The current crisis in the pricing of academic journals is at the center of a recent conference



Participants agree that high subscription costs are unsustainable and that electronic distribution has radically changed publishing


Patrick Brun

While there was little clear consensus on strategy among presenters, faculty, and staff at a November 6 symposium on the issues of scholarly publishing, there were two points on which almost everyone world agreed: The high journal subscription costs charged by commercial publishers in recent years are unsustainable, and the ability to distribute articles electronically has fundamentally changed academic research and publishing.

The colloquium, sponsored by Stanford University Libraries, invited presenters from Stanford and other institutions to discuss issues, including how institutions and academics are responding to the current journal price crisis. From 1986 to 2003, the unit cost of serials purchased by academic research libraries increased 215% against a 68% increase in the Consumer Price Index during the same period, said Doug Brutlag. , professor of biochemistry and current chairman of the Academic Council’s Commission on Libraries. The Faculty’s Senate passed a resolution in 2004 encouraging faculty to consider journal price as well as reputation when considering where to publish or sit on editorial boards.

There is a big gap between the prices charged by for-profit and non-profit journals, said Ted Bergstrom, professor of economics at the University of California-Santa Barbara, in a talk titled “The Changing Economics of Scholarly Journals “. Bergstrom presented data comparing journal costs in 2004 which showed that the price per page of for-profit journals was about three times the average price per page of non-profit journals.

Prices are expected to fall rather than rise, as the ability of academics to publish articles on their own websites has reduced the value of journal subscriptions, Bergstrom said.

In a recent analysis of articles published in economic journals, Bergstrom found that 73 percent of all articles and 100 percent of articles published in the four major journals could be found online for free. Not only are free articles on the web more often cited than those that are not, authors of articles published in high-impact journals are also more likely to publish them on their own websites than authors of. journal articles and minor articles. , said Bergstrom.

Publishers keep prices high by using variable prices, charging larger libraries more with the ability to pay more, and bundling major titles with less valuable titles and offering all-or-nothing deals for a large “package. “of journals, said Bergstrom. , which maintains on its website a “PT Barnum List” of academic libraries that subscribe to the most expensive and least-cited journals.

A similar analysis of scientific and medical journals completed 18 months ago showed that from 37 to 45 percent of the content of three leading journals, Science, Nature and the New England Journal of Medicine, has made its way into the free zone of cyberspace, said John Sack, director of HighWire Press, who moderated a panel of Stanford writers and editors. The study corroborated Bergstrom’s conclusion that the greater the impact of a journal, the more likely it is that content would become free from the authors’ own websites, Sack said.

Research belongs to the public domain, to advance science and also because taxpayers, including the “guys who flip burgers”, help foot the bill for publicly funded research, said Patrick Brown, professor. of biochemistry and co-founder and co-director of the Public Science Library (PLoS). PLoS is a non-profit organization of scientists and physicians who believe that the philosophically appealing goal of making scientific literature a freely available public resource is also financially feasible, said Brown, who spoke at a panel comprising both commercial and non-profit publishers.

PLoS, which launched its first journal three years ago, now publishes seven journals and will soon add an eighth, Brown said. The nonprofit publisher relies on funding from charitable institutions, but some of its journals are stand-alone and one of its goals is to model sustainable business and operating models, he said.

PLoS plans to launch in the near future PloS One, a new portal through which existing open access material will be made available. Brown expects this to “fundamentally change the way research and ideas are communicated,” he said. PLoS is also working on a project to develop open source online newspaper management software.

The journal’s role as arbiter in scholarly communication is irreplaceable, said Michael Peskin, professor at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, who recommended that clear distinctions be made between electronic access, open access and sustainability. magazines. Arbitration performed by journals is a degree required by faculty, academia and funding agencies, he said. “You cannot identify yourself.”

It costs a “sizeable” amount of money to manage the peer review process, but journals can be made affordable for libraries, Peskin said.

Brutlag recommended that faculty consider submitting articles to low-cost, high-impact, open-access, non-profit journals and review prices, copyright, open access, and licensing agreements of the journals to which they contribute.

Stanford doesn’t impose any positions, leaving it up to professors to determine what works best for them, said Lauren Schoenthaler, senior academic advisor in the Office of the General Counsel. But she suggested faculty consider publishing in open access journals or structuring contracts so that a faculty member owns the copyright and authorizes a journal to publish an article. If professors assign copyright in an article to a journal, Schoenthaler suggested that they consider applying for a license allowing them, as the author, to publish the article on an institutional website, to create derivative works and to make copies for educational purposes, and to claim for those same rights for Stanford.

The slides for most of the presentations are archived on the Scholarly Communication and Publishing Issues website,

The website also contains tools to help faculty authors analyze the cost and impact of journals, as well as information on strategies Stanford University Libraries have developed to maintain their series collections.



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