Read our COVID-19 research and news.

Davide Bonazzi/@SalzmanArt

Groundbreaking deal makes large number of German studies free to public

BERLIN—Three years ago, a group of German libraries, universities, and research institutes teamed up to force the three largest scientific publishers to offer an entirely new type of contract. In exchange for an annual lump sum, they wanted a nationwide agreement making papers by German authors free to read around the world, while giving researchers in Germany access to all of the publishers’ online content.

Today, after almost 3 years of negotiations, the consortium, named Project DEAL, can finally claim a success: This morning, it signed a deal with Wiley, an academic publisher headquartered in Hoboken, New Jersey.

Under the 3-year contract, scientists at more than 700 academic institutions will be able to access all of Wiley’s academic journals back to 1997 and to publish open access in all of Wiley’s journals. The annual fee will be based on the number of papers they publish in Wiley journals—about 10,000 in previous years, says one of the negotiators, physicist Gerard Meijer of the Fritz Haber Institute, a Max Planck Society institute here.

A precise formula for the fee has been agreed on but at Wiley’s request will only be made public, along with other details in the contract, in 30 days, Meijer says. However, the total payment should be roughly what German institutes have been paying Wiley in subscription fees so far, Meijer says.

The contract is the first between a publisher and a leading research nation to implement the shift to open access, Wiley Managing Editor Guido Herrmann said at a press conference here this morning. “We are convinced this is an important and special moment in the movement to more open access and open science,” he said. Under the contract, Wiley and Project DEAL will also launch a new interdisciplinary open-access journal together, hold an annual symposium for young researchers on the future of research communications, and start a development group tasked with “innovating and accelerating new approaches.”

“It’s quite impressive,” says Robert-Jan Smits, the European Commission’s special envoy on open access in Geneva, Switzerland. “It’s a great day for German science, a great day for European science, and it’s a great day for global science.”

The deal will likely turn up the pressure on Elsevier and Springer, the other two publishers Project DEAL has been negotiating with. Although there is a transitional agreement with Springer as negotiations continue, talks with Elsevier appear stalled, and hundreds of scientific institutions lost access to the publisher’s journals, including, at the beginning of this year, the Max Planck Society.

Negotiations with Wiley took a long time because the devil was in the details. For instance, the deal applies to all papers whose corresponding author works at one of the German institutions—but what if a paper has two corresponding authors, or a corresponding author changes his affiliation between the time a paper is submitted and accepted? Meijer says agreements were reached on many such details, but that it was impossible to foresee every possible scenario. “The phrase that occurs the most in this contract is probably ‘in good faith,’” he says.

For Wiley, founded in 1807, it was a matter of adapting to the rapidly changing world of academic publishing, says Judy Verses, the company’s executive vice president of research. “With the changes in the market going on, you basically have two choices: You can decide that you are going to get in the front seat and drive, or you can be in the back seat and maybe not be comfortable with where it is taking you.”