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Competition, Value, and Sustainability — Why This Can’t Go On

English: Standard Flathead Screwdriver

English: Standard Flathead Screwdriver (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Imagine this: you’re the procurement officer for a construction firm, providing tools to the company’s workers so they can build houses. In consultation with the builders, you seek out and buy tools that are specifically suited to the particular types of work they do.

Now imagine that hammers can only be purchased from a single company. The same is true of screwdrivers, saws, levels, and all other housebuilding tools; each comes from a different supplier, and only from that supplier. You have to buy all your hammers from Acme Hammers, all your screwdrivers from Joe’s Screwdriver Company, etc. — not because those are the best producers or because your firm requires it, but simply because those are the only existing sources for hammers and screwdrivers.

In this imaginary scenario, both the seller and the buyer of the tools face certain challenges. The seller’s problem is figuring out how to set a price. If you’re the only one selling screwdrivers, how do you know what to charge? You can look at the price of other, related construction tools (like hammers) and try to extrapolate from that, but it’s all going to be guesswork. Without direct competitors, you lose valuable market signals — customers who must have screwdrivers and can’t choose between competing sellers will tend to keep buying screwdrivers from you no matter what price you set. In this situation, there would be a strong incentive simply to set an initial price at some more or less arbitrary level above cost, and then keep raising it, since your customers have no cheaper source to turn to and no reasonable alternative to the screwdriver. And therein lies the challenge for the procurement officer — you might get angry when the price of screwdrivers rises, but the screwdriver company isn’t likely to be moved by your anger (why should it be?), and neither are the builders you serve; the builders can’t do their work without screwdrivers, and it’s your job, not theirs, to figure out how to get screwdrivers to them.

The point of this analogy is to try to shed light on the situation that currently exists in the scholarly publishing marketplace, one in which every journal offers unique content that is available from only one source and that (for serious researchers in the discipline) is not substitutable for related content from some other source. It’s a situation that lends itself to “value-based pricing,” a euphemistic phrase that usually means “we’re pretty sure that if we double or quadruple our price, you’ll still pay it” (and in some cases also means “. . . and unless you do we’ll decertify your academic program“). Not all journal publishers openly say that their pricing is “value-based,” but it pretty much always is — because there’s no other way to set prices when your product is truly unique. (Unless you have no interest in maximizing revenues, in which case you can simply set your price at some modest level above costs and leave it there. But very few people, librarians included, are uninterested in maximizing their revenues.)

This analogy isn’t perfect, of course (if it were, it wouldn’t be an analogy). One objection I can anticipate is this one — just as there are, in reality, many different screwdriver manufacturers in the tool marketplace, so there are multiple journal publishers competing against each other in particular segments of the scholarly marketplace, publishing multiple microbiology journals, multiple sociology journals, etc. How can I say that there’s no real competition between them?

The answer to this objection may seem subtle and tricky, but in fact it points up an extremely important and fundamental weirdness about the scholarly marketplace, and it’s one that goes beyond the commonly observed disconnect between buyers and end users — libraries, as procurement agents, pay for journals (some of which cover topics in common), but researchers, as end users, don’t consume journals; they consume articles (each of which covers a unique topic).

No one reads a journal. It can’t be done, because a journal isn’t a document; “journal” is an abstraction, a term we use to describe a stream of documents published under a particular scholarly brand. What we read are the articles published under that brand, and each article is unique. Thus, the fact that two journals focus on the same discipline does not mean, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, that the journals are selling different and competing versions of a single basic product the way, for example, two carmakers or screwdriver manufacturers do. Microbiology Journal X and Microbiology Journal Y both offer articles on microbiology, but an article from Journal X is not interchangeable with one from Journal Y the way a Ford Focus and a Chevy Aveo are. Instead, they are interchangeable the way a hammer is interchangeable with a screwdriver, which is to say not at all; the two articles answer different questions related to the study of microbiology, just as a hammer and a screwdriver solve different problems during the construction of a house.

Of course, this doesn’t only apply to journals. All scholarly products are more or less unique; no two monographs on the same topic will provide exactly the same information. But journals pose a particular problem because they cost so much more and involve an ongoing expenditure that constantly increases. Buying two related-but-different monographs at a one-time cost of $80 each is not that big a deal, when compared with subscribing to two related-but-different journals at a recurring baseline annual cost of $5,000 each and with annual price increases in the range of 5-9%. (More subtly, it’s also true that scientific articles are often genuinely more unique than scholarly monographs: two biographies of Abraham Lincoln, for example, will likely provide many of the same facts, and thus may for some purposes be somewhat interchangeable, whereas articles reporting on two different genetic experiments are much less so because the facts on which they report are not the same — even if the experiments were conducted by scientists working in the same area of genetics.)

Some will argue that all this talk of competition and pricing dynamics adds up to a powerful argument for expanding open access (OA). After all, one way of eliminating pricing problems is to eliminate pricing. And that’s not a bad argument, as far as it goes. There are complications, of course (aren’t there always?). First, as we Chefs never tire of pointing out, in the case of Gold OA you don’t actually “eliminate” pricing — you only shift the issue by selling a different product (publishing services rather than access) to a different group of customers (authors rather than readers). Interestingly, though, the Gold OA model doesn’t just shift the locus of payment from one party (the reader or the reader’s agent) to another (the author or the author’s funder); it also moves the pricing issue out of a marketplace in which competition is weird and indirect into one where competition is relatively simple and straightforward. Journals compete for authors in a way that they don’t have to compete for readers, because no individual publisher offers a completely unique service. In a Gold OA scenario, this means that a profusion of publishers will tend to drive down author charges — whereas the steady growth of toll-access journals has clearly not had the same impact on subscription prices.

The Green OA scenario poses another complication — it requires publishers to continue doing the things they’ve always done, but with a reduced ability to derive revenue from doing them. Maybe that’s fine. Maybe we don’t want publishers to make money, or we don’t really need them to do what they’ve always done, in the amounts they’ve traditionally done them. But I tend to think that this is a very complex issue, and that conversations about it ought to be informed by more than just frustration over price. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — if a subscription to every science journal cost $15 per year and the price were rising at 5 cents per year, no one would be saying that the system of scholarly communication is broken.

So why do I say that this can’t go on? Because the problem we currently face, and which is made worse by “value-based pricing,” has nothing to do with value. It’s about sustainability. It isn’t that subscribers don’t value what publishers do; it’s not even that we always disagree about how much their services are worth (though sometimes we certainly do). The problem is that no library can afford to buy as many hammers and screwdrivers as its builders need, and the prices of hammers and screwdrivers are going up at ruinous rates. Value and sustainability have nothing to do with each other — and it’s sustainability, not value, that sets limits on what can be done in the marketplace over the long term. What is not possible is for libraries to continue subscribing to journals if the past and current trends in library budget allocation and journal price increase hold.

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About Rick Anderson

I'm Associate Dean for Scholarly Resources & Collections in the J. Willard Marriott Library at the University of Utah.

Discussion

96 thoughts on “Competition, Value, and Sustainability — Why This Can’t Go On

  1. This comment is not very informative, and (because ?) much less controversial than my previous ones, but: very good text, thanks for this careful exposition of arguments that are not uncommon, but are often difficult to deal with clearly.

    Posted by Benoît Régent-Kloeckner | Oct 24, 2012, 7:06 am
  2. An important set of points in a vexing economic environment. I think it’s important to remember that library budgets have been declining as a percentage of university budgets since the early 1980s, which is a primary driver of purchasing power. And, bizarrely, this has occurred as universities themselves have become more dependent on researchers and the soft money that comes with them.

    The notion that Gold OA won’t be susceptible to some of the same indirect pricing behaviors is probably too early to settle on. Brand distinction has already driven many prices up, rather than down, with a layer of mega-journals apparently battling around price while niche OA journals slowly push prices up. Brand will have power in the OA space, as will services. Many OA publishers shirk on services to reach their price points — including editorial review, filtration, and designation — and the market will catch on over time if it moves in the OA direction significantly.

    The other factor you didn’t address but which I think is a driver in many cases, especially for the big journals and the big bundles, is how trends in advertising revenues create pressures on institutional budgets. When ads are plentiful, publishers can lighten up on institutional prices. When ads evaporate — as they have for major swaths of the biomedical space in 2012 — publishers have to look elsewhere to find their funds. Institutions are a natural place to look. Long-term, the outlook for robust advertising in journals isn’t rosy. What this means for subscription and other charges, including OA, is pretty obvious.

    Posted by Kent Anderson | Oct 24, 2012, 7:27 am
    • So doesn’t the drop in funding as a proportion of University revenue (for which I think the graph only uses data on US institutions correct?) indicate that Libraries in some sense have been unable to demonstrate their value to the rest of the University? That seems to be the only conclusion (unpleasant though it is) one can draw from the graph. Now, before anybody jumps on me, I’m not saying Libraries don’t have a value. But it does suggest that the functions of a university are shifting, and thus the value ascribed to the bits of a University that need the library functions has also dropped. Given that (pulls broad stat out from memory) about 30+% of a research grant goes straight into a University’s coffers, one would think that Scholars would be screaming from the rooftops when they weren’t getting value from their library, thus ensuring that the amount given to the library as a proportion of revenue, would remain mostly stable. The point about the fall in funding, is it predates the internet, Google, the serials crisis, the big deal and in fact everything about modern scholarly publishing.

      For Gold OA, I reckon the pricing will follow the airline industry model. Customer perceptions and all. We’d best start modeling for ‘Executive Club’ schemes – author loyalty (PeerJ :-) ), ‘Priority Boarding’ (PMC apparently), ‘Seat Selection’ – your article publishes early in the year to maximise your impact metrics (see loyalty schemes – tell us what you are working on! get your work pre-approved!) and ‘in flight services’ – You don’t want us to spam the hell out of your readers with adverts? sure, that’ll be extra. ‘Peer Review Rewards’ will be interesting (Peerage of Science)… And out of all that, one will have to try to value the scholarship.

      Posted by David Smith | Oct 24, 2012, 8:31 am
      • So doesn’t the drop in funding as a proportion of University revenue (for which I think the graph only uses data on US institutions correct?) indicate that Libraries in some sense have been unable to demonstrate their value to the rest of the University? That seems to be the only conclusion (unpleasant though it is) one can draw from the graph.

        David, this is a perfectly fair question. One reasonable conclusion, as you point out, is that libraries have been failing (increasingly severely over time) to demonstrate their value. And it begs a deeper question: are libraries continuing to provide great value but doing a poorer and poorer job of demonstrating it, or are libraries in reality providing less and less value? And actually, there’s a third possibility: are university administrators seeing and recognizing the library’s continuing value but making a conscious and strategic decision not to fund the library in line with its value (just as libraries cut journal subscriptions that they value when prices become unsustainable)?

        The easy–and probably accurate–response would be to say “all of the above.” In fact, we currently live in an unbelievably and unprecedentedly rich information environment, one in which the library’s constituents simply do not need it in the same ways they did only 20 years ago. We in libraries have not responded appropriately to this shift. That speaks, painfully, to a decline in real value (though opportunities to increase our value also exist). Libraries are also not very good at making their value known; it’s not something we’ve ever had to do before, and many librarians find the suggestion that they engage in marketing distasteful. (To which I say: tough luck.) As for whether administrators are funding libraries in line with their real value: I expect Sandy to jump in here with the usual trenchant comments about funding for college athletics, and I’ll probably agree with him in principle. But it’s also true that at most public universities in the US, state funding has been dropping steadily during the same period. The fiscal realities are complex, and I’m not inclined to tell my provost that it’s necessarily more important to spend an additional $1m on the library budget than on classrooms or physics labs or scholarships.

        Posted by Rick Anderson | Oct 24, 2012, 9:22 am
        • I’ll jump in here, but not to make a comment about the perceived value of athletic programs to universities. Rather, I’d like to point to one sector where the value of academic libraries has increased, viz., corporations, many of which used to have their own libraries but have closed them in favor of collaborating with nearby academic libraries to serve the needs of their own researchers.

          Also, while it is true that most libraries have continued to buy journals, some have resorted instead to just utilizing pay-as-you-go opportunities to buy articles one at a time. For some libraries, at least, this approach seems to have worked and to have cost less than subscribing to journals.

          Posted by Sandy Thatcher | Oct 24, 2012, 11:31 am
          • I worked for a publisher who found that storing a library of their own books was becoming very expensive. As a result, they went to the local university and asked them if they would be interested in being a repository for the publisher’s books and journals. A contract was signed and the library now gets about 600 S&T books per year for free and if one is not returned they query the publisher for another copy which is gladly given. Another benefit is that the library catalogues the books and they can be found. Before, one had to search and search for hours to find a book.

            Posted by harvey kane | Oct 24, 2012, 3:45 pm
    • I think it’s important to remember that library budgets have been declining as a percentage of university budgets since the early 1980s, which is a primary driver of purchasing power.

      The library’s percentage of the total university budget actually isn’t a driver of purchasing power at all. What drives purchasing power is the number of dollars in the budget relative to prevailing prices — regardless of what percentage of university budget that dollar amount represents. It’s absolutely true that library budgets have been declining as a percentage of university budgets, but there’s no academic budget in the world that can expect to get 5-9% increases every year, which is what it would take to match the historical trend in STM journal price hikes.

      As for the complexity of the pricing dynamic for Gold OA publishing services, I think you’re right — it’s going to be very interesting to see what actualy happens.

      As for advertising revenue: the pricing trend that currently obtains was in place long before the advertising market started softening.

      Posted by Rick Anderson | Oct 24, 2012, 9:08 am
  3. Journals are not screwdrivers. The world is full of unique specialty items which are very expensive. If fact scientific instruments are a large class of these. A journal is more like an atom positioning laser than a screwdriver. Few can afford them.

    Economics says the proper price is what people will pay, sad but true. And there is always the option of not buying so there is always elasticity. If a journal can attract the best articles then it can charge the highest price, but not any price.

    The interesting question is why prices are going up? I suspect it is cost driven because the industry is awash with innovation and that is very expensive. But this is a different issue.

    Posted by David Wojick | Oct 24, 2012, 9:15 am
    • Economics says the proper price is what people will pay, sad but true. And there is always the option of not buying so there is always elasticity.

      Except that, as my piece points out (at some length), that dynamic doesn’t apply in the journal market the way it does in more traditionally competitive markets. The whole problem is that every journal represents a micromonopoly. One of the differences between a journal and a screwdriver is that you can buy functionally similar screwdrivers from multiple producers, who compete with each other for buyers based on both quality and price. (I imagine this is true of atom positioning lasers as well, though I’m sure there are fewer makers of them than there are of screwdrivers.) But this is not true of journals, each of which is available only from a single publisher. This greatly lessens the elasticity of demand for each journal.

      Here’s one example of how that dynamic plays out in the real world: A few years ago I was meeting with an associate dean in one of the colleges. He was telling me that it was imperative that our library pick up a particular journal to which we did not subscribe.

      “I can’t hire faculty if we don’t subscribe to that journal,” he said. “I recently had a finalist withdraw in the late stages of the interview process when he learned that if he came to work here, he wouldn’t have access to that journal. It’s the core title in our field.”

      “But that journal costs $20,000 per year,” I told him. “We can’t afford it.”

      He looked at me and shrugged. “We have to have it,” he said.

      That’s our situation in a nutshell. The faculty genuinely have to have the journal, and the price means little to them because they don’t pay the invoices; the library is less and less able to pay the invoice every year; and there’s no competitor offering a cheaper version of what is functionally the same journal.

      Posted by Rick Anderson | Oct 24, 2012, 9:40 am
      • You missed my point. The unique items I referred to all have only one supplier, typically patented, with no competition. There is nothing unusual about this case.

        Posted by David Wojick | Oct 24, 2012, 9:46 am
        • David, you’re certainly correct that other monopolies and micromonopolies exist. My argument is not that the situation I’ve described is absolutely unique; nowhere do I even suggest that. My point is that the current dynamic is unsustainable, and that its unsustainable trends are in part due to the particular structure of the scholarly information market. If sellers, like buyers, have an interest in the long-term health of their market, they may want to think beyond the question of what price the market is willing to bear today.

          Posted by Rick Anderson | Oct 24, 2012, 10:01 am
          • Yet I would argue that even within IP industries, copyright is different that patent or trade secret. I can (and do) wait out the 17 or 20 years until a patent expires (Singulair just went off patent in August!). Waiting out the 95 to 125+ years until a copyright expires is not as practical.

            This dichotomy is compounded in a research library where the demand (real or perceived) is to have one of every size, shape and color of screwdriver ever made – just in case someone in 50 years wants to unscrew that odd #3 reverse-theaded torx that only works with green-handled screwdrivers. Putting off purchasing that screwdriver until it’s needed isn’t an option because the manufacturer may no longer exist or may no longer care about that item. That leaves us scrambling to divide up the tool marketplace – I’ll buy all the screwdrivers and Rick will buy all the hammers and we agree to share in the future if they’re needed. From the tool makers’ point of view, this means half the market, so double the price… an ugly spiral.

            [Such sharing dependent on first sale rights in our tools, of course… yet another issue.]

            Posted by Scott Matheson | Oct 24, 2012, 10:46 am
          • No upward trend is sustainable forever (nor is a downward trend) but this has little to do with real time pricing decisions. If sales falter then prices will stop going up or costs will be cut or both. Apparently this is not happening and sales are still strong. Prices can be changed quickly. The real danger is that publishers may be locking in long term costs. In that case it is a dangerous bubble.

            Posted by David Wojick | Oct 24, 2012, 10:47 am
        • Except one doesn’t buy hundreds of these unique items every single year in bundles via contracts with built-in price increases.

          Posted by DR | Oct 24, 2012, 10:35 am
          • Some people do actually but in any case the economics is the same. Patents and copyrights are specifically designed to create monopolies. If people contract for price increases that get what they pay for.

            Beyond that analogies are not arguments, rather they are pedagogical devices used to help understand an argument. Arguing about the analogy is a diversion. Regarding the argument there is no monopoly on ideas, which is the value that journal articles express. There are many ways to find out what someone’s idea is without reading their article. Research reports and blogs come to mind. Maybe libraries are just paying too much. Journals are a convenience not a unique source.

            Posted by David Wojick | Oct 24, 2012, 11:01 am
            • David W:

              I tend to agree with your argument.

              Posted by harvey kane | Oct 25, 2012, 1:09 am
            • There are many ways to find out what someone’s idea is without reading their article. Research reports and blogs come to mind. Maybe libraries are just paying too much. Journals are a convenience not a unique source.

              Journals may be a mere convenience if you’re a casual researcher who needs access to an individual article once in a while. They are considerably more than a convenience if you’re a serious scholar, researcher, or student whose work makes necessary systematic and reasonably comprehensive access to a large corpus of articles. That kind of work is the context for this discussion.

              Posted by Rick Anderson | Oct 25, 2012, 8:25 am
              • Some of the desire to have core journals is about community building, as well, and legitimacy. Also, the senior researchers and practitioners want the junior or student researchers or practitioners to use research in their education, and learn how to parse it. There are community and educational roles to journals that we sometimes overlook.

                Posted by Kent Anderson | Oct 25, 2012, 8:58 am
              • Rick, you have changed the meaning of my words, from convenient versus unique to mere convenience. By convenient I meant efficient. I am not denigrating journals just pointing out that they are part of a much broader system of knowledge diffusion, a system which is changing rapidly. What roles journals actually play is far from clear.

                For example most researchers are pursuing unique lines of inquiry such that what others are doing is not particularly relevant. This is my research area. Do they still read a lot of articles, as opposed to free abstracts, or sciencs news, or nothing? I suspect some do and some do not. Those that do may do it just to watch the field, as many people watch the news. Or do they do it for the occasional deep insight that redirects their research? Or do they do it to point their students to promising lines of inquiry? We really do not know what the numbers are here.

                So we do not know what journals are actually good for or how their role is changing, as it surely is. Are journals becoming more important or less? If more then price increases may be justified. If less then it is a bubble. I do not pretend to know the answer.

                Posted by David Wojick | Oct 26, 2012, 7:33 am
              • Rick, you have changed the meaning of my words, from convenient versus unique to mere convenience.

                Sorry, I’ll try again. What I was actually trying to respond to was your assertion that “There are many ways to find out what someone’s idea is without reading their article.” Your subsequent invocation of the concept of “convenience” (in the context of your statement that the article isn’t necessary as a tool for accessing the article’s intellectual content) seemed to me to imply that you were saying the article is a mere convenience.

                In fact, it is true that if I want to find out what an author is saying in her article, I could do so by means other than reading the article. I could, in many cases, call the author up and ask her to summarize the article for me. I could consult her blog (if she has one) and see if she has discussed the same or similar ideas there. If she has written a research report as well as a formal article, and if it’s freely available, I could consult that. The problem is that these aren’t reasonable options for serious researchers who need access to multiple articles. Researchers really do consult the literature, and they do so in systematic ways; this is demonstrated by the fact that articles very often contain extensive literature review sections, and routinely cite the work of others–in many (though not all) cases precisely because of its relevance to the work the author is presenting. I find baffling your assertion that “most researchers are pursuing unique lines of inquiry such that what others are doing is not particularly relevant.” It seems to me that, in fact, the great majority of researchers are pursuing lines of inquiry that have arisen in the context of work that went before them, and that a significant part of what they usually do in their articles is a matter of laying out and explaining that context. This often means citing and even briefly summarizing multiple articles written by others. So, to your first point, the work of those others is not irrelevant if it provides important context for the original work presented in the article; to your second point, articles are, in fact, sometimes a unique source of the particular points being made in them, in very many cases they are the only reasonable way of gaining access to those points, and in the world of serious scholarship it is citations to formally-published articles (not to other, less-formal publications) that get taken seriously–for better or for worse.

                Posted by Rick Anderson | Oct 26, 2012, 9:30 am
              • Rick, it is true that the first part of a journal article describes the research issue using a handful of references to prior work, some going back several decades. It does not follow from this that researchers need comprehensive real time access to the journal literature.

                Posted by David Wojick | Oct 26, 2012, 9:51 am
              • What I actually said researchers need is “systematic and reasonably comprehensive access to a large corpus of articles.” This is because literature reviews very often draw on far more than a “handful” of relevant articles, and the citations in the body of the article often draw on many more. And this doesn’t account for all the relevant articles that have to be read before the author can decide not to cite them. In some cases, reference to the abstract will be enough; in others, it won’t. Without reasonably comprehensive access to a large corpus of relevant articles, the researcher has no reasonable way of making those determinations.

                Posted by Rick Anderson | Oct 26, 2012, 10:44 am
              • Certainly anyone doing a literature review needs to read a lot of articles, but they are not doing scientific research. People doing research really do not need a lot of information about what others are doing. Nor is digging up citations for an article part of doing research. The role that journals actually play in research is far from clear, that is why it is a research topic of mine.

                Posted by David Wojick | Oct 26, 2012, 11:17 am
                • David W:

                  Great insight. I learned that the very active researchers who are on the “cutting edge” communicate with each other way before a journal article is published. I tend to believe that the publishing of an article is for grant and promotion/tenure reasons. Also, it is a record of what has been done and what worked and what didn’t. Thus, it helps others avoid repeating something that is already known or that didn’t work.

                  I published a bunch of review journals. They all had very high impact factors. I was curious as to why. When I asked some editors and researchers they said that that is where they went to start an endeavor and would cite the review journal’s article in later publications.

                  I then sought and increased the number of review journals and they all did well both subscription wise and citation wise.

                  So your questions as to exactly what purpose journals serve and to what extent they are used is most interesting and valuable to all.

                  Posted by harvey kane | Oct 26, 2012, 11:31 am
              • Researchers who want to do experiments for their own personal pleasure may not need access to the literature. But researchers who want to know whether their hypotheses have already been tested by others, who want the structure of their experiments to be informed and to some degree shaped by work that has been done previously in their field, who want to report on their experiments afterwards in a way that makes clear the context and relevance of their findings, and who want to cite the formally-published work of others in the course of doing so — those researchers most certainly do need access to the literature. Whether or not you choose to define the literature search itself as “research” is irrelevant to the question of whether researchers need to be able to search and access the literature.

                Posted by Rick Anderson | Oct 26, 2012, 11:31 am
        • Hi David,

          Your comparison to the scientific instrument market is an interesting one and one that I have some experience in. In a previous life, I was involved in technical sales of microscopy equipment.

          It’s my observation that while many products are both unique and patented, there isn’t often a situation whereby a scientist has no choice but to buy a specific piece of equipment. Scientists generally need to answer a question, which more often than not can be answered in multiple ways. I won’t bore you with examples, suffice to say, this limits prices because as a supplier, if you charge too much, a competitor or your customers can and will innovate around you, and they’ll do it pretty quick. I think that in most markets, if a particular product is available, there is another way to solve the problem, so absolutely having to buy a product is very rare.

          Is this the same in publishing? I think that many scholars and librarians would say no. If you have to have a specific title that is central to a field of research. Many would say that you can’t really buy an alternative or solve the problem in a different way.

          Posted by Phill Jones | Oct 24, 2012, 11:51 am
          • My experience is somewhat different in that I have met scientists who complain that they cannot afford an esoteric piece of equipment, or get time on a supercomputer, etc. Microscopy may be more competitive. Of course they simply move in a different direction.

            But there are also plenty of workarounds for expensive journals. In the US many funding agencies provide their research reports. Many authors post their articles on their websites, at least in some disciplines. I often simply request the article from the author and have never been refused. In many cases I learn what is in an article through a blog discussion. People send me PDF’s, etc.

            The flow of scientific ideas is much richer than the journal system suggests and it is the ideas not the articles that count. I tend to view journals as convenient bundles not communication necessities. In fact the highest value of journals is probably their ranking and filtering function not communication.

            Posted by David Wojick | Oct 24, 2012, 2:25 pm
            • … it is the ideas not the articles that count. I tend to view journals as convenient bundles not communication necessities. In fact the highest value of journals is probably their ranking and filtering function not communication.

              Oddly, the working researchers, instructors, and students we’re trying to serve in academic libraries all seem to disagree. In fact, they tend–vehemently–to feel that formally-published and peer-reviewed articles (as well as other, less formal, avenues of communication) are essential to their work, and that scientific journals are highly important vehicles of scholarly communication. If you wouldn’t mind setting them straight on that, it would greatly simplify my work.

              Posted by Rick Anderson | Oct 24, 2012, 3:00 pm
              • Rick,

                I suspect that T&P and Grant Committees will do that for us… :)

                Scott

                (Disclosure–work at Springer, opinions my own.)

                Posted by sjepstein | Oct 24, 2012, 3:32 pm
              • And this is why prices are so high.

                Posted by David Wojick | Oct 24, 2012, 4:47 pm
      • An excellent summary of the non-substitutable nature of scholarly journal publishing.

        When I read your exchange with the dean who insisted on a particular subscription (despite the high price) I was anticipating that he would reply that they need the journal because they all publish there.

        We’ve seen library-faculty meetings where the justification for subscribing to a journal is not that faculty need to read the articles but that they have to support the publisher/society/journal so that they can have a place to publish their papers.

        This lends support to your assertion that the service which publishers offer to authors is more tangible and measurable than the one it offers to readers.

        Posted by Alvin Hutchinson | Oct 24, 2012, 12:42 pm
      • Rick, doesn’t this point to an institutional disconnect? I understand from the library’s perspective, that budgets are not growing at the rate of price increases (or perhaps not growing at all). But looking at library budgets from the perspective of the library, as opposed to from the perspective of the whole university, seems a rather incomplete exercise.

        If a university’s key point of competitive differentiation is its faculty, and it can’t attract faculty due to the budget it has allocated to the library, isn’t that an organizational problem not a library problem? In other words, at a certain point, if the library budget has an impact on faculty recruitment and retention, doesn’t that point to the need to increase the library budget (or accept lesser faculty and find other points of competitive differentiation)? A university obviously wants to spend the minimum it can spend to keep its faculty and students productive and happy and to maintain its competitive edge. That natural impulse creates a downward pressure on library (or any expense item) budgets. On the other hand, the need to remain competitive should create a counter-pressure.

        The question is whether a given institution is in equilibrium or not, with equilibrium defined as the amount that the institution needs to spend on the library to remain competitive but no more. Given all institutions are in the same boat as far as information costs go (publishers may practice “tiered” pricing but they don’t typically have separate pricing on an institution-by-institution basis), it is hard to see how there could be a serials crisis (especially as given in relative terms we are not talking about a lot of money – what does the typical university spend on serials vs. say, groundskeeping?). It seems like the market (the market here being defined as the academic market, not the academic publishing market) will sort this out by allocating appropriately to maintain a competitive profile.

        Posted by Michael Clarke | Oct 24, 2012, 4:43 pm
        • If a university’s key point of competitive differentiation is its faculty, and it can’t attract faculty due to the budget it has allocated to the library, isn’t that an organizational problem not a library problem?

          This isn’t an either/or situation. The situation you describe represents both an organizational problem and a library problem.

          A university obviously wants to spend the minimum it can spend to keep its faculty and students productive and happy and to maintain its competitive edge. That natural impulse creates a downward pressure on library (or any expense item) budgets. On the other hand, the need to remain competitive should create a counter-pressure.

          It certainly does, but just because the pressure is there doesn’t mean that the funding is going to come to the library. One of the problems that you have as a university administrator is the need to fund multiple worthy and important enterprises with a strictly limited fund of resources. To repeat the example I used earlier: if I’m the provost and I need to figure out how to allocate $1m, and I’ve got a shortage of classrooms plus an aging complex of physics labs plus three new academic programs to support plus a library whose collection budget has been flat for the past four years, where’s the “right” place for the money to go? There’s real pressure on me to fund all of those programs, and all of them genuinely deserve the funding. But I can’t spend the same dollar twice.

          Given all institutions are in the same boat as far as information costs go (publishers may practice “tiered” pricing but they don’t typically have separate pricing on an institution-by-institution basis), it is hard to see how there could be a serials crisis (especially as given in relative terms we are not talking about a lot of money – what does the typical university spend on serials vs. say, groundskeeping?).

          Although there actually is quite a bit of institution-by-institution pricing going on out there, the fact is that this crisis isn’t driven by issues of equality or of relative expenditure on different campus priorities. It’s driven by the year-over-year flatness of library resources relative to the constant and steep annual increases in journal prices across STM journals generally. Ultimately, whether another campus pays $5,000 for Journal X while my campus pays $4,000 for it doesn’t have any effect on my campus’s ability to absorb an 8% annual increase in Journal X‘s price. The crisis lies in the simple fact that all but a very few very wealthy institutions are unable to keep up with the price increases.

          Posted by Rick Anderson | Oct 24, 2012, 7:12 pm
          • I have been on campuses where the library sends out a list of journals they plan to cut because no one is reading them. Does this still go on? If not, why not? If one campus is paying X and another Y it seems to me that the X campus is a better negotiator than Y and that Y has a problem!

            Posted by harvey kane | Oct 24, 2012, 7:32 pm
            • If one house has X locks on its doors and another only Y locks, and that house gets burgled, it seems to me that household X is better at protecting its property than Y and that Y has a problem.

              Or, no – wait! Maybe the burglar is to blame?

              Let’s not blame the victim.

              Posted by Mike Taylor | Oct 24, 2012, 7:43 pm
              • I am not blaming the victim. I am encouraging the purchaser to be a better negotiator and to have more facts on hand.

                I have spent my life negotiating contracts with authors. I lose some and I win some, but I learn from my mistakes.

                Librarians are saying in this forum that some get better deals. The question to ask is why. Are the contract terms made public. In a public institution I would think they have to be made public. Are the terms read by others? Or,are those involved in negotiating remaining in the dark?

                By the way, there are no victims here.

                Posted by harvey kane | Oct 24, 2012, 10:54 pm
              • @Harvey Kane: many publisher manage to keep the terms of contract secret (with the official argument that if terms are public, then other clients can see that they pay more so it would put publishers at a disadvantage), there have been some famous trials on this.

                Posted by Benoît Régent-Kloeckner | Oct 25, 2012, 7:54 am
                • Many entities try to keep contracts secret. See if you can get the contract between your institution and its leader sometime, as a case in point. And in the case of publishers, often the buyer requests the confidentiality, or wants it just as much. Let’s not scapegoat or oversimplify.

                  Posted by Kent Anderson | Oct 25, 2012, 8:54 am
                  • That is interesting. Can a publisher enforce the confidentiality upon a public institution. I think we need some good mentoring for librarians on how to negotiate. The business community in many ways counts on the ignorance of the folks with whom they are negotiating. Have state legislatures looked at the confidentiality clauses in the contracts?

                    Although I have published journals and lists as well, the sales end was much in others hands and I paid scant attention to that aspect. I am learning much about the sales of journals in this discussion.

                    Posted by harvey kane | Oct 25, 2012, 11:27 am
                    • Don’t make the mistake that you’ll learn what you need to know in a week.

                      Confidentiality clauses in contracts can be trump cards. Again, who wants them there isn’t always clear, but assuming it’s a contract, your starting assumption should be that the wish for confidentiality was mutual. Most librarians are good negotiators.

                      Posted by Kent Anderson | Oct 25, 2012, 11:44 am
                    • Kent. Interesting comment. Why would the librarian want confidentiality? It seems to me that the sunshine could enhance the curtailing of cost increases which are the basis of complaint.

                      Instead what seems to be happening is the OA movement – which is merely a shifting of costs from the institution to the author. It is interesting to note that the big publishers like Elsevier, Wiley, T&F, Springer, etc now have lots of OA journals. I do not think they are losing money on these endeavors. I do not see OA costs going down but only up. I think we will see more and more marginal articles being published in order to maintain on the one hand new OA publishers, and on the other established publishers who are introducing these as a product line.

                      Posted by harvey kane | Oct 25, 2012, 11:57 am
                    • Librarians may not want their patrons to know the terms of the agreement for a variety of reasons — the financial terms, the limitations and exclusions, or merely because they don’t want to be hassled by others poring over their contracts and asking them annoying questions once the deal is done. There’s something to be said for peace of mind and being able to move on.

                      Posted by Kent Anderson | Oct 25, 2012, 12:06 pm
                    • Ahh, the old peace of mind argument. How true, how true!

                      Posted by harvey kane | Oct 25, 2012, 12:27 pm
            • I have been on campuses where the library sends out a list of journals they plan to cut because no one is reading them. Does this still go on? If not, why not?

              Yes, it does. Different libraries will approach this sort of thing in different ways, but many (if not most) of us do keep track of journal usage and make retention decisions that are, at the very least, informed by those patterns.

              Posted by Rick Anderson | Oct 24, 2012, 10:07 pm
  4. Having been heavily critical of The Scholarly Kitchen recently, I am pleased to be able to say that this an excellent analysis of the situation, and of the nature of the problem. I particularly liked this part:

    In the case of Gold OA you don’t actually “eliminate” pricing — you only shift the issue by selling a different product (publishing services rather than access) to a different group of customers (authors rather than readers). Interestingly, though, the Gold OA model doesn’t just shift the locus of payment from one party (the reader or the reader’s agent) to another (the author or the author’s funder); it also moves the pricing issue out of a marketplace in which competition is weird and indirect into one where competition is relatively simple and straightforward.

    This is a very clear and elegant statement of why my own position is that paying for publication is a much better thing than paying for access.

    I have only one important point of disagreement with this article:

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — if a subscription to every science journal cost $15 per year and the price were rising at 5 cents per year, no one would be saying that the system of scholarly communication is broken.

    Honestly, this isn’t true — I, at least, would still be saying it. The real issue of open access is not price but freedom. Although the anticipated reduction in costs is a very welcome bonus in the shift to OA, the purpose is very different: it’s about enabling entirely new kinds of use and reuse, many of which we haven’t even thought of yet. By happy coincidence, Cameron Neylon published a good exploration of these ideas only yesterday in PLOS Biology, under the title More Than Just Access: Delivering on a Network-Enabled Literature. Highly recommended.

    Posted by Mike Taylor | Oct 24, 2012, 10:31 am
  5. I have been in libraries or working in the general area for over 40 years and the cries of sustainability were around in the 1970-80 time-frame when publishers were criticized for generating too many new journals as there was a flood of new titles and prices were climbing. In addition publishers prices were based on the country so the identical title could be sold in the UK for 100 pounds and the same title was sold to US libraries for $1000.

    We have seen a substantial rise in open access scientific publishing and libraries have chosen not to replace a paid subscription journal in that field for an open access journal. In most cases libraries are now collecting both journals. I don’t think that the problem is that only one journal is available from one publisher. The fact of the matter in most disciplines, there are 10 great journals, 25 or more good journals, and another 25 journals that might be good to collect.

    In the past the libraries had the funding to buy a full range of journals. In many subject areas they collected a broad range of titles in the same discipline. With the budget problems, libraries have had to cut back on collecting. Libraries are still buying more than just the great journals and filling in other areas with licensing databases for full text access.

    Publishers are often the target of criticism due to the high prices. Libraries have the ability to cut back or drop any title or publisher that they want, but most have difficulty when their users feel the loss of access.

    Journals are revenue generating tools for many publishers. The publication program funds about 90% of all not for profit member activity. There is no case that can be made where the price of the journal reflects the cost of production. Journal prices are set to generate revenue to fund the organization. Investors, including venture houses that own some of the largest publishers demand significant returns. Prices are set to meet investor expectations and not to please librarians.

    From my perspective most publishers are still going to maintain their present pricing. Current sales are still strong, manuscript submissions are stronger than ever, downloads and other usage traffic indicators are growing.

    Even with the rise in open access titles, most major publishers have not seen a hit in any indicator.
    I think that many libraries collections still contain major collections from the top 30 publishes. In some cases the library may have not be collecting the entire (big deal) collection, but the revenue at the publisher is not declining. I know of five major publishers that have had their best sales year since the founding of the company.

    My point is that there is more than likely a number of journals in any discipline and libraries have bought many of these titles. There is not just one title or one publisher at this time.

    Rick and others have predicted that the sustainability is not there, but many of the top 30 publishers
    are still enjoying a very profitable and growing market. The venture houses that I work for still see STM publishing as a good opportunity. Good publishers produce great quality with strong brand names and researchers want to be included with that brand.

    In this market it is the small publisher and the University Press that is feeling the most pressure as market conditions are changing. The top 30 publishers represent about 90% of all library sales and this market is still sustainable based on the current sales levels. If your not one of the top 30 publishers, then you have a different path to follow.

    Posted by Dan Tonkery | Oct 24, 2012, 10:54 am
    • There is no case that can be made where the price of the journal reflects the cost of production. Journal prices are set to generate revenue to fund the organization. Investors, including venture houses that own some of the largest publishers demand significant returns. Prices are set to meet investor expectations and not to please librarians.

      That just sounds like a restatement of the problem.

      This is the very fundamental problem with the subscription model: that the interests of publishers are not aligned with those of libraries, researchers, funders or broader society. One of the biggest wins of the Gold OA business model is that it puts us all on the same side.

      Posted by Mike Taylor | Oct 24, 2012, 11:15 am
      • This is a broad, sweeping statement that is inaccurate. One cannot lump every publisher on earth under one set of “interests”. Are the “interests” of a not-for-profit university press the exact same as the “interests” of Elsevier? Is a Gold OA journal at Nature or Springer run for the same reasons as eLife or PLoS ONE?

        Emotionally-inflaming misstatements like this are an impediment to progress. As the Finch Report suggests, the pathway to the future is one of cooperation and collaboration. Continuing to pose everything as conflict and zero sum games is counterproductive.

        Posted by David Crotty | Oct 25, 2012, 6:07 am
        • It’s no good calling it counterproductive, David, it’s just plainly and simply true. When Gold OA is used, everyone wants maximum distribution for the paper. When the subscription model is in effect, the “publisher” wants to prevent dissemination. It really is that simple. In that case, there will be conflict, and there’s no sense in pretending that we’re all one big, happy family.

          Posted by Mike Taylor | Oct 25, 2012, 12:36 pm
          • Mike, if you’d rather deal in sweeping generalizations and starting flamewars, that’s certainly your prerogative. I’m more interested in real world progress and moving things forward.

            When Gold OA is used, many publishers don’t care at all about distribution, they care instead about maximizing revenue that can be generated from charging authors. I work with a research society that publishes a journal under the subscription model simply to meet costs to allow the journal to be freely distributed to a large number of policy makers to keep them informed on issues key to that particular research community.

            It is not that simple. The world is not black and white. Grow up.

            Posted by David Crotty | Oct 25, 2012, 12:55 pm
            • All right, David. It’s clear that for all your rhetoric about “the pathway to the future is one of cooperation and collaboration” you don’t have the slightest interest in actually understanding where anyone outside of your circle is actually coming from. Stupid of me to have tried, once more, to re-engage here. Should have remembered what always happens. I’ll try not to trouble you again.

              Posted by Mike Taylor | Oct 25, 2012, 2:44 pm
              • Mike, the usual disconnect you experience here just happened again. You’re lecturing people who have the experience to push back. If all you seek is agreement with a priori assertions, this probably isn’t the place, you’re right.

                Posted by Kent Anderson | Oct 25, 2012, 2:51 pm
              • Mike, I do have to admit failure in this regard. I have long tried to better understand your motivations and methodology. Nearly every comment you post on this site is combative, if not deliberately insulting. I do not understand your unceasing desire to pick fights, to argue, rather than seeking to reach consensus and enlightenment. Then again, I never understood George Bush’s “you’re either with us or against us” foreign policy either.

                I work for a not-for-profit publisher, owned by the academic community. I work every day on journals that are owned by the academic community and run by working scientists. When I breach the subject of open access with those researchers, it is an uphill battle. Many, if not most, see the OA movement as adversaries, as a group that is working against their interests and against the interests of their research community.

                They are mistaken, but it’s an understandable mistake, given the continual quasi-religious attacks they have to face. When a scientist, doing unpaid volunteer work for the benefit of the scientific community is called “an enemy of science” in The Guardian, it’s perhaps not surprising that this scientist does not react favorably.

                You seem to have enormous energy and enthusiasm for the cause of broadening access to the research literature. Yet you seem to only be interested in channeling that energy into making enemies, into drawing lines in the sand, into conflict rather than resolutions. I’ve spent the last few weeks working on plans for a new community-owned OA journal with an intriguing new business model (more on this over the course of the next year) and working with not-for-profit publishers to help them get into compliance with the Wellcome and RCUK requirements for public access. If you could put some of your efforts into building bridges, into bringing people to your side rather than attacking everyone not already in agreement with you, you might see faster progress for your cause.

                I’m disappointed to see that when your assertions are challenged, you play the victim and run away. It’s not surprising though, such reactions are common for bullies. If you can’t back up assertions that all OA publishers, from PLoS to Elsevier to Bentham are driven by the same motivations, then perhaps you shouldn’t spew such ridiculous blather.

                Posted by David Crotty | Oct 25, 2012, 6:24 pm
              • “If you can’t back up assertions that all OA publishers, from PLoS to Elsevier to Bentham are driven by the same motivations, then perhaps you shouldn’t spew such ridiculous blather.”

                Or perhaps you should read what I actually wrote.

                Posted by Mike Taylor | Oct 25, 2012, 7:06 pm
              • Yes, let’s revisit what you wrote:

                the interests of publishers are not aligned with those of libraries, researchers, funders or broader society.

                Many publishers are researchers, some publishers are funders. Many university presses work hand in hand with the libraries at their universities (and some are run by the libraries themselves). The statement is overly broad and inaccurate, hence the statement is false.

                One of the biggest wins of the Gold OA business model is that it puts us all on the same side.

                It’s interesting to hear you declare yourself on the “same side” as Nature, Elsevier and every predatory OA publisher in existence. I can tell you that I am not on the same side as the predatory publishers, hence the phrase “us all” is overly broad and inaccurate, hence the statement is false.

                When Gold OA is used, everyone wants maximum distribution for the paper.

                For the predatory OA publisher, distribution levels of the paper are irrelevant, all that matters is maximizing revenue from authors. Little to no effort is made to maximize distribution. When a predatory publishers publishes an article that is inaccurate, there are many who do not want maximum distribution for that incorrect information. The statement is overly broad and inaccurate, hence the statement is false.

                When the subscription model is in effect, the “publisher” wants to prevent dissemination.

                Every subscription journal I work with wants to maximize dissemination. More subscribing readers mean more subscription dollars coming in. Beyond that, all journals that I work with make select articles of broad societal interest and importance freely available to maximize dissemination. All offer thousands of gratis subscriptions to developing countries. Statement is clearly false.

                I’ll try not to trouble you again.

                Sadly, statement is also demonstrably false.

                Posted by David Crotty | Oct 25, 2012, 9:04 pm
              • Once more — just once, and then I promise you that WHATEVER you say in response I won’t reply again. (Just no-one construe my silence as agreement.)

                You seem to have an idea that “every comment you post on this site is combative, if not deliberately insulting”, that I have an “unceasing desire to pick fights, to argue, rather than seeking to reach consensus and enlightenment”, that I “seem to only be interested in channeling that energy into making enemies, into drawing lines in the sand, into conflict rather than resolutions”.

                All of that is exactly wrong.

                I am not creating enmity. That enmity is already there. I have been trying to help you understand why. While there do exist some edge cases, there remains a very fundamental dichotomy between what OA and non-OA journals want to happen to their work — a dichotomy that you refuse to see. An example is provided by my own two most recent journal papers (see the list). One was in the OA journal Acta Palaeontologia Polonica, and they want me to spread copies of the paper wherever I can. The other (and I deeply regret this) I gave to the non-OA Journal of Zoology, and they actively want me not to distribute the paper. I have had a takedown notice from the publisher telling me to remove the PDF from my web-site. [I will comply shortly.] It should not be hard to see that one of these publishers wants the same thing as the author does, while the other wants the opposite.

                Until you and other SK staff understand this very basic dichotomy, you will never understand why there is all this anger that so mystifies you. I would much rather that we could have the “pathway to the future [that] is one of cooperation and collaboration” as you suggest. But while you wilfully refuse to understand or accept the nature of the conflict, that’s a pipe-dream. You have to face the reality before you can start to change it. That is what I am try to help you to do.

                In response, I’ve told to “grow up”, accused of “playing the victim” and of being a bully. This is knows as shooting the messenger.

                And with that, I am really and truly done. Have fun.

                Posted by Mike Taylor | Oct 26, 2012, 5:26 am
              • Mike, your response here is a great example of why so many people find you so frustrating. You continue to ignore the fact that everything you’ve said previously in this discussion is inaccurate, if not completely wrong. By spreading lies and misinformation you take what is a confusing and emotionally charged situation for many and throw fuel on the fire, making things worse rather than better.

                Everyone at TSK fully understands that there are fundamental differences between business models and distribution models. We are not idiots. The problem is that these differences slide along a continuum, and are not the stark black and white, yes/no, good/evil dichotomy you pretend exists. Yes, it is clear that some people are angry. Anger can be a powerful motivator toward progress. But if all you do is fixate on childishly expressing that anger, you never get around to actually enacting that progress.

                There are open access publishers who are unethical bad guys. There are subscription publishers who are philanthropic, charge the absolute minimum they need to survive and offer very liberal redistribution policies. You seem unable to recognize the existence of anything other than the extremes. You portray every OA publisher as Jesus and every subscription publisher as Elsevier.

                Facts matter. The truth matters. You seem far too willing to ignore the facts, to make up figures, to flat out lie in order to make a point, and then refuse to respond when you are called on your lies.

                I understand why you are angry with some publishers. But all publishers are not the same. Many are interested in change and progress. These are the people you should be trying to win to your cause, trying to educate, trying to help. Instead you’re vilifying everyone not already in agreement with you and creating enemies.

                Many of us living in the real world are trying to implement change, and we have to spend an enormous amount of effort to clean up the mess you have created. We have to do additional work to try to win back the enemies you are creating, to make it clear that OA is a viable option for journals, not just some crazy scheme being demanded by shouty religious nuts.

                The Finch Report repeatedly stresses that all stakeholders need to work together to drive toward progress. This is impossible in your worldview, where, like George W. Bush, you’re either with us or against us. You are an impediment to progress, a bully, and when challenged, a coward. Yes, I am shooting the messenger, but only after thoroughly destroying your highly inaccurate and misleading message.

                Posted by David Crotty | Oct 26, 2012, 6:40 am
              • I have to agree with David. The lines you are trying to draw, Mike, are just too artificial and sharp, and they do not reflect the complexity of the landscape. E.g., the press I headed at Penn State became a unit of the library, and the press and library jointly set up several OA books series while the press continued to publish journals on a TA basis, which the library leadership sanctioned. So, where is the conflict here? Moreover, all of the journals we published allowed Green OA, so again, as a TA publisher, we were demonstrably concerned about maximizing dissemination, just so long as it did not undercut the TA basis for publishing the journals in the first place. Mike, you seem to be living in a different world than the one David and I inhabit.

                Posted by Sandy Thatcher | Oct 27, 2012, 12:19 am
            • It seems to me that if an OA publisher was really interested in widest dissemination of the most information they would charge nothing to post an article on their site.

              The assertion that subscription publishers wish to suppress the dissemination of information is against the best interests of the publisher. If that were the desire why would anyone publish with them?

              Regarding publishing an article in an OA journal and in a subscription journal which you did Mike, and then placing the subscription article on your site was foolhardy on your behalf. You wanted to test the system or show your sense of purity. You signed a contract that said you could not do that. Did the publisher say you could not put the paper on your Vita for tenure and promotion consideration? Will you take the paper off your Vita because of the outrage you so openly display. I think not.

              What you miss Mike is the fact that someone has to pay to publish and the only question is who. For example: You publish in an OA journal and you are responsible for protecting the copyright. You publish in a subscription journal and the publisher is responsible. Say I take one of your OA articles and publish it under my name. In fact, I take the article and do a minor rewrite and publish that article in my name and keep on doing it. Of course I do it in only OA journals which take little of no effort to review or check things out – many are doing that! What is your recourse? To sue. You will spend a fortune and gain nothing but the cost of what you paid to have your article published. The courts base decisions on monetary loss and since OA distributes for free you have only lost what you paid.

              A subscription based journal is subscribed to by a university library. The library then makes it available to anyone who is a member of the university community who has a password and basically everyone on campus does. Additionally, if you are in the US and the university is a state institution and you have a drivers license for the state you can go to the university library and look at the article. You are a person who wants to look at something you can use pay per view. In short, no one is denying anyone the right to read a subscription journal article. The company only wants to be paid for what they have physically produced. It is just the same as going to the movies!

              My question is and remains to those who advocate OA: Just who do you think is clamoring to read these articles who are not reading them now.

              Posted by harvey kane | Oct 26, 2012, 9:46 am
          • Mike:

            I tend to disagree. The publisher in both subscription model and OA model desire to get paid for publication. OA is not free and in fact is very costly to the author. Additionally, the costs are going up. There is no free lunch.

            In the subscription model the library purchases and makes the paper free to all on campus in either their office or home (with password). Additionally, if one is not a member of the campus but is a citizen of the state, that person can walk into the library and access a paper. It may not be convenient but it is still freely available. On the other hand, the non campus person can pay per view purchase. There is no denial of access nor is the goal of the publisher to deny access.

            I keep wondering just who the OA advocates think are being denied access. It is a question of who pays for publication the rest is just eyewash!

            Posted by harvey kane | Oct 25, 2012, 1:11 pm
      • Gold OA diverts funder, university and researcher money from research so it is arguably not in the interest of funders, universities, researchers or society. There is no free lunch here. You cannot maximize every interest.

        Posted by David Wojick | Oct 25, 2012, 8:22 am
    • Rick and others have predicted that the sustainability is not there, but many of the top 30 publishers
      are still enjoying a very profitable and growing market.

      Sorry, I can’t resist another analogy. I grew up in Massachusetts, where, for centuries, cod fishing had been a thriving and highly profitable industry–particularly along the very rich shoals off of George’s Bank. Over time cod fishermen got better and better at harvesting cod. Eventually, commercial fishing operations got so good at it that there were virtually no cod left; they had harvested fish at a rate that made it impossible for the cod population to rebound. Right up until that tipping point, however, the fishermen enjoyed a very profitable market. Anyone who raised concerns about the long-term effects of the overfishing could be laughed at: “You keep saying that what we’re doing is unsustainable, but look: we keep bringing in bigger and bigger cod harvests!”

      Dan, you’re right that librarians have been talking about a “serials crisis” for several decades. They were right to do so in the 1970s, and they still are. My library (and those of most of my colleagues) have been canceling what we would, in the past, have considered “core” journals for several years now, and we’ll keep doing so every year for as long as the current budget and pricing trends continue. Not all publishers will feel the effects equally or immediately, but the trend lines don’t lie. Flat budgets + steep price increases = inevitable cancellations.

      Posted by Rick Anderson | Oct 24, 2012, 11:16 am
      • Forget the 1970’s, the serials crisis has been debated since the 1920’s:

        https://www.sciencemag.org/content/66/1713/385.extract?sid=571fa816-c52a-4580-bd48-ad3d393073af

        Posted by David Crotty | Oct 24, 2012, 12:26 pm
      • A tipping point is a very special mathematical feature in dynamic systems. I don’t see any basis for your hypothesis that journal publishing has one. I also doubt the codfish had one as opposed to simple diminishing stocks, but I could be wrong.

        Posted by David Wojick | Oct 24, 2012, 2:33 pm
        • “Tipping point” is also a common vernacular term used in a variety of other contexts. In this one, I understand Dan to mean the point at which the market starts collapsing because libraries are canceling more journals than they add. This would represent a reversal of the historical trend in research libraries, which has always been to add more and more content every year.

          The codfish itself doesn’t have a tipping point. The codfish stocks along George’s Bank do (in this case, “tipping point” would mean “the point at which external intervention is required to keep the stocks from being permanently destroyed”), and it’s going to take government intervention to reverse the effects of overfishing. I suppose government intervention is one possible solution to the serials pricing crisis, too (hello, NIH mandate), and there are librarians who would welcome a more widespread and aggressive government response to it. I’m not sure anyone else would, though.

          Posted by Rick Anderson | Oct 24, 2012, 3:03 pm
          • Oops, apologies to Dan — I see that I was the one who used “tipping point” first, not him. What I meant by it should be pretty clear, though.

            Posted by Rick Anderson | Oct 24, 2012, 3:12 pm
  6. Rick, where does the growth in the quantity of research being done factor in here? While we often roll our eyes at the continuous flood of new journals on the market, those journals exist (and can continue to exist) for a simple reason–the amount of research being done continues to increase and space is needed for that research to be published.

    How much of your budgetary woes are due to price increases from existing journals as opposed to needing to meet researcher demand for access to more and more information through new journals? Do you have a sense of the percentage of your budget that goes to adding new journals (and are you dropping old journals to meet these needs)?

    It’s interesting that so many new journal launches are being done as OA journals with Author Processing Charges to pay the bills. Clearly there is unmet market demand and since as you note, library budgets are reaching their limits, publishers are indeed turning to other sources to fund new additions.

    Posted by David Crotty | Oct 24, 2012, 12:22 pm
    • Rick, where does the growth in the quantity of research being done factor in here? While we often roll our eyes at the continuous flood of new journals on the market, those journals exist (and can continue to exist) for a simple reason–the amount of research being done continues to increase and space is needed for that research to be published.

      That’s a good question, David, and it certainly does factor into the dynamic. To the degree that increased research means more submissions to existing journals, research growth does put upward pressure on the cost of running a journal. As the folks at Elsevier love (correctly) to point out, it costs money to reject articles as well as to publish them. But to the degree that research growth means the creation of new journals, I’m not sure it has a meaningful impact on per-journal pricing. (If the marketplace were more conventionally competitive, it would tend to drive average journal prices down; the fact that it hasn’t done so supports my contention that the journal marketplace isn’t conventionally competitive.)

      How much of your budgetary woes are due to price increases from existing journals as opposed to needing to meet researcher demand for access to more and more information through new journals? Do you have a sense of the percentage of your budget that goes to adding new journals (and are you dropping old journals to meet these needs)?

      To some degree it depends on how you count, but virtually no percentage of our budget goes toward adding new journals. If we want to add a new journal, we generally have to cancel an old one. Even in those years when we get a small budget increase, it is usually completely absorbed by price increases. When we don’t get a budget increase, we have historically cut the book budget in order to protect subscriptions–but our book budget has now become an embarrassment, and we simply can’t cut it any further. Journal cuts are increasing accordingly.

      Posted by Rick Anderson | Oct 24, 2012, 1:33 pm
    • David:

      I fear you have misread the market. The increase in OA journals is not because the publisher has a burning desire to publish the articles. It is because the publisher sees an opportunity to make money. If the new journal does not earn its way it will go away as fast as it came. The same is true for print. In fact, many publishers will not launch a new journal regardless of the quality of the articles unless they believe it will succeed.

      Publishing is not an altruistic activity.

      Posted by harvey kane | Oct 24, 2012, 3:40 pm
      • Publishing is not an altruistic activity.

        Odd. The not-for-profits where I’ve worked, and our not-for-profit society partners may beg to differ. All of the journals are meant to make money, but that profit is used for altruistic activities.

        Posted by David Crotty | Oct 24, 2012, 8:04 pm
        • Especially that altruistic salary line at the not for profits. Remember, not for profit is not profitless. Not for profit in the US simply means not taxed.

          Posted by harvey kane | Oct 24, 2012, 11:11 pm
          • “Not-for-profit” means a lot of things, mainly an organization with an altruistic mission that it must reflect in how it is governed, in the activities it undertakes, and in its relationship to society. Because of their focus on mission, many not-for-profits actually do well enough to pay their employees on-par with similar jobs in the for-profit world, which is as it should be. Are you saying that mission-driven organizations should underpay their people?

            Posted by Kent Anderson | Oct 25, 2012, 12:34 am
            • No not at all. What I am saying is that many societies are just as profit driven as commercial publishers. They have to be. They have big expenses.

              Posted by harvey kane | Oct 25, 2012, 1:20 am
  7. Dan you present the picture as it is. Publishers are not having bad years. Libraries are really not in control of what they do, but as pointed out, department heads and others are.

    It was mentioned that 4-5% price increases cannot be sustained, but today it was announced that college tuition will go up 4.8%. However, faculty have not said we will take a pay cut or pay free to prevent the increase.

    Regarding the value of OA. I would like to see some statistics that readership is greater for OA articles than for subscription articles. I just cannot picture someone saying: Look an article has just appeared in an OA journal on the implications of the homobox gene on mating behavior in the fruit fly, I have been waiting for years for something on this topic to appear for free, I must read it!

    I am still curious that no one has addressed the history of page charges which in the past held down the cost of subscriptions.

    Posted by harvey kane | Oct 24, 2012, 1:17 pm
    • Okay, as a former developmental biologist and current pedant, I keep cringing when I see your comments.

      First, it’s “homeobox”, not “homobox”.

      Second, while the subject may not seem all that important to you, homeobox genes are an incredibly important family of gene regulators that are crucial in the early development of organisms. So much so that the Nobel Prize was awarded for research that led to discovery of this DNA binding domain:

      http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/1995/

      Posted by David Crotty | Oct 24, 2012, 2:08 pm
      • David:

        Yes they are very important but the audience is very small. In fact it is as minute as the fruit fly itself considering there are only 7,500 members of the genetics society. Free will not increase the market size. The Drosophila Handbook was published in 1989 with a second edition in 2004 and there is at this moment no third edition. The reason is because of the size of the market.

        The problem with the OA model is the assumption that readership will increase because of price. The market in the case of S&T publishing is not only inelastic but extremely factionalized. Also, as grant support dries up we are witnessing an increase in price to the authors. At what price point will authors say: This is too expensive and I want to go back to the subscription model.

        Why do you cringe with my comments?

        Publishers live in a highly competitive marketplace. They survive and present S&T material which is costly to acquire, produce and market to pendants by making money. Does the aforementioned bother you?

        Posted by harvey kane | Oct 24, 2012, 3:25 pm
        • I cringe because you repeatedly get the name wrong for the gene family (homeo, not homo).

          I cringe because while I agree with your general point, you’ve chosen a spectacularly wrong example to try and prove it. Homeobox genes are found in all species from yeast to humans. Their study is not limited to Drosophila. They are important in the study of cell and developmental biology. They are a key player in the formation of the nervous system, so there’s interest in the world of neuroscience. They’re important in the study of molecular biology and gene regulation. Their conserved nature makes them a valuable area of study for learning about evolution.

          Regardless, 7,500 is a pretty good sized audience. I had a great deal of success with several books aimed at the Drosophila research market (the latest published in 2010). I know of journals with much lower circulation rates than 7,500 subscribers and they do just fine.

          To get to your actual point–yes, there is a limited audience for much of what’s published in scholarly journals. It’s written at a high level of expertise, and there are only so many people on earth capable of reading articles, let alone interested in those articles. But open access clearly does increase the readership of articles though. Every study I’ve seen shows that articles that are made free show an increase in usage. It’s not clear from where this usage is coming, but that’s what the data shows.

          And no, the nature of the marketplace does not bother me.

          Posted by David Crotty | Oct 24, 2012, 8:01 pm
          • David I was using the drosophila to illustrate a point. By the way I have published many leading scientists who do this research. The number of geneticists as a market size is miniscule as are the vast majority of life science fields when it comes down to specialization. The Handbook of Physics and Chemistry sells thousands of copies while the Illustrated Dictionary of Immunology does not. The average life science title sells in the neighborhood of 300 copies. S&T Journal subscriptions number about on average under 1200 institutional subscriptions. S&T is a small world.

            I would like to see readership data regarding OA versus Subscription. It seems to me that most who view subscription based products are on campuses and have internal access to the material for free so it is hard for me to visualize an increase in readership.

            Posted by harvey kane | Oct 24, 2012, 11:08 pm
            • But since the homeobox is relevant across so much of biology and interest is not limited to a niche community, it’s a poor example to use.

              As for the data on OA usage, Phil Davis’ review of the literature is a good place to start:

              https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3133904/

              Posted by David Crotty | Oct 25, 2012, 6:33 am
              • David:

                There are 26 member societies in FASEB of which say 5 are interested in the homeobox gene and within those 5 only a handful of members actually would read an article on it. Of the 4,200(correction of my figure) members of the Genetics Society only some would read an article. Though it may be important the vast majority of life scientists do not read about it.

                Thank you for the citation will look at it.

                Posted by harvey kane | Oct 25, 2012, 12:09 pm
              • DAvid:

                Just perused the article and see no indication of dramatic increased readership. If I understand things one can set up a program that searches for keywords and will automatically download articles or citations. This does not indicate increased readership only downloads. Lets take my example. We use keywords: homeobox gene, and drosophila. The article on the mating implications of the homeobox gene on drosophila would be downloaded. However, I have no interest in mating behavior in drosophila and immediately either delete the article or let lay there and never read it.

                I think this is what the below citation from the article you gave me to look at says.

                A case study of article downloads for the journal Nucleic Acid Research revealed that moving from a subscription-access model to an open access model resulted in more than twice the number of article downloads (portable document format [PDF] and hypertext markup language [HTML] combined), although most of this increase was attributed to Internet robots (automated applications that index web pages) rather than human intention [35]. Likewise, randomized controlled trials of open access publishing revealed that free access has a significant, independent impact on the number of downloads, although robots account for roughly half of the increase [36]. Articles that were made freely available received about twice as many full-text downloads but correspondingly fewer PDF downloads, suggesting that the primary benefit to the non-subscriber community is in browsing [36–38]. Due to the nature of these studies, which rely on transactional usage logs, it is only possible to make inferential statements about reader behavior. Further investigation is required to determine who is accessing these articles and for what purpose.

                All this reminds me of the introduction of copying machines on campus. The amount of paper increased dramatically, file storage increased along with it, but actual reading of what was copied remained about the same as before the introduction of copying machines.

                Posted by harvey kane | Oct 25, 2012, 12:24 pm
              • Phil is more of an expert on the usage numbers than am I, but the data clearly shows an increase in usage for articles that are freely available. As noted in a comment way above, it’s not clear exactly where this usage stems from, though most publishers are pretty good at filtering out robots from their usage statistics these days. Many papers are indeed esoteric and beyond the comprehension level for someone without advanced training, but I don’t know anyone willing to sift through the literature and make that yes/no call for every single paper.

                Phil’s randomized trial study showed that there is no increase in citation for OA papers, which likely tells you that the research community, those most likely to read the paper and perform subsequent experiments already have access to papers, whether OA or not. But that does not rule out value in making papers more broadly available, particularly medical papers to patients and caregivers.

                To continue your example, homeobox genes are implicated in different disease conditions:

                https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9229108

                Is allowing patients with those syndromes access to the paper so they can better understand their condition a bad thing? Is informing their caregivers about the genetic issues behind their conditions a bad thing?

                And for the record, FASEB does not encompass the entirety of biological research. There are even some researchers who aren’t members of societies.

                Posted by David Crotty | Oct 25, 2012, 12:46 pm
  8. Continuing with the construction firm analogy, there’s another part of the scenario worth looking at.

    Many of the builders used to buy their own hammers; the builders who use them regularly had their own and many others bought them to have a hammer available when needed. Since there was still a sizable group of builders who didn’t use a hammer enough to purchase one, but still needed to use one on occasion, the construction firm bought one of the hammers as a central resource. The price charged by the hammer manufacturer took into account the total costs and revenue from selling all of the hammers.

    Through new technology (the virtual hammer?), it became easier for builders to use the hammer owned by the construction firm, without needing one of their own. Because of this, the total number of hammers sold decreased substantially. The construction firm expected to pay the same amount, or just slightly more, for the one hammer that now served the entire company. The hammer manufacturer now had to get all of their revenue from selling many fewer hammers, even though they still had substantial costs, created a hammer that was desired by the builders, and were expected to add new features to the hammer over time.

    While this isn’t a perfect analogy either, it does show another side of the current situation.

    Posted by Tom Richardson | Oct 24, 2012, 2:35 pm
    • Tom, to your knowledge, was there a time in recent history when the primary market for STM journals was individual subscribers?

      Posted by Rick Anderson | Oct 24, 2012, 3:04 pm
      • If you look broadly at STM journals, no, I can’t point to a recent time that was true. If you look at specific journals, there are recent examples. All of the parts make up the whole and I think it helps for us to remember that there are variations among journals and publishers, just as there are variations among libraries and readers.

        Posted by Tom Richardson | Oct 24, 2012, 3:14 pm
      • For some clinical medical journals, there was indeed a time in the not terribly distant past when the primary market was individuals and the library copy (thinking back to the print world) was typically 2-3x the individual rate. So not $15 but then not $1500 either. There is also the situation where the journal is published by a society and the journal is a significant member benefit and indeed a significant driver of membership. So it is not just “subscription” revenues that might be at stake as individuals cease renewing (as they can get their journal content online via their institution) but membership dues (of course most societies have a meeting and other benefits so this is not necessarily the norm but neither is it unusual). Obviously this is a scenario that impacts a subset of association publishers but it is a real scenario.

        Posted by Michael Clarke | Oct 24, 2012, 3:28 pm
        • Michael, I would imagine that the situation you describe (in which society membership gives you an automatic subscription to the society’s journal), and which may be what Tom was getting at as well, represents a very serious problem for publishers. It makes it hard to figure out how your customers are responding to your various value propositions — are they members because that’s the only way to get access to the journal, or are they taking the journal only because it comes automatically with membership? That does seem like a quandary to me.

          Posted by Rick Anderson | Oct 24, 2012, 6:55 pm
          • In my experience, if the journal is published by a commercial publisher, the Journal subscription is at a reduced rate to members and is considered a membership benefit. Thus, the member may pay say $50 for a year’s subscription and this rate helps offset the cost of production the publisher incurs. The subscription is paid by the society directly to the publisher. Additionally, if the society uses a commercial publisher, money received from the publisher – which is usually a royalty – is used to offset costs the society incurs for various activities and expenses. In short, it is an income stream.

            If the society publishes its own journal than it is handled the same as any cost/ income stream.

            Posted by harvey kane | Oct 24, 2012, 7:15 pm
            • I’d like to add a few general observations to this very interesting discussion.

              I’m reminded of Herb Stein’s famous quip, “If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.” But of course serials and database inflation can go on forever; it just needs to be affordable. The marketplace will determine this.

              There are substitute journals and books. The argument that the substitutes are not identical is very weak. To take the hammer analogy, we have several choices: buy a hammer from the manufacturer, buy a pneumatic hammer from its manufacturer, buy one from the Snap-On truck when needed, borrow one from the roofer working next door, rent one, use the prototype in your company’s archive. Librarians make purchase decisions all the time based on the existence of substitutes. Publishers set pricing on the same basis. Elsevier had a VP for pricing in New York. I see many encouraging signs of the marketplace at work. But if libraries were serious about inflation, they would start to cancel en masse. Since this has not taken place, publishers respond to these market signals in ways that promote their survivability.

              To the faculty member who said he had to have a $20,000/yr journal subscription to enable recruiting a candidate, it could be replied that the candidate should go to another university. The world of scholarship will not suffer. Just the reputation of one department. (An imp could remark that inflation in the costs of recruiting top scholars is becoming unsustainable.)This kind of situation arises when the consumer receives free goods. It is analogous to the problem caused by medical insurance that pays for all costs and creates excessive demand.

              There are rumblings in the education world that government subventions should go to the parents, not to the schools. Schools have interests (such as teacher unions) that are not well aligned with those of the parents and their children. Perhaps we should rethink the practice of the library having all the the materials budget – ‘free money’ – and instead give some of it to the schools and departments. Then we would find out what is truly necessary and what is not. (To be sure, provosts and chancellors would not like this, since it is easier to outsource the headache of materials selection to the library.)

              Just my tuppence ha’penny. Comments encouraged.

              Posted by L. Hunter Kevil | Oct 29, 2012, 4:09 pm
              • There are substitute journals and books. The argument that the substitutes are not identical is very weak. To take the hammer analogy, we have several choices: buy a hammer from the manufacturer, buy a pneumatic hammer from its manufacturer, buy one from the Snap-On truck when needed, borrow one from the roofer working next door, rent one, use the prototype in your company’s archive

                .

                That sounds wonderful, but the reality is that such substitutes don’t actually exist. Here’s an example of what I mean, selected at random: the August 2012 issue of Microbiology and Immunology includes an article titled “Detection and molecular characterization of adenoviruses in Korean children hospitalized with acute gastroenteritis.” Now, if one of our students or researchers needed access to that article, and my library didn’t subscribe to the journal, what substitute would be appropriate? Should I offer to find her an article from another journal, maybe on the detection of different viruses in Korean children? Or maybe an article on adenoviruses in Swedish children? Or maybe one that deals with treatment (rather than detection) of adenoviruses in Korean children? Maybe I should just suggest a different research topic altogether, because when it comes to journal articles the reality is that there are no pneumatic variants or Snap-On versions from other makers available to buy. Other articles don’t offer different versions of the same information; they offer completely different information.

                Librarians make purchase decisions all the time based on the existence of substitutes…

                No, actually we don’t, at least not when it comes to journals. We decide between unique items based on priorities and budget limits, and there’s a very big difference. When I choose between four or five brands of milk, I’m choosing between substitutes. But when my budget forces a choice between groceries and clothing, I’m choosing between priorities. The latter is much more like the situation that libraries face when deciding between two journals.

                if libraries were serious about inflation, they would start to cancel en masse.

                No. If libraries were more serious about making political statements than about supporting their researchers and students, then they would begin canceling en masse. Those of us who are serious about supporting research and learning on our campuses, however, are probably going to keep looking for ways to deal with this issue in a more serious and thoughtful way.

                To the faculty member who said he had to have a $20,000/yr journal subscription to enable recruiting a candidate, it could be replied that the candidate should go to another university.

                Just for the sake of argument, let’s say that such a response wouldn’t be breathtakingly arrogant and irresponsible. It would nevertheless be foolish and irrelevant, because it wouldn’t address the issue. The problem wasn’t that this particular candidate said no—the problem, according to the associate dean, was that he was going to face the same problem with virtually any serious candidate as long as the journal was unavailable on our campus.

                Posted by Rick Anderson | Oct 29, 2012, 5:08 pm
                • Rick, let us reason together. It is not as if we are enemies yelling at each other. It’s all a question of getting our perspectives into sharp focus.

                  I said that there are substitute journals. You reply by talking about articles. Let’s talk about the same things. (But if we were to talk about articles, there are often substitutes as well. An unavailable article is unavailable, of course. But there might be a number of articles citing and commenting on the unavailable one or other articles dealing with a closely related topic.)

                  I don’t follow your second comment. I’ll agree that groceries and clothing belong in different categories, but we are talking about discipline-oriented scholarly journals and databases. Riding buses and driving our own cars are different too, but they are still substitutes. Would you argue that Web of Science and Scopus are not substitutes? Yes, they are different in certain ways, but they satisfy the same need.

                  My comment about cancelling journals was perhaps inartfully expressed. All I am saying is that buying and cancelling are the market signals publishers pay attention to. The marketplace does the work. Cancellation is not a political statement. Publishers will continue to supply what we continue to buy at prices that keep them in business. It may not have been obvious, but I am encouraged by the open-access movement – a very important part of the marketplace.

                  As for the $20,000 journal subscription: I suspect you know I am not advocating we should talk to researchers this way. The point is simply that scholarship will hardly suffer if a scholar goes to an institution better able to satisfy his information needs. And from the institutional point of view, a stronger psychology department may well be a substitute for a stronger physics department.

                  No institution can be all things to all members of its community. Intelligent choices will continue to be made. To the extent that these choices influence the marketplace, as does Open Access, we can expect positive change.

                  Posted by L. Hunter Kevil | Oct 29, 2012, 5:53 pm
              • Inflation in the costs of recruiting top football coaches is becoming unsustainable, says the imp.

                Posted by Sandy Thatcher | Oct 29, 2012, 5:43 pm
                • Dear Imp,

                  Nice moniker and a good point.

                  I’d simply add to your comment that unpleasant and undesirable are not always the same as unsustainable. Here at Missouri the athletic department enjoys a slight profit despite the very high cost of coaches in the major sports. The arms race for top coaches leads to some very high and very low salaries (since the salary pool has a finite limit.) . It could be argued that some coaches are “worth it.” Look at Bill Snyder’s success with Kansas State football. He came back after retirement and within a year turned a program gone to seed into a powerhouse. Revenues to the K-State athletic department are likely way up. So long as programs like football and basketball can fill the seats at higher and higher prices, the bidding for top coaches will proceed in tandem. (I won’t pay anywhere near the price for a football ticket, but many people will. (I prefer the substitute of television.) When athletic departments start losing money big time, then coaches’ salaries will start to fall. So for uncompetitive programs the arms race will indeed prove unsustainable. But I suspect that the very best coaches will continue to be compensated royally. Elsevier, the American Chemical Society, Springer, et al will continue to prosper or at least keep their chins above water. The smaller publishers have been in trouble for quite a while.

                  Posted by L. Hunter Kevil | Oct 30, 2012, 10:00 am
              • I said that there are substitute journals. You reply by talking about articles. Let’s talk about the same things.

                Hunter, you might want to look at the original piece again, in which I explain that articles are the only meaningful unit here. Our scholars and students don’t use journals; they use articles.

                I don’t follow your second comment. I’ll agree that groceries and clothing belong in different categories, but we are talking about discipline-oriented scholarly journals and databases. Riding buses and driving our own cars are different too, but they are still substitutes. Would you argue that Web of Science and Scopus are not substitutes?

                No, because Scopus and WoS are, in fact, competing products offering a very similar service. There are meaningful differences between them, but they are nevertheless fundamentally similar. The same thing (as I explained very carefully in my piece) is not true of two different microbiology journals, each of which offers a unique set of articles dealing with unique topics. Two journals in the same field are mutually complementary, not mutually substitutable.

                All I am saying is that buying and cancelling are the market signals publishers pay attention to. The marketplace does the work.

                True enough, but you’re ignoring the burden of my piece, which was to point out that market signals are distorted when the marketplace is characterized by a lack of real and direct competition—which is exactly what’s lacking in a context of virtually pure monopoly combined with strong demand.

                As for the $20,000 journal subscription: I suspect you know I am not advocating we should talk to researchers this way.

                It seemed to me that this was exactly what you were advocating by suggesting that a library might respond to a researcher in that way. For the sake of your library’s patrons, I’m glad to hear that you didn’t mean it.

                The point is simply that scholarship will hardly suffer if a scholar goes to an institution better able to satisfy his information needs.

                Maybe so—but my job is (and should be) far more specific than that. My library’s ultimate goal may be to do what’s best for scholarship writ large, but its proximate goal is to do what’s best for scholarship at the University of Utah.

                And from the institutional point of view, a stronger psychology department may well be a substitute for a stronger physics department.

                Sure. But it also may well not be. And in any case, the decision about which discipline is more important is not one that the library should arrogate to itself.

                Posted by Rick Anderson | Oct 29, 2012, 6:53 pm
              • And a new study shows that the benefits from a winning football program like Kansas State’s go mainly to the athletic side of the university, not to the academic side: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2012/10/29/research-finds-financial-impact-colleges-win-football-games. By the way, I seriously doubt that Missouri is one of the 22 universities that actually have athletic programs operating in the black. Missouri famously wanted to close its university press to save money while devoting more money to sports. A recent article also noted some blatant misuse of funds in the athletic department.

                Posted by Sandy Thatcher | Oct 30, 2012, 12:16 pm

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