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In the stacks. The library at the University of Konstanz, which is balking at journal prices charged by publisher Elsevier.

In the stacks. The library at the University of Konstanz, which is balking at journal prices charged by publisher Elsevier.

University of Konstanz

German University Tells Elsevier 'No Deal'

In the latest skirmish between academia and publishers over the costs of academic journals, the University of Konstanz in Germany has broken off negotiations over a new licensing agreement with the scientific publisher Elsevier. The publisher’s prices are too high, said university Rector Ulrich Rüdiger in a statement, and the institution “will no longer keep up with this aggressive pricing policy and will not support such an approach.”

Journals offered by the Dutch publishing giant, which sells more than 2500 titles, were covered by what was the university’s most expensive license by far, says Julia Wandt, the university’s head of communications and marketing. Negotiations had been ongoing since October, she says.

The average Elsevier journal license cost 3400 euros ($4693) per year, three times as high as licenses offered by the second-priciest publisher, the university said in a statement. Wandt says Elsevier’s prices had increased more than 30% in the last 5 years.

Adding to tensions, the university hinted, was a feeling that academia is essentially paying twice for its own work. "Universities are in a way forced to purchase a good back in the form of expensive subscription fees – a good which is actually produced by their own scientists," said Petra Hätscher, a university administrator, in a statement.

Other universities have made similar threats in the past, among them the University of California, which threatened both Elsevier and Nature Publishing Group with boycotts. Those disputes were both resolved, and the university continued its site licenses.

The breakdown doesn’t mean that University of Konstanz researchers will completely lose access to the journals, officials say. The university has access to journal archives through the end of 2013, Wandt says, and if researchers want to read articles from 2014, they will be able to access them through interlibrary loan or purchase them on a pay-per-view basis. The university library will cover any associated fees, she says, which administrators expect to be less expensive than the license agreement.

If Elsevier approaches the university with a new offer, they would consider it, Wandt says, but for now “the matter is settled.”

Elsevier had not responded to a request for comment as this article went to press.