Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Serial Wars

Lee C. Van Orsdel and Kathleen Born published "Serial Wars" in Library Journal (April 15, 2007). This is an overview of the present state of periodicals in the US: "As open access gains ground, STM publishers change tactics, and librarians ask hard questions." At the end of the article is the annual Library Journal periodical price survey.

In a year filled with drama and hyperbole, the serials marketplace churned toward a future whose shape is the subject of fierce debate. Forecasts from commercial publishers touting collapse and disaster seemed oddly out of sync with the profits they enjoyed—around 25 percent on average. Nevertheless, in a market where prices continued to rise and bundled content continued to sell, some of the very publishers whose fortunes are made in scientific, technical, and medical (STM) journals all but declared that the open access (OA) movement is apocalyptic in scope and will lead to the end of journals as we know them.

Open access is no longer a subtext in the annals of the journals industry. It stands alone as an alternative to the existing system of journal publication, which most say is unsustainable in its current form. It can mean different things to different proponents—a shared path to many ends. Libraries want relief from journal prices that are patently outrageous and defy cost-benefit justification. Authors want impact, and OA articles get cited much more often. Scientists want faster and easier access to others’ research, but a recent paper, “UK Scholarly Journals: 2006 Baseline Report,” found that half of all researchers in Britain have problems securing access to needed articles. Universities want a better return on their investment in intellectual capital, authors, peer reviewers, and editors. Taxpayers want to be able to read the research they sponsor. . . .

Tough questions
The relationship between journal prices and the OA movement remains unclear since a relatively small percentage of journals so far offer free content. Also unclear is the relationship between the practice of self-archiving and its effect on subscription cancellations. If many peer-reviewed articles are free on the web after a short waiting period, will a library cancel its subscription to the journal that initially publishes the articles? Is it a problem that the free version isn’t the final publisher’s version? These are critical questions for publishers, librarians, and scholars, but studies designed to answer them come up with conflicting data. At this point, evidence tilts toward libraries keeping the subscriptions, but it is easy to see how that might change as more content makes its way into repositories and onto author web sites.

What to expect in 2008
In 2007, academic libraries saw overall journal price increases just under eight percent for the second year in a row. U.S. titles rose nine percent on average; non-U.S., 7.3 percent. The dollar is expected to strengthen against the pound and fall against the euro as renewal season approaches, but no significant currency effect on journal prices is anticipated. Expect overall price increases to be in the seven percent to nine percent range for 2008 subscriptions. . . . MORE

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