Bourg and Levy wrote that despite “agreeing to a six-month extension of our current contract to provide Elsevier time to develop an offer for us based on principles we shared with them in August 2019, Elsevier was not able to present a proposal that aligned with the framework.”

MIT has “perpetual access” to most pre-2020 Elsevier articles, Bourg and Levy wrote. Additionally, “access to e-books, book series, handbooks, reference works, and databases published by Elsevier is not affected.”

Bourg, Levy, and staff of the MIT Libraries’ Negotiations and Scholarly Communications and Collections Strategy teams wrote in an email to The Tech that access to the “vast majority of articles needed by the MIT community” can be achieved through MIT’s current available options and interlibrary borrowing. The Libraries also offered suggestions for alternative access to Elsevier-published articles.

Bourg, Levy, and MIT Libraries staff wrote that MIT Libraries and Elsevier failed to agree on a system “that would allow MIT authors to retain copyright of their research output, did not require authors to waive their rights set forth in the MIT Faculty Open Access policy, and was priced in a fair and sustainable way.”

“We understand that this new approach to negotiations is challenging for many of our vendors, as they are accustomed to focusing primarily on price, their calculations of what the market can bear, and what amount of inflation they want to charge the Libraries this year,” they wrote.

There are also difficulties in implementing open access on MIT’s side. The new publication process requires an engaged population and well-resourced libraries, which MIT has sought through the creation of DSpace@MIT, a repository made for unrestricted access to articles by MIT-affiliated authors, Bourg, Levy, and MIT Libraries staff wrote.

The open access movement took root in the 1960s and largely refers to the rights to freely read, use, and distribute published work granted by authors and copyright holders. 

Bourg, Levy, and MIT Libraries staff wrote that MIT “was a pioneer in institutional access policies,” the MIT Faculty Open Access policy in 2009 being the first of its kind in North America.

Additional steps have been taken since to expand the number of open access articles, including a “read and publish” agreement with the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) in 2018, which “combines the cost to subscribe to journals with a payment to make the final published version of MIT-authored articles open access on RSC’s website,” Bourg, Levy, and MIT Libraries staff wrote. 

A January 2020 collaboration with three other universities led to an open access agreement with the Association for Computing Machinery that includes automatic deposit of MIT co-authored articles into DSpace.

The MIT Framework for Publisher Contracts, released October 2019, solidified MIT’s commitment to transform its relationships with publishers. Over 100 institutions have since endorsed the Framework and are free to adapt the Framework for negotiating their own contracts, Bourg and Levy wrote in their email to the MIT community.

Bourg and Levy wrote that they “hope to be able to resume productive negotiations with Elsevier in the future.”  

Bourg, Levy, and MIT Libraries staff wrote in their email to The Tech that contract negotiations are currently taking place with other publishers as well, with the Framework as a central element. 

“We hope to see publishers take the opportunity offered by the Framework to be truly transformative, instead of shoehorning an old financial model into a new space. We have been particularly interested in experimenting with scholarly publishers, those whose missions and values match our own,” they wrote.