A month long standoff ends between Elsevier and South Korean universities

ScienceDirect is a database of more than 3500 academic journals and books, which is published by world’s no.1 academic publisher Elsevier. The publisher Elsevier is headquartered in Amsterdam, Netherlands. For more than a month, South Korean universities were opposing a steep price rise proposed by Elsevier.

Initially, Elsevier had proposed a price hike of 4.5%, which was severely opposed by a consortium of top South Korean universities. On January 12, 2018, a settlement was finally achieved between South Korean universities and Elsevier.

South Korean universities have agreed to a price rise of about 3.5–3.9%.  In the initial proposal, Elsevier was compelling South Korean universities to compulsorily prescribe to its lesser known journals, as part of their ScienceDirect package deal. In future, South Korean universities would negotiate further for more concessions.

According to Lee Chang Won, secretary general of the Korea University & College Library Association, Elsevier currently provides a flat rate system. Therefore, universities have to pay for digital content of all journals, including the ones that are read least by viewers.

Lee Chang Won led the consortium of South Korean universities along with Korean Council for University Education (KCUE). Previously, South Korean universities accepted whatever rate increase was imposed by Elsevier, but they can no longer do the same due to budget cuts in library expenditure.

The consortium of 300 university and college libraries was formed in May 2017 by negotiating with 42 providers of databases. This group sought concessions on open-access journals and other less-read journals, which were included in the ScienceDirect package of Elsevier.

When Elsevier authorities refused to oblige, the consortium boycotted Elsevier and refused to renew contracts. During the period of negotiations, Elsevier provided access to all its products. Following negotiations, individual universities will now have to renew their one-year license at 3.9%; moreover, their three-year contract would be increased by 3.5%, 3.6%, and 3.7% above the baseline. These terms and conditions have been agreed by the consortium of universities in South Korea.

For 2019 contracts, negotiations would continue about pricing and other details between the consortium of South Korean universities and Elsevier, the publisher. According to Sogang’s Kim, the consortium is keen on signing a multi-year contract with Elsevier, wherein the annual increase of fees would be in the range 3.5–3.9%. This annual rate of increase in subscription fees is well above the international level of 2%. ScienceDirect journals are expensive but indispensable for academicians, rights from professors to post-doc scholars.

The month-long standoff between South Korean universities and Elsevier is akin to similar dispute between the consortium of German universities and Elsevier in 2017. At that point of time, electronic journals of Elsevier were not accessible to more than 60 universities in Germany as Elsevier had temporarily suspended access; however, the publisher restored access few weeks later though negotiations are still going on between consortium of German universities and Elsevier. Meanwhile, more than 200 universities in Germany have ceased their contract with Elsevier.



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