Overview of costs incurred by universities for books and journals by publisher

Due to restrictions in the contracts with publishers, information on universities’ expenditure on publications is not publicly available. The shift towards open access has led to greater attention being focused on this expenditure. On a concrete level, in the past year Dutch universities have received two requests in the context of the Government Information (Public Access) Act (Wet Openbaarheid Bestuur, or WOB) about open access in relation to the cost of publications. Below, you will find more information about the first of these requests. In September 2016, the universities received a second request relating to open access. This request is still being processed; more information about this will be available in due course.

The first request arrived on 28 April 2016, and pertained to the publication of the following information:


1) The total amount of the budget that the university has spent annually on:
- subscriptions to academic journals over the past five years;
- the purchase of academic books over the past five years;

2) As well as the request to provide the following details with regard to the money spent on subscriptions to academic journals in the above-mentioned period: which journal subscriptions were taken out and what proportion of the total sum was spent on the subscriptions to each journal, or group of journals.
After a methodical procedure, as part of which publishers were notified of the request and the way in which the universities intended to respond to it and were given the opportunity to object, the figures were made available to the WOB applicant. This meant that, for the first time, it was possible to gain insight into the size of the market for scientific publications among universities in the Netherlands. Until now, information about the content and scope of the existing contracts between publishers and Dutch universities was not available to the public due to the confidentiality clauses in these contracts. The graphs below present the information that was provided for the 13 largest universities in the Netherlands. No information is available about the Open University, as their expenditure on subscriptions is extremely limited. The overview of the costs for publications by university can be found below.


Graphic 1: costs incurred by universities, 2015



Graphic 2: costs incurred by publishers



The Netherlands is not the only country in which this kind of information was made public following this type of request. In Finland, the UK (report and underlying data) and Switzerland, similar procedures were used and data was made public.




Q: Have all universities granted the requests for information?

A: The 13 largest universities in the Netherlands responded to the request. The Open University’s share of the costs was relatively small; these figures have not been included.


Q: Is the Netherlands the only country in which details of money paid to publishers are not normally made available?

A: No, the Netherlands is not the only country to take this approach. Publishers all over the world include confidentiality clauses in their contracts to prevent information about the costs from becoming public. As a result of the recent developments concerning expenses paid using public funds and the shift towards public access, there is now greater attention for the costs involved. In several countries, including Finland, the UK and Switzerland, requests have been granted under freedom of information laws in order to gain insight into these figures.

Q: Have all the figures provided been included in the information listed on this website?

A: The information that was provided by all of the universities has been included in the figures that can be found on this website. A number of universities also provided additional information about the number of articles that were published. However, because only a few of them did this, it was not possible to make comparisons. For this reason, this information is not currently featured on the website. To make the graphs easy to understand, some of the information has been combined, for example where the majority of the universities did not provide details about a certain year or publisher. In these cases, the details can be found in the attached table in the ‘Overall view’ tab.


Q: How will the WOB applicant use the information?

A: We do not know what the WOB applicant will do with the information.