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Nature Publishing May Face Boycott

Publishing: University of California libraries decry journal price hikes

by Sophie L. Rovner
June 14, 2010 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 88, Issue 24

Credit: Sophie Rovner/C&EN
Nature journals are the target of a boycott threat.
Credit: Sophie Rovner/C&EN
Nature journals are the target of a boycott threat.

The University of California is threatening to boycott Nature Publishing Group (NPG) journals in hopes of quashing the publisher’s attempt to raise subscription prices. NPG counters that UC is distorting the facts.

“UC libraries are confronting an impending crisis in providing access” to NPG journals, says a June 4 letter sent to UC divisional chairs and faculty by California Digital Library (CDL) Executive Director Laine Farley and colleagues. CDL coordinates shared library collections for UC campuses. The letter says NPG plans to increase the price of UC’s license for Nature and affiliated journals by 400%, or more than $1 million per year, beginning in 2011. It adds that “NPG has made their ultimatum with full knowledge that our libraries are under economic distress” as a result of the state of California’s severe budget deficit.

In a June 9 statement, NPG responded that CDL has benefited from “a very large, unsustainable discount for many years, to the point where other subscribers are subsidizing them. ... CDL is the only consortium with a legacy pricing issue which requires an adjustment of this size, to bring pricing into line with other customers. ... We sincerely hope that no boycotts will occur, but we will not be bullied into continuing CDL’s subsidy by our other customers.”

The threatened boycott would suspend online subscriptions and call for UC scientists to halt manuscript submissions. But convincing chemists to participate could be difficult. “If you’ve got some really exciting result and you want it widely read, you probably want it published in one of the Nature family of journals,” says Albert J. Courey, chair of UCLA’s chemistry and biochemistry department. “That isn’t the only place” where such results could be published, he concedes, “but it would be really hard for people to uniformly agree to this.”

Chemists might acquiesce more readily to other aspects of the potential boycott. At the moment, an NPG paper sits on Courey’s desk awaiting his critique. “Having agreed to review it, at this point I have to review it,” he says. “But whether I would agree in the future, I don’t know.”



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