New rules for reading and publishing

ETH Zurich is working together with other Swiss research institutions to ensure ETH Zurich is working together with other Swiss research institutions to ensure that researchers in Switzerland have unrestricted access to scientific literature in the future. (Image: ETH Zürich / Alessandro Della Bella)

By: ETH Library / From the editors

swissuniversities’ negotiations with publishing powerhouses Wiley and Elsevier regarding open access to publicly financed publications has resulted in an agreement for 2020. However, next year may see restrictions on access to Springer Nature publications.

The Rectors’ Conference of the Swiss Universities (swissuniversities) has been in negotiations with the top three academic publishers with two goals in mind. The first goal: to allow researchers in Switzerland access to all papers in the publishers’ online journal portfolios. The second goal: to reach "read & publish" agreements, which would allow researchers to publish open access articles in the publishers’ journals - meaning they would be available worldwide without any restrictions - without additional article processing charges.

These goals stem from swissuniversities’ open access strategy, which foresees a general move to open access scholarly publishing in Switzerland by 2024. This means that all academic publications financed with public money would have to be freely available online.

ETH Library to provide alternatives

These goals have only been partially achieved for the time being. No agreement was reached with Springer Nature, which means that starting next January, it will not be possible to directly access Springer Nature articles published from 2020 onwards if the publisher really does shut down access at the end of the year. This would impact around 2,000 journals.

"We were of course hoping for a different outcome," states Rafael Ball, Director of the ETH Library. "However, we’re working together with other Swiss university libraries to do everything in our power to give readers access to the articles that are affected." The ETH Library website provides information on how to access articles in Springer Nature publications. Potential restrictions on these journals would only apply to articles published starting in 2020. Access to older articles in the archives remains unchanged.

"We are hoping that we can reach an agreement with Springer Nature in 2021 that will create fair conditions for reading and publishing," adds Rafael Ball. Ulrich Weidmann, Vice President for Human Resources and Infrastructure for the ETH Library, remains committed to the open access philosophy. "Although we couldn’t reach an agreement with Springer Nature for 2020, ETH Zurich and other Swiss research institutions will continue to stay on the path we have chosen," he explains. "Open access to research literature needs to become a reality for researchers at Swiss institutions in the medium term."

Agreements with Wiley and Elsevier

The swissuniversities negotiation team was able to find solutions for extending the agreements with both Wiley and Elsevier. All academic journals from these two publishers will remain freely available to users of Swiss university libraries. This includes users of the ETH Library, who can access journals via the library search portal.

Elsevier has concluded a memorandum of understanding to enter into a "read & publish" agreement valid from January 2020 on. Similarly, Wiley has concluded a memorandum of understanding to enter into a "read & publish" contract from 2021 onwards, the negotiations for which will continue in 2020. For the time being, the existing license agreement with Wiley will continue next year without any price increase. However, this agreement does not include any open access clauses.

The big three

Springer Nature, Wiley and Elsevier are the world’s three biggest academic publishing houses. Their many publications are important to the scientific community, which gives them enormous bargaining power. University libraries are also paying equally enormous bills to access this scholarly content.

Number of journals:

- Elsevier: around 1,900

- Springer Nature: around 2,190

- Wiley: around 1,500

In 2019, Swiss institutions of higher education paid these publishers a total of around EUR 22.4 million (excluding sales tax). The ETH Library paid "the big three" around EUR 6.4 million (excluding sales tax) for access to their publications during this time period.