Journal Prices and Your Library

Soon after MLA’s Ad Hoc Committee for Advocating Scholarly Communications published the list of various journal publishers who have frozen or dropped the price of their 2010 subscriptions, a discussion sprouted on the liblicense email list about whether that list or other publishers’ pricing breaks during this economy would influence whether they kept a journal.  Also discussed were the 2010 prices for Springer and Elsevier titles some of increased by 5% while others increased by 25%.  Basically the discussions centered around the impact of price on librarian’s decision to keep or dump a journal. 

Scott Plutchak summed it up nicely on his blog, it is not a matter of value and whether librarians or publishers believe a publication is worth a certain amount but is a matter of how much money you have.  

Scott’s phone conversation with Elsevier rep on value of their collection:

“If  Lynn and I go down to Jim & Nick’s for dinner, we might spend $50 and have a really good meal.  If we go to Hot n’ Hot, I might spend $200 for an exceptional experience.  I might feel that the $200 actually represents a better value overall, but if all I’ve got to spend on dinner is $20, the comparison is irrelevant.   The point is, I’m just not willing to spend what you’re asking, no matter how valuable you tell me the content is.”

As we all are looking at our budgets and trying to figure out what journals to keep and what to drop while working with a finite amount of money.  There will be casualties.  Some journals are easy to cut, these are the ones that have gotten little to no usage.  I am also starting to see more of the sacred cow type of journals falling more and more into the cut category.  At one point in time librarians used to think they couldn’t cut a certain journal because it was deemed to be too important/valuable.  That feeling is out the window.  I am in the middle of helping another librarian out with her journal cuts this year.  She selected some very big titles for the chopping blog, such as Lancet.  The reason, nobody was using them and they would save over $21,000 if they dropped them.   Let me just state, this library is a heavily used library that also has electronic journals.  If nobody is using the journal there is a reason and it is not because the library is antiquated and unused, because other titles are being used heavily. 

So, the little used journals are getting cut regardless of their perceived value, but what about those journals on the cusp?  For those journals, does it matter whether their publisher is on the price freeze list?  Even if you have the money, for all of your cusp journals does future pricing mean that much that you would cut a cusper whose publisher isn’t on that list?

I think we are in the midst of some very interesting times.  I understand that for profit companies owe it to their share holders and employees to make a profit, but you can’t expect to go into this kind of economical market with a 25% price increase either. In the end it will be us who help determine the future of journal pricing.  Unfortunately we haven’t been very good our price “negotiations” so far.  As Scott said ” The major commercial publishers have done a very good job of betting that when push comes to shove, librarians will always come around, no matter how much they fuss.”

What do the 2010 journal prices mean for your library and how will you negotiate it with the budget?

4 thoughts on “Journal Prices and Your Library”

  1. Its tough to feel like we have a lot of control if our ultimate goal is to provide access to research materials. I’m wondering if the current budget crises will speed the push for institutional repositories and/or disciplinary Open Access Archives. These efforts are a LOT of work, but…

    Last month, I attended ACRL-New England’s Scholarly Communication 101 Workshop. Ellen Finnie Duranceau (MIT) had a slide with quotes from a WSJ article on MIT’s decision to require faculty to give MIT permission to exercise all rights under copyright. That means faculty must retain author rights in order to open up their work to the MIT community.

    This WSJ article brings up not only the here-and-now need for research materials, but also the “control of the scholarly record.” So, here’s another issue. As librarians, we need to find ways of safeguarding our ability to provide access to an archive of research materials. The current lease model is unsatisfactory.

  2. I think some of the comments to your recent piece on Elsevier are relevant here. I noticed librarians being far too gentle in their relations with journals and agents in the UK. So now it’s time to be less gentle and to use all possible means to help readers connect with writers.

  3. Krafty, I am involved with a scholarly society that has been very conservative in raising prices of its journals, and now we are in financial bind. Since 2003 we have lost 750K on operations (about 1/3 of our net assets)— mostly due to providing journals below our costs. We need to make up for some lost time, and I am arguing hard that a 9.5% increase is justified even in a zero inflation environment. The increase is badly timed, but it is bad times that make us face reality. We will still be cheap per page, per word, per citation, etc. etc. What do you advise? Are we shooting ourselves in the foot? Would it be better to cut pages? Thanks.

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