Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

PNAS study explores cost and benefits of institutional site licenses for online journals

Carl T. Bergstrom and Theodore C. Bergstrom, "The costs and benefits of library site licenses to academic journals, PNAS Early Edition, January 8, 2004 (abstract freely available). A study published in PNAS last week examines insitutional site license subscriptions to online journals and whether users benefit from such arrangements. They report: "If a journal is priced to maximize the publisher's profits, scholars on average are likely to be worse off when universities purchase site licenses than they would be if access were by individual subscriptions only." In contrast, they write, university press and society journal site licenses benefit the scientific community because the subscription prices are closer to the costs of producing the journal. It's also noted that some societies fund their activities with subscription monies and the scientific community also gains from these. In the latter instance, the university libraries play a key role negotiating and providing online access for users at their institutions. So for reasonably-priced journals, institutional access is viewed as a good per-capita value. University libraries' recent cancellation of Elsevier titles reflect problems with such pricing. At one point in the article, the authors point out that for a lot of journals the price reflects what users are (have been) willing to pay, rather than actual production costs. While the authors suggest reasonably that libraries coordinate efforts not to subscribe to high-priced journals, potentially bringing down the cost, they do not consider the open access model and the possibility that authors could bring an alternative solution to the subscription problem by contributing to and supporting OA journals. (Thanks to Peter Suber for his comments.)