May 25, 2022

Potential Changes to University of California’s Relationship with Elsevier in January 2019

From an Open Letter to the UC Davis Academic Community by:

  • MacKenzie Smith, University Librarian and Vice Provost of Digital Scholarship
  • Dennis J. Ventry, Jr., Professor of Law and Vice Chair, Academic Senate University Committee on Library and Scholarly Communication:

An Open Letter to the Academic Community:

The University of California is renegotiating its systemwide licenses with some of the world’s largest scholarly journal publishers, including industry giant Elsevier. These negotiations may create significant changes in our access to new articles published in Elsevier journals as soon as January 1, 2019. (See below for details on town hall meetings where you can learn more regarding access and timing.)

Importantly, the UC has adopted a new approach to these negotiations, seeking not only to constrain the runaway costs of journal subscriptions, but to make it easier and more affordable for UC authors to publish their research with open access. Depending on how the negotiations proceed, a range of potential outcomes could materialize:

  • If we are successful, the UC may begin to implement a new system for publishing research in Elsevier journals in the near future.
  • On the other hand, if we are unable to reach an agreement before our current contract ends on December 31, we may lose access to future articles in Elsevier’s journals through their ScienceDirect platform.

The proposed change

The agreement that the UC proposed to Elsevier covers both UC’s journal subscriptions and open access publishing of UC research in Elsevier journals, similar to “publish and read” agreements pioneered in Europe. The proposal would give every UC author the opportunity to make their work freely accessible — automatically and upon publication — to readers and researchers around the world.

The UC’s approach is also designed to give UC authors maximum flexibility in determining how to publish. For those who wish to publish open access, discounted open access fees negotiated in bulk, alongside funding support from the UC Libraries to help pay those fees, would remove cost as a barrier to publication. Alternatively, authors could opt out of open access and publish their research behind the journal’s traditional subscription paywall.

Today, UC researchers who wish to publish with open access in a subscription journal must pay 100% of the article processing charge (APC) themselves. Many choose this route; in fact, UC authors pay nearly $1 million a year in voluntary open access publishing charges to Elsevier, in addition to the millions of dollars paid by the UC Libraries for subscriptions to those same journals.

Our current contract with Elsevier expires on December 31, 2018. As that date approaches, the UC Libraries are preparing for various scenarios so that we can continue to provide UC scholars with access to needed articles with minimal disruption or delay, regardless of what happens with the negotiations.

Direct to Complete Open Letter (approx. 900 words)

About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.