BERLIN—In a third-floor conference room here overlooking the famous Potsdamer Platz, once bisected by the Berlin Wall, the future of academic publishing is being negotiated. The backdrop is fitting, because if the librarians and academic leaders at the table get their way, another major divide will soon fall: the paywall that surrounds most research papers.
Over the past 2 years, more than 150 German libraries, universities, and research institutes have formed a united front trying to force academic publishers into a new way of doing business. Instead of buying subscriptions to specific journals, consortium members want to pay publishers an annual lump sum that covers publication costs of all papers whose first authors are at German institutions. Those papers would be freely available around the world; meanwhile, German institutions would receive access to all the publishers’ online content.
Consortia of libraries and universities in the Netherlands, Finland, Austria, and the United Kingdom have all pushed for similar agreements, but have had to settle for less than they wanted. In the Netherlands, for example, Elsevier—the world’s biggest academic publisher—has agreed to make only 30% of Dutch-authored papers freely available by 2018, and only after a significant increase in the annual sum libraries pay.