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Pressures Mount for Journals

Scientific Publishing: Academics resist price increases as politicians probe publishing business

by Sophie L. Rovner
March 15, 2004 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 82, Issue 11

Credit: Cornell
Cornell's library has dropped 170 Elsevier titles.
Credit: Cornell
Cornell's library has dropped 170 Elsevier titles.

The tug-of-war between scientific publishers and journal users continues, and their noisy tussle has now drawn the attention of politicians.

Earlier this month, the U.K. Parliament's Science & Technology Committee began hearings on scientific publishing. The committee is investigating whether the government should promote "open access," in which journal articles are made available online for free. It is also studying whether the government should intervene to ensure that journal subscription prices remain reasonable.

One issue under review is the "big deal," in which publishers sell libraries discounted access to a package of journals. Bundling provides an efficient way to manage numerous subscriptions. But it can lead to resentment among librarians, who believe some package deals come with restrictive pricing and cancellation policies, include journals they don't want, and are expensive.

Libraries and some faculty have been trying to limit price increases on packages offered by commercial publishers such as Elsevier. Stanford University passed a resolution in February urging a shift to lower cost publishing outlets. The San Francisco and Santa Cruz campuses of the University of California passed similar resolutions specifically aimed at Elsevier. Presumably as a result of such activism, the UC library system recently won pricing concessions from the company on its journal package.

Cornell University and Harvard University have taken another tack by withdrawing from the firm's bundled pricing plan. Cornell's library has dropped 170 of its Elsevier subscriptions for 2004, and Harvard's library has eliminated 127.


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