Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Saturday, February 24, 2007

U of Bergen perspective on Norwegian cancellation of Blackwell titles

Lars Holger Ursin, UB breaks with publisher, Pĺ Hřyden, February 23, 2007.  (Thanks to Adam Hodgkin.)  Excerpt:

...[Quoting University of Bergen Library Director, Kari Garnes:] ‘The problem is that we cannot enter into agreements in which we see ourselves being deprived outright of our financial control.’ She tells us of rather dramatic developments in recent years, in which the demands from the publishing giants are becoming steadily more unreasonable: 

  • The libraries cannot choose which journals they wish to subscribe to; instead they are forced to take big packages, and thus journals that in principle they do not wish to pay for.
  • Nor is it possible for the libraries to terminate subscriptions in the course of the contract period.  
  • The publishers fix their prices on the basis of how many subscriptions the institution has had, and the libraries must thereby pay for subscriptions that individual departments or research centres have had on the side.
  • In addition, a high annual price rise in the contractual period is being demanded, in Blackwell’s case 7 per cent.  
  • The publishing houses concede a discount for transition to pure electronic subscriptions, but this is much lower than what the publishers actually save. 

‘The discount is normally around 10 per cent, but on top of that we have VAT, in Norway’s case 25 per cent’, explains the head of the Acquisitions Division at UB, Ole Gunnar Evensen....[But] Blackwell was only willing to concede the much lower discount of 5 per cent. That made an already expensive subscription scheme so costly that the libraries cannot afford it. Ironically enough, the libraries will soon be unable to buy books....

Breaking off the negotiations altogether and cancelling the agreement on electronic journals is a drastic step, but it has been done before. In 2003, for example, the prestigious Cornell University broke off negotiations with the biggest publisher, the Dutch company Reed Elsevier. The following year, after hard negotiations, Johns Hopkins, Harvard and all the institutions in the University of California system pared their subscriptions down to the bare minimum.

Several American researchers then protested volubly against the pressure from the publishers, pointing to the paradox that they are supplying articles and quality control to the journals for free, and giving the journals legitimacy and status by citing them, at the same time as they have to pay steadily more money to be allowed to read them. For the publishing houses it is good business: according to The Harvard Gazette, between 1999 and 2004 Elsevier doubled its revenues in the fields of natural science, technology and medicine, to a total of USD 2.33 billion....

The [Norwegian] university libraries are now aiming to obtain paper editions of all these [cancelled Blackwell] journals, and will offer free inter-library loans. This means a lot of extra work for the librarians....

PS:  For background, see the January 2, 2007, joint statement by four of Norway's six university libraries on their decision to cancel the whole package of 778 Blackwell journals because of "unacceptable conditions and price increases" (blogged here January 8, 2007).