Alex Goldman is a producer for On the Media. One time he got run over by a car.
Harvard Library: Subscribing to Academic Periodicals is Too Expensive
Tuesday, April 24, 2012 - 12:25 PM
In February, we aired a piece by Rick Karr about a boycott of the academic publisher Elsevier, for practices that academics and academic librarians said were prohibitively expensive. Of particular concern is a practice called "bundling," which requires libraries to subscribe to numerous periodicals they had no interest in so they might get a few that they wanted. A new memorandum by Harvard Library's Faculty Advisory Council makes their concerns about academic periodicals explicit, by saying the existing pricing model is untenable:
Many large journal publishers have made the scholarly communication environment fiscally unsustainable and academically restrictive. This situation is exacerbated by efforts of certain publishers (called “providers”) to acquire, bundle, and increase the pricing on journals.
Harvard’s annual cost for journals from these providers now approaches $3.75M. In 2010, the comparable amount accounted for more than 20% of all periodical subscription costs and just under 10% of all collection costs for everything the Library acquires. Some journals cost as much as $40,000 per year, others in the tens of thousands. Prices for online content from two providers have increased by about 145% over the past six years, which far exceeds not only the consumer price index, but also the higher education and the library price indices. These journals therefore claim an ever-increasing share of our overall collection budget. Even though scholarly output continues to grow and publishing can be expensive, profit margins of 35% and more suggest that the prices we must pay do not solely result from an increasing supply of new articles.
As a solution, the faculty advisory council makes some bold suggestions, encouraging authors to only submit to journals that promote open access or have more reasonable subscription pricing, and encourages members of the editorial boards for these costly publishers to consider changing their subscription models, or failing that, to resign. For libraries, they recommend only signing contracts with publishers that can be made public, and refusing to agree to subscription models that require bundling. You can read the entire memorandum from the Faculty Advisory Council here, and you can listen to Rick Karr's original story on Elsevier below.