‘Big deals’ as lever

So what exactly is open access? Why is it so important? How are the negotiations going with the eight large national and international publishers, and with what result?

Why open access?

The results of scientific research are published in scientific journals of large national and international publishers such as Elsevier, Springer, Wiley and Sage. Scientific journals have high subscription costs, leaving only financially strong institutions such as universities and hospitals able to afford access. Other interested parties, such as teachers, patients, policymakers or SMEs, often do not have unrestricted access.


Dutch universities believe that everyone should have open access to science. After all, most research is publicly funded. Open access allows researchers to disseminate their results to a wider audience, which is something that can benefit society. For example, open access allows doctors, practitioners and patients to access the latest developments in treatment methods. Open access also helps companies develop and apply innovations, and allows teachers and students to more easily utilise scientific knowledge in their classes and assignments. Moreover, open access knows no geographical boundaries, meaning scientists and academics in developing countries can also have access to the latest scientific findings.


Routes to open access: gold or green

There are two key routes to open access: the green and the gold route. The green route assumes that the author will make their work public themselves, by depositing the manuscript in a repository (a freely accessible database) of some kind. This is already possible at all Dutch universities. Publishers allow this, but often employ a waiting period, an embargo period, which varies per magazine. You have to pay for quick access to the documents. People who are patient get free access.


In the gold route publications are made available, on an open access basis, via the websites of the publishers. The subscription model is replaced by a model in which the researcher pays an article processing charge (APC) to get their article published in a magazine. After publication, it is then accessible to everyone online for free. Publishers such as BioMed Central, Public Library of Science (PLOS) and Frontiers are already working in this way. Many publishers also offer an intermediate form of open access: ‘hybrid journals’. These journals have a hybrid form, in which some of the articles are available only to subscribers, while others can be accessed by everyone.



Multiple stakeholders, different preferences

Sander DekkerThe Dutch government is strongly in favour of open access. State Secretary Dekker wants to work towards 100% open access publications in the Netherlands by 2024, as he announced in his letter to the Lower House of the Dutch Parliament of November 15, 2013. The Netherlands has opted for the gold route. The UK has also chosen the gold route. On the other hand, countries such as Germany, Denmark and the US have actually chosen for the green route. The EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, ‘Horizon 2020’, has also shown ‘a slight preference’ for the green route.


The Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU) supports this choice for the gold route. According to the VSNU, ‘green’ is a good addition to the options that are currently already available, and a good intermediate step, but not the sustainable solution that is needed, as the gold route is expected to replace the current publishing model in time.



‘Big deals’ as lever

In their struggle for open access, universities make use of the negotiations they are conducting with the big publishing houses regarding magazine subscriptions, which are also known as ‘big deal’ negotiations. For around ten years, these subscriptions have been offered by the publishers in package deals. VSNU negotiators have indicated that universities will only extend expiring contracts under the condition that publishers are willing to take serious steps towards open access.


Publishers have responded variably, because open access constitutes a dramatic change to the existing business model. Nevertheless, it has been possible to reach agreements with a number of publishers, such as Springer, Wiley and Sage. An agreement was also reached with Elsevier, even though it initially seemed that negotiations had stalled so badly that a boycott of Elsevier publications was being considered.



The result: the Netherlands is on track

The recent agreement with Elsevier constitutes a significant step towards open access. A framework agreement was reached on December 10th, 2015. It was agreed to increase the number of Dutch open access publications in Elsevier journals to 20% in three years. Prior to this, similar agreements were also reached with Springer and Sage. Promising talks are currently underway with a number of other publishers.


The Dutch government wants 100% of scientific publications to be open access by 2024. Steps have already been taken with the big publishers (which together account for 70 to 80% of sales in the Dutch market) to achieve this goal. The UKB and SURF are conducting similar negotiations with the other publishers. As an interim conclusion, the Netherlands is definitely on track.