UC California Digital Library and Elsevier

Elsevier has been negotiating with the California Digital Library since early 2018 to provide University of California (UC) students and researchers with access to Elsevier’s subscription journal content. The contract ended in December 2018. Since then, while working to find a solution, we have continued to provide access without payment to UC campuses. Unfortunately, we’ve not yet been able to come to an agreement. Since California Digital Library hasn’t renewed its contract, we implemented the cancellation request on 10 July. We are sorry for the inconvenience and we continue to work with the University of California to find a solution.

Let’s talk about Elsevier and the California Digital Library

You likely have many questions

We’ve put together a list of the questions we’re asked most frequently when visiting campuses and talking with researchers and students.

The University of California's Digital Library hasn’t renewed its 2019 contract, and we implemented the cancellation on 10 July. University of California researchers will still be able to access a sub-set of historical Elsevier journal articles on ScienceDirect. However, University of California campuses won’t be able to access new articles dated from 1 January 2019 onwards.

That covers about 435,000 subscription articles a year in 2,500 journals, including Cell and The Lancet.

If you want to know exactly what you can no longer access, please contact your librarian. Links are provided at the bottom of question nine.

Elsevier is a scientific and medical information provider, dedicated to serving the scientific community. We have done so for 140 years, focused on ensuring the quality of the research improves every year, and investing in the features and tools that support users. Researchers from across multiple disciplines annually submit 1.8m manuscripts to us and we publish about 470,000 articles a year, adding to ScienceDirect’s collection of 16m articles and e-books. More than 16m unique visitors download 1bn articles from ScienceDirect every 12 months.

30% of Elsevier journals rank in the top 10% by quality, and 95% are in the top half. Elsevier publishes about 18% of the world’s scientific literature which account for 25% of citations. 183 out of 184 Nobel Prize winners in science and economics since 2000 published with Elsevier.

University of California users download an article from ScienceDirect every three seconds. In 2018, they downloaded about 11m Elsevier articles – that’s about 30% of all downloads from all publishers. About one in five Elsevier articles read by University of California students and researchers are from the past 12 months.

Losing access to Elsevier content results in researchers not being able to access the most recent high-quality research immediately. Libraries save money by cancelling Elsevier services.

Since July 2019, 80% of failed article requests from UC researchers are for articles published in the last 12 months. In all, there have been about 150,000 failed unique article requests per month by UC researchers.

Researchers can use alternative ways to access this content, which takes time, money and effort, resulting in lost productivity for researchers. However, one person in charge of the ScienceDirect cancellation wrote that University of California's researchers "will need to access that content through other means, which will be… less convenient. Inconvenience will generally be time or money." The official noted that researchers can seek out individual copies by way of interlibrary loan but expects that delays "can be 1-3 days" per request. The UCLA Library puts the timing per article at "2-4 days regular turnaround time. Urgent delivery in 24 hours Monday to Friday in patient care emergencies."

For all University of California campuses, access to Elsevier’s 2,500 journals costs about $15 per person per semester, or about a dollar per download. In the past eight years, the cost per download has decreased more than 20%.

We know that library and university budgets are under pressure. Elsevier takes care to keep its prices below industry average while providing above average quality journals. In the past decade the volume of articles published by Elsevier has increased by 65%, while quality has continued to improve every year. Meanwhile, over the same period, price increases for the University of California have been limited to around inflation.

Access for all University of California campuses and its 350,000 faculty and students costs currently about $11m a year, just under 4% of the University of California’s library budget, or less than 0.04% of the University of California’s total budget of $32bn.

Independent research shows that Elsevier is the most cost-effective commercial publisher. This study shows that for research-extensive universities [1], research-intensive universities [2] and master’s universities, Elsevier provides the best value among commercial publishers. Although the data are quite old (2009), the findings are still valid. Elsevier’s price increases in the past decade have been the lowest among commercial publishers.

Table 4.
Bundle cost per citation: For-profits, 2009

Publisher Type of institution
Research 1, $ Research 2, $ Master's, $
Elsevier 2.24 0.71 0.17
Springer 3.08 1.48 0.45
Wiley 5.19 1.48 0.48
Emerald 6.94 2.05 1.89
Sage 7.24 3.90 1.69
Taylor & Francis 10.94 2.65 n.a

n.a. not available.
Source: PNAS study - Table 4

California Digital Library has alleged that Elsevier “double-dips”. Double dipping is when an article is published open access – that is an author’s fee has been paid for it to be read for free around the world – but the publisher then charges other users to read that article through a subscription. In effect, the publisher would be paid twice for the same article.

Elsevier does not double dip. Elsevier can be reimbursed for an article in two ways – through an open access fee or through a subscription – but it is never paid for the same article twice.

Elsevier has an explicit No-Double-Dipping policy which you can read here.

Questions about double dipping are often premised on the assumption that open access articles are replacing the number of subscription articles being published and therefore subscription prices should be falling to reflect this. This assumption is, in fact, incorrect.

Here are some relevant data points to take into account: The volume of gold open access articles published by Elsevier continues to grow fast. Last year, it increased 26% by 7,000 articles to 34,000. However, the vast majority of researchers chose to publish with Elsevier for free under the subscription model. During the same period, the number of articles published by Elsevier under the subscription model increased 8%, by 33,000 articles to 436,000. This illustrates that even though the volume of articles published gold open access continues to grow, the volume of that growth is eclipsed by the number of new articles published under the subscription model.

Elsevier does not prevent the public from accessing tax-payer funded research; on the contrary, we enable it in many ways. We encourage researchers, whether funded by government or other sources, to make the manuscripts that they submit to Elsevier – so-called preprints - publicly available for free immediately. For example, researchers can use our SSRN service, a pre-print server that provides 13.1m annual downloads. They can also publicly share all working papers and write-ups of their research results. Elsevier’s policy on pre-prints is simple: authors can share their pre-print anywhere at any time. In that way, the outputs of government-funded research can be shared immediately to tax-payers and the general public at no additional cost to tax-payers.

In addition, since 2006, we voluntarily deposit all Elsevier-published National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded manuscripts to PubMed Central (PMC), a free full-text archive of biomedical and life sciences journal literature. We account for vastly more open access manuscripts on PMC than any other publisher. We have extended this model to manuscripts funded by other US government agencies via CHORUS, a public access initiative of which we are a founding member. We also support authors archiving their accepted manuscripts in repositories such as the one operated by the California Digital Library, and we provide free-to-use platforms and outlets for the public sharing of accepted manuscripts and research data-sets.

While tax-payers fund research, they do not fund the publication of research. During the publishing process publishers incur costs and add value. For Elsevier this includes assessing 1.8m submissions a year, managing the peer review process, including a network of 1.3m reviewers, 22,000 editors and 87,000 editorial board members, overseeing 2,500 journals and investing in technology platforms. Publishers such as Elsevier then provide services such as copy-editing, digital data structuring and data linking, metadata enhancements, publication hosting, security and archiving in perpetuity. This process is applied to the 470,000 articles we publisher last year. You can read more about the value added by publishers: Cell Press Navigator and Scholarly Kitchen Update. There is a cost associated with publishing, which is recouped either through open access Article Publishing Charges or through subscriptions, but never both.

Currently, most research articles are published under the pay to read model, which means authors publish for free, and institutions such as the University of California pay for what they want to read. This is known as the "subscription model".

There is an alternative model that has been emerging over the past 15 years where authors pay to publish their articles and everybody can read them for free. This model is known as “gold open access”.

Elsevier supports both these models and provides options of publishing either way. We believe that authors should choose which model in which they want to publish.

The California Digital Library negotiators want researchers to be able to continue to read the 435,000 articles that Elsevier publishes under the pay to read model each year.

In addition, the California Digital Library negotiators want all University of California research to be published under the pay to publish model, distributing them to read for free to everyone in the world. Elsevier is supportive of California Digital Library’s ambitions.

California Digital Library currently pays about $11m to access Elsevier’s subscription articles. University of California researchers publish about 5,000 articles with Elsevier, which at market rates would cost about $15m to publish under a pay to publish model.

For these two services, the California Digital Library negotiators have told Elsevier they don’t want to pay any more than they pay today. You can read about California Digital Library’s position here.

Elsevier understands what the California Digital Library is trying to achieve. It’s an ambitious goal which it acknowledges is complex.

We understand that California Digital Library cannot afford the cost of these two services together. So we proposed increasing the volume of University of California-authored articles that are published on a gold open access basis five-fold to approximately 30% of the total volume of articles published by UC researchers. At the same time, we would also provide access to all other Elsevier articles published on a pay to read basis. Our offer didn’t deliver everything that CDL was requesting, but would have enabled CDL to increase its gold open access uptake by more in one year than has been achieved over the last fifteen years, and without incurring any additional costs. We are willing to share the financial burden of a transition in a sustainable way. Regretfully, Elsevier and its position have sometimes been misrepresented, and you can read our response in a letter we sent to the UC Regents here.

Unfortunately, our efforts were unsuccessful and CDL cancelled its subscription—leaving UC researchers without seamless access to newly-published articles.

Elsevier has reached agreements in other countries that also have gold open access and subscription access components, most recently in Norway, Hungary and Poland. Elsevier’s approach is to engage with customers to understand their specific objectives and then work with them to create innovative solutions that provides access to the highest-quality research while enabling open access publishing at an affordable cost. This allows for continued and sustainable investment in improving the technology platforms, tools and processes that support, the quality, integrity and sustainability of the publishing system.

Elsevier supports open access and is one of the world’s leading open access publishers.

We provide authors the option of publishing for free in subscription journals or paying to publish through open access. Nearly all our journals have an open access option, and last year we published about 34,000 open access articles, an increase of 26% on the previous year.

Elsevier also works hard to support authors sharing their articles for free in many ways throughout the publication process:

  • Researchers can use our SSRN service, a pre-print server that has enabled more than 400,000 authors to upload more than 730,000 papers for free, generating 13.1m annual downloads
  • Authors can use our ShareLink service to make their article immediately available to read for free for 50 days after publication
  • They can also use free, green open access as a method of sharing from all our journals. This means researchers can make an earlier version of a journal article published under a subscription model freely available after an embargo period. Every year, we actively make over 45,000 subscription articles available through green open access - more than any other publisher.

If you want to know more about how Elsevier supports open access click here.

Elsevier wishes to develop a sustainable agreement with the California Digital Library that supports its ambitions to have its researchers publish open access while also reading the rest of the world’s articles published under the pay to read model. We will also support University of California researchers whether they choose to publish open access or through a subscription model.

If you have further questions or feedback for us, you can contact us here

In conversations with researchers and students on University of California campuses, many have asked us what they can do to help find a path forward. You might consider expressing your views to your librarians and the administration. Details for your library are provided at the end of question nine.

If you need access to an article for patient care please contact us at
patientaccess@elsevier.com and we will provide it for you.

We strongly recommend that you don’t use pirate sites to download Elsevier articles. These sites are illegal, unreliable, and carry significant security risks.

Here is what California Digital Library is recommending to access Elsevier articles. Otherwise, please contact your librarian and let them know you need access to Elsevier content.

University of California, Berkeley
University of California, San Diego
University of California, Los Angeles
University of California, Santa Barbara
University of California, San Francisco
University of California, Irvine
University of California, Davis
University of California, Riverside
University of California, Santa Cruz
University of California, Merced