Comments on the VSNU-Elsevier deal

“The VSNU didn’t get all it wanted but it took a large step and plans to take more in the future. It also hopes that other universities will follow its lead.

Here’s where things get more complicated. We don’t know how much the Dutch universities must now pay for the Elsevier big deal. Clearly Elsevier raised its price so that a certain number of APCs from Dutch researchers could be considered built-in or pre-paid. But we don’t know the size of the price increase….It’s a pity that the price of the agreement is secret. If other universities knew the price, they could bargain more effectively with Elsevier (and other publishers). Because they don’t know the price, this success will spread more slowly than otherwise. This cuts against VSNU’s hope that other universities will take the same steps, just as it cuts against lobbying claims often made by Elsevier and other large publishers that open-access initiatives “interfere with the market”….Still, it’s a step forward. I hope other universities are moved to try harder bargaining than they’ve tried in the past. And I hope they succeed….

Here are two other caveats to keep in mind.

First, this kind of success helps entrench the APC or fee-based business model for gold OA.¬†Charging author-side fees is a legitimate model. But (despite a popular myth) it’s only a minority model today, and there are good reasons why. The no-fee model works better for many authors, many disciplines, many journals, and many regions of the world. Giving no-fee journals an incentive to start charging fees is backward. And moving toward a business-model monoculture for gold OA is perverse.

Second, Dutch universities could have adopted green OA policies years ago. But none did, even though more than 500 other universities around the world have already done so. Green and gold have different advantages and I support both. Hence I support those who support gold. But because green and gold are compatible, even complementary (see Section 3.2 <http://goo.gl/tcSEnA> of my book <http://bit.ly/oa-book), it’s a serious tactical mistake to neglect the advantages of green while pursuing the advantages of gold. It’s like fighting with one hand tied behind your back. This is exactly what the Dutch universities have done. (It’s also what the Finch Committee and RCUK did at the national level in the UK, and what Sander Dekker seems to want to do at the national level in the Netherlands.).¬†Green mandates don’t require bargaining with publishers. They don’t require paying more in subscriptions. They don’t pressure authors to publish in some journals rather than others. Depending on their terms, they can require immediate or unembargoed OA, and require open licenses. And they help create a world in which OA is the default, which makes negotiating with publishers easier and less expensive.”