THE ISSUES

THE RESPONSE

LINKS


THE COST OF JOURNALS

ISSUES AT A GLANCE

 

BACKGROUND

Traditionally, scholars at research institutions have made their research available through a "gift exchange" arrangement, whereby they submit articles to publishers and serve on peer-review editorial boards with little or no expectation of personal financial gain, but with the implicit understanding that the publishers will provide the widest possible audience for their research. As outlined by Edwards and Shulenburger, "Beginning in the late 1960s and early '70s, this gift exchange began to break down. A few commercial publishers recognized that research generated at public expense and given freely for publication by the authors represented a commercially exploitable commodity" [ 5]. Prior to this breakdown, most journals were published by scholarly societies that charged enough for their journals to break even and fund society activities, but were essentially not-for-profit ventures. By contrast, the current academic journal market is dominated by a few very large multinational firms that have methodically bought up the top titles in various fields and steadily ratcheted up the prices for them. As Edwards and Shulenburger put it,

The old model operated on the basis of gift exchange to ensure wide distribution of what was readily acknowledged--indeed trumpeted--as clearly a public good. The new model operates for profit; it essentially says, "If you want access, pay up and we'll set the prices." [ 6]

As commercial publishers came to dominate academic publishing, North American research libraries faced an average annual increase of 8.5% in journal prices between 1986 and 2001 [ 7]. The book and journal costs chart shows a drop in the average journal unit cost between 2000 and 2001. While this may appear to be a salutary development, it actually reflects a trend that is deeply troubling to many university librarians: bundling. This trend, also called "the big deal," entails publishers offering libraries packages of titles, as opposed to the traditional single-title-subscription model. While such bundling deals often mean that libraries pay less, on average, per title, it also means that libraries are often forced into subscribing to less-popular titles in order to gain access to the more heavily used journals in the bundle. It takes away one of the libraries most important responsibilities: tailoring its collection to its users' needs.

 

SAYING "ENOUGH!": UNIVERSITIES AND SCHOLARS RESPOND

Faced with ever-increasing journal prices and dwindling budgets, universities are being forced to take action. In 2003, Cornell cancelled its subscriptions to more than 200 Elsevier journals [ 8]. The University of Wisconsin-Madison has withdrawn from the Big Deal [ 9]. Scholars are also taking action. In 2003, researchers at the University of California-San Francisco called upon their colleagues throughout the world to boycott the journals published by the Cell Press (owned by Elsevier) after the publisher asked the University of California for $90,000 in annual fees for continued access to the six Cell Press titles--this in addition to the $8 million that the university already paid Elsevier annually for online journal subscriptions [ 10]. As another example, in January 2004, the entire editorial board of Elsevier's Journal of Algorithms resigned in protest of the publishers' pricing policies, and went on to begin publishing a competing journal, ACM Transactions on Algorithms, in partnership with the Association for Computing Machinery [ 11].


EFFECT AT U of Illinois

The University Library is facing these increasing journal subscription costs at the same time as it deals with serious budget cuts. In January 2004, the library cancelled its subscriptions to many Elsevier journals (view list of cancellations from 2000 to the present). We have developed collaborative arrangements with our sister universities in the Illinois system and in the CIC to ensure the broadest and easiest possible access to journals, but if subscription prices continue to escalate, the university will be forced to continue canceling titles.

In March, 2003, the U of Illinois University Senate passed a resolution recommending that:

 

FIND OUT MORE


References
[1] Create Change, from the Association of Research Libraries.
[2] 2004 Serial Price Report from U of Illinois Office of Collections.
[3] " Sales and Earnings Improve at Reed Elsevier." Publishers Weekly v. 250 no. 9 (March 3 2003) p. 28.
[4] Bergstrom, TC and CT Bergstrom. " Can 'author pays' journals compete with 'reader pays'?" Nature Web Focus: Access to the Literature. 2004
[5] Edwards, Richard and David Shulenburger. " The High Cost of Scholarly Journals (And What to Do About It)". Change, November/December 2003, Vol. 35 Issue 6, p10.
[6] Edwards and Shulenburger.
[7] Edwards and Shulenburger.
[8] Wysocki, Bernard Jr. " Journals Resist Free Access To Medical Data." Wall Street Journal, Oct 28, 2004. p. B1.
[9] Frazier, Kenneth. " The Librarians' Dilemma: Contemplating the Costs of the 'Big Deal'". D-Lib Magazine, March 2001.

[10] McCook, Allison. "Researchers Boycott Cell Press." The Scientist, October 23, 2003.
[11] Van Orsdel, Lee and Kathleen Born. "Periodicals Price Survey 2004: Closing in on Open Access." Library Journal, April 15, 2004.

[12] University Library Annual Report. January 28, 2005. Paula Kaufman, University Librarian, U of Illinois.
[13] Reality Bites: Periodical Price Survey 2009, Van Orsdel & Born, Library Journal, 2009