Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Friday, October 26, 2007

More on the journal pricing crisis

James Council, Warning! Rant Ahead: Academic Journals and the Publishers who Publish Them, An Academic in Libraryland, October 25, 2007.  Council is the Dean of Libraries at North Dakota State University.  Excerpt:

...Ours is not the only library that’s having trouble paying for materials, not by a long shot. And most of the blame lies with the publishers of academic journals....

I am appalled at how academic libraries are getting gouged by the publishers.

The continuing crisis referred to above comes from the fact that the publishers of academic journals routinely inflate the price of our journal subscriptions up to 10 percent a year, sometimes more. The NDSU Library maintains over 8,000 subscriptions to databases, journals, and other serial publications. This year, it will cost us about $148,000 more than last year just to keep our periodicals and electronic resources intact. This is not atypical - it happens every year.

In these days of flat budgets, the consequences of ever-inflating subscriptions can be devastating. Just do the math. Let’s say you have a million dollars worth of subscriptions (we have much more, in fact) and 10% inflation. Next year, holding even will cost you $1,100,000, the year after, $1,210,000, the year after, $1,331,000, ad nauseum. As a result of these increasing costs, we have cut our journals until we can’t cut any more, and are now cannibalizing our book budget....

As publishers are going increasingly electronic, they don’t have nearly the costs for printing and mailing that they used to. Yet they keep raising their prices. Why do they do it? Because they can....

(I think it’s pretty ironic that our faculty don’t get paid for their articles by the journals that are getting rich off of them.)

Publishers have even started selling individual articles at steep prices to force libraries to purchase subscriptions rather than buy information article by article. A particularly egregious example of this strategy is The Journal of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, an important publication in that area. An online subscription to this journal is $3000 per year, and it would cost $21,000 for the entire run of the journal). Individual articles from this journal cost from $200 to $600 each.

Do we have to keep taking it, even though we’re mad as hell? Maybe not. Recently, the Max Planck Institute of Germany canceled 1200 Springer journals due to Springer’s refusal to negotiate reasonable prices (see story in Open Access News). According to a post to a librarian’s listserv by George Porter of Cal Tech, “The Max Planck Society, for those unfamiliar, operates 80 research institutes with more than 12,000 staff members and 9,000 Ph.D. students, post-docs, guest scientists and researchers, and student assistants….In US-centric terms, my interpretation is that this is roughly equivalent to all of the National Institutes of Health, the DoE labs (Los Alamos, Livermore, Fermi, Brookhaven, etc.), and the NASA research centers (JPL, Dryden, Langley, Glenn, Ames, etc.) canceling all Springer titles for all locations.”

Some collective action along these lines by American universities might have a salutary effect on profiteering by the publishers of academic journals.