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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Seizing the opportunity to solve the serials crisis

Glenn S. McGuigan and Robert D. Russell, The Business of Academic Publishing: A Strategic Analysis of the Academic Journal Publishing Industry and its Impact on the Future of Scholarly Publishing, Electronic Journal of Academic and Special Librarianship, Winter 2008.

Abstract:   Academic libraries cannot pay the regularly escalating subscription prices for scholarly journals.  These libraries face a crisis that has continued for many years revealing a commercial system that supports a business model that has become unsustainable.  This paper examines the “serials crisis,” as it has come to be known, and the economics of the academic journal publishing industry.  By identifying trends within the industry, an analysis of the industry is undertaken using elements of the five forces framework developed by Michael Porter.  Prescriptions are offered concerning what can be done and what should be done to address this problem.

From the conclusion:

An analysis of the academic publishing industry indicates that the industry presents both threats and opportunities for academic libraries.  Within the current business model, bargaining power of academic libraries as buyers is weak.  Similarly, the bargaining power of faculty/scholars as suppliers of intellectual property is weak.  The industry is highly concentrated with three for-profit publishers controlling the distribution of many journals including the largest and most prestigious.  These factors contribute to an industry environment where the commercial publishers are able to increase prices due to the lack of alternative sources for the distribution of intellectual content held within academic journals.

The approach of analyzing the industry through a business perspective is important so that a clearer understanding of the industry landscape can be drawn.  This project will hopefully contribute to the public discourse that is taking place regarding the current business model of academic publishing and scholarly communication.  Based upon this analysis, the business model is no longer sustainable.  The authors are hopeful, however, that change in the academic journal industry business model is possible, but it will not take place unless academic libraries pursue strategies similar to those outlined here.  This includes the creation of large coalitions or consortia to aggressively negotiate with the journal publishers as a buyer group as well as the facilitation of alternative methods of scholarly publishing through OA initiatives such as those advocated by SPARC.  What is critical is that academic libraries must act and use technology to begin the process of change immediately.  The “serials crisis” has created an opportunity for change.  In an analysis of the scientific and academic publishing industry, the Wellcome Trust, which funds many research activities, emphasizes the fact that the existence of this crisis does not mean that change will happen:

The existence of the means to create significant change does not mean that change will occur.  The fact that electronic media exist has implications for the market.  It is up to the players in the market to decide how they will use the means at their disposal.  The dominance of the commercial publishers will be challenged only if the other players use the opportunities available to them.