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Elsevier Negotiations and Access to ScienceDirect: Home

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Please consider the following context (Updated 12/19/19):
  • We will always subscribe to core titles that support our educational and research missions. Access to scholarly content isn't all or nothing.
  • For ESF our current subscription to ScienceDirect and Cell Press provides access to 2117 titles, 67% of which were accessed five or fewer times last year. 
  • For ESF, only 44 titles saw more than 100 cumulative uses from articles published in the last 5 years. 54% of our use comes from just the current 5 years of publication.  This is what we are really paying for – only 2% of the collection.
  • ESF's usage patterns are very consistent year to year.
  • ESF's current costs for ScienceDirect and Cell Press are $221,075 per year. That is a 38% increase since 2012.

SUNY Negotiations for ScienceDirect

SUNY is in the midst of negotiating a new five year, system wide contract with Elsevier for access to ScienceDirect and Cell Press. Our current license expires in December 2019. The SUNY Libraries Consortium is taking the lead on negotiations with Elsevier. We requested pricing proposals for SUNY-wide and individual campus subscriptions, and asked Elsevier consider subscription access as well as support for Open Access. We have not yet received any proposal.

Negotiations with Elsevier are extremely challenging.  They have proven to be inflexible with their pricing model and we have had difficulty getting critical information from them. Over a year ago the Elsevier sales team gave a presentation to several deans and library directors about their product roadmap; we reached out asking if they would share their presentation slides, yet they never responded. That request was made more than once. Almost a year ago they were asked for a list of faculty from a specific campus who serve on the editorial boards of Elsevier journals. So far, they have been unwilling to provide this information. We also asked them for documentation showing campus-by-campus post-cancellation rights. We want to be able to verify those titles to which we will continue to have access should this round of negotiations not conclude successfully. These seemingly modest requests have gone unanswered.

It is too early to predict how SUNY’s negotiations with Elsevier will resolve. The financial challenges confronting our libraries and the University have been made explicitly clear to them. Their willingness to respond accordingly will significantly influence how these negotiations will conclude, with both renewal and non-renewal remaining possible outcomes at this time. 

Elsevier is part of the immensely profitable Dutch-owned company RELX. Even so, as reported, Elsevier insisted that UC continue to pay not only subscription charges but also in many cases, fees to publish articles. SUNY’s current arrangement is similar to what UC had. We have a subscription with a total valuation well into tens of millions of dollars, yet individual authors must pay what are called APCs or article publishing charges in order to have their works immediately available as open access publications.

  • Approximately 42% of revenue by geography in 2017 came from North America
  • Approximately 81% of revenue by format came from electronic usage and 19% came from print.
  • Editors are generally unpaid volunteers who perform their duties alongside a full-time job in academic institutions. 
  • 37% profit margin in 2017 (all preceding facts from Wikipedia,

We hope that the negotiations will reach an outcome acceptable to all of SUNY however we cannot predict what the outcome will be.

Contact Matthew R. Smith for questions or comments about this guide, or to report broken links. The above is adapted from communications of the SUNY Libraries Consortium Commercial Products Committee ScienceDirect working group and internal communications at ESF.


Last update Dec. 19th, 2019

SUNY – Elsevier Negotiations Communication Chain (most current first)

  • Contract ends December 31, 2019
  • 1/6/2020 - Negotiations call with Elsevier scheduled
  • 12/19 - Negotiations call with Elsevier held
  • 12/12 - Negotiations call with Elsevier held
  • 11/26 - SUNY offers Elsevier a counter-proposal
  • SUNY is preparing a counter offer. 
  • August 29th conference call with Elsevier. 
  • July 24th the negotiations team met with Elsevier and rejected the proposal citing the lack of price relief.
  • June 27th, 2019 Elsevier submitted a renewal proposal to the negotiations team.
  • Negotiations meeting scheduled for June 3, 2019. Postponed
  • April 17, 2019 Elsevier indicated they could not meet May 6th. 
  • March 18, 2019 May 6th was selected for the next negotiation meeting where Elsevier would present the proposals SUNY requested in December.
  • March 15, 2019 SUNY canceled scheduled March 18, 2019 meeting on grounds that Elsevier was not prepared to present the proposal we requested.
  • March 14, 2019 Elsevier reiterated their position of the necessity of a “proper needs-assessment must come before an informed renewal proposal,” and that they would not be presenting a proposal at the scheduled March 18, 2019 meeting.
  • March 14, 2019 SUNY responded to Elsevier’s request to change agenda of meeting indicating that meeting should still proceed but with revisions to agenda proposed by Elsevier.
  • March 12, 2019 Elsevier sent email indicating uncertainty as to “whether our understanding of SUNY’s current needs is adequate to put forward an informed set of 2020 ScienceDirect renewal proposals for SUNY at this time.” This “uncertainty” was communicated to us less than a week ahead of scheduled meeting along with a request to redirect the focus of the scheduled meeting.
  • February 20, 2019 Elsevier sent an email indicating that they potentially could provide a proposal prior to the scheduled meeting for March 18, 2019. No mention of needing to meet with SUNY before being able to prepare a proposal.
  • February 5, 2019 Elsevier sent email requesting delay of proposed end of February meeting date siting among other reasons the need to “ensure we have the time to conclude engagements with various policy-makers and senior management within Elsevier to help us address SUNY’s request for progressive renewal options beyond the standard offerings.” No indication of needing to meet with SUNY again prior to developing an offer. 
  • December 18, 2018 SUNY and Elsevier met in Albany. Elsevier presented a value-added proposal and SUNY presented on the overall budget capacity of the system and requested a proposal continuing the access we have and controlling costs.