Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Friday, October 19, 2007

Max Planck Society cancels 1,200 Springer journals

Richard Sietmann, Max Planck Society terminates licensing contract with Springer publishing house, Heise Online, October 19, 2007.

Following several fruitless rounds of talks the Max Planck Society (MPG) has, effective January 1, 2008, terminated the online contract with the Springer publishing house which for eight years now has given all institutes electronic access to some 1,200 scientific journals. The analysis of user statistics and comparisons with other important publishing houses had shown that Springer was charging twice the amount the MPG still considered justifiable for access to the journals, the Society declared. "And that 'justifiable' rate is still higher than comparable offers of other major publishing houses," a spokesman of the Max Planck Digital Library told heise online....

According to the MPG the failure of the talks with Springer marks "what for now is the high point" in a dispute with a number of globally operating scientific publishing houses. The soaring prices in the scientific information domain have already caused a change of attitude in a number of players. Thus MPG is one of the initiators of the "Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and the Humanities" -- the key demand of which is open access to the results of publicly funded research -- which to date has been signed by more than 240 scientific organizations.

When publishing houses have the market power to charge excessive prices and the legislator is unwilling to subject such inappropriate behavior to any form of legal control the only course that remains is for the scientific community to take matters into its own hands, the MPG stated. "Even at the very last minute the Springer publishing house had not been prepared to lower its inflated prices," MPG Vice President Kurt Mehlhorn said. "The MPG therefore had had no other option but to terminate the contract," he added.

Comment.  As far as I can tell, this is strictly about the reader-side subscription fees for Springer's subscription journals, not the author-side publication fees for Springer's hybrid Open Choice journals (which, importantly, are the same journals).  Hence, it's only relevant to OA in the way in which high subscription prices and mass cancellations are relevant to OA.  But it's one of the largest mass cancellations I've seen.  It's one more unmistakable sign that even affluent research institutions have breaking points, cannot continue to pay journal price increases, and suffer from significant access gaps.  It's one more sign that toll-access journals do not scale with the growth in published knowledge, especially when their prices rise faster than library budgets and faster than inflation.

Update. Also see the Max Planck press release, October 18, 2007.