55.2 AMERICAN CHEMICAL SOCIETY JOURNAL PRICES, Christina McCawley
55.3 FROM THE MAILBOX
Richard P. Jasper, Emory University, LIBRPJ@EMUVM1.BITNET.
I had the pleasure Wednesday morning of hearing John Tagler of Elsevier Science Publishing give a long and informative talk to a diverse group of librarians convened at the invitation of Amy Dykeman, Assistant Director for Technical Services at the Georgia Institute of Technology's Price Gilbert Library. The audience included, moreover, a Georgia Tech faculty member who is not only an editor of an Elsevier computer science journal, but who was formerly associated with the publishing arm of a major US scholarly society, who chairs his college's promotion and tenure committee, and who deals with the library when it says it's time to cancel more journal titles. As this faculty member put it, he has stood "in all four corners of the boxing ring" that we call the scholarly communication process.
John's detailed talk provided a very useful and factual discussion of the rise following World War II of society and university press journal publishing in the United States and the parallel development of the European commercial primary journal publishers with their international and multidisciplinary approach. Of course, no talk would be complete without a number of charts showing a) the exponential growth in the submission of scholarly articles since the mid-1970s and b) the exponential decline of the US dollar against the major Western European currencies since the mid-1980s. The two things taken together, John posited, account for the burdensome change in prices for primary journals that have afflicted North American academic and research libraries for the past half-decade.
We have heard all this before, of course, but I think it bears repeating for the messages that weren't discussed, although they were clearly to be seen within the framework of John's remarks. These include the following:
1) Commercial publishers make a cogent argument for the difference between their prices and those of society and university press publishers when they point out that, at least with society publishers, start-up and overhead costs are heavily subsidized by a) membership dues and b) page charges to authors. Since commercial publishers don't have these revenue sources, these costs get passed along to libraries in the form of higher subscription rates.
Now, little mention was made of the fact that the last 20 years has seen a very significant shift in the placement of scholarly articles from society and university press journals to the commercial publishers. Nor was there much mention of commercial publishers' comparative advantages in securing these articles, advantages accruing from economies of scale, well-developed in-house advertising and marketing plans, and so forth. And the absence of page charges was presented as a handicap (less revenue) for the commercial publishers.
I would suggest another viewpoint. Lack of page charges is for commercial publishers a significant lure in attracting quality papers especially from up and coming young researchers who may not have the budgets to support aggressive placement in society publications.
2) The shift from society and university to commercial publishing is primarily discussed in terms of "why subscription rates are higher," but not in terms of "who pays for what." For that matter, it isn't discussed in terms of "what kind of profit margin does a commercial publisher need or want," but let's leave that aside for a moment.
"Who pays for what" may be the question we in academia need to resolve. It becomes startlingly clear in a presentation such as the one John made that along with price increases there has been an equally momentous shift in who pays for scholarly information. As articles migrate from society and university presses to commercial presses, individual authors and society memberships are relieved of the pressure to subsidize scholarly communication out of their budgets. Instead, libraries subsidize the process out of their budgets.
3) All of which brings me around to some follow up on the Triangle Libraries' model copyright statement.
I posed the question both to John Tagler and to the Georgia Tech faculty member: "How would you as a commercial publisher and you as a faculty member/scholar respond if such a policy were widely adopted?" Both responded, essentially, "What's the big deal?" The value, in their view, is what the publisher brings to the process, not the words themselves, ownership the scholar usually retains anyway. This response seems to me to be disingenuous at best.
In reality, the article is the raw material Elsevier or any other publisher turns into a finished product. Giving it to a publisher free, only to have the publisher turn around and charge through the nose for it, is out of kilter. Maybe a comical analogy will convey my sense of chagrin:
A group of individuals in an country with a poorly developed economy grow really wonderful rubber plants. In fact, within their particular subset of the overall society there is tremendous distinction to be earned by growing the best and the most rubber plants. Bus factories in Detroit and Tokyo say, "Give us your rubber plants and your government will give you medals, honors, lauds and distinctions." The growers line up to send their rubber plants to Detroit and Tokyo -- gratis. Overseas, the rubber plants are converted into tires and other essential ingredients for buses. The salesmen in Detroit and Tokyo point out to the government of the country with a poorly developed economy that these buses are absolutely vital for conveying the local populace. How will people be able to do their work without buses? The local government strains to pay for a steady stream of new and improved buses. Some inevitable questions arise:
Are the rubber plant growers themselves well-rewarded? "You bet," they all say. Do the bus factories in Detroit and Tokyo bring a tremendous amount of time, energy, skill and financial resources to bear in building the buses? Most certainly. Does the populace of the poorly developed country benefit by having these buses for transportation purposes? Without a doubt. Is it fair, equitable or indefinitely sustainable for the local government to be picking up all of the costs? You've got to be kidding!!
4) It is no wonder that John Tagler or any other publisher has no interest in seeing the model copyright statement come to pass. It is perhaps at first glance surprising to see that a distinguished faculty member has no interest in it either -- at least until one considers the preceding scenario.
There is no disputing that journal publishers, per Janet Fisher's and Sandra Wisler's comments last week, bring a tremendous service to bear in gathering, editing, refereeing, massaging, packaging, and distributing scholarly information. This is true regardless of whether the publisher is society, university or commercially based.
Moreover, there is no disputing that the retention by individual scholars of the copyright to their individual articles would in fact create the logistical nightmare that Fisher and Wisler have envisioned. (John was quite frank in saying that he was pleased that UC Press and MIT were willing to make these statements so that he didn't have to do so.)
But there is no getting around the fact that the "balance of payments" has tilted too far in the direction of commercial publishers, too much against individual libraries. It is easy, given the late twentieth century problems confronting the United States, to see this as yet one more example of "greedy foreign exporters" (i.e., Elsevier and Springer-Verlag as Toyota and Nissan) and "putting personal satisfaction (or gain) over the national interest" (i.e., librarians as the "Buy American" crowd).
Perhaps it would behoove libraries to address this problem to university administrators as a local resource issue. If the individual faculty member has nothing to be gained by retaining copyright to his or her article, perhaps the university will see that it does. Tagler's and the faculty member's comments notwithstanding, surely the university must see the journal article as a value commodity, just as it does the patent for a new invention?
Perhaps then research institutions, both individually and collectively, can begin bargaining with commercial publishers, large and small, over fair costs and cost containment strategies.
Until we build this consensus at the local level the commercial publishers remain, to quote Red Barber, "in the catbird seat."
55.2 AMERICAN CHEMICAL SOCIETY JOURNAL PRICES
Christina McCawley, West Chester University, email@example.com.
I thought you might like to see a copy of a letter that one of our Chemistry professors wrote to the American Chemical Society. He has given me permission to post it to the _Newsletter on Serials Pricing Issues_.
Sept. 14, 1992
Dr. Ernest Eliel, President The American Chemical Society 1155 Sixteenth Street NW Washington, D.C. 20036
Today I performed the sad duty of recommending priorities for cancellation of twenty percent (by cost) of West Chester University's chemistry serials budget. In this process I observed that the American Chemical Society has, in the last year, increased subscription prices by twenty percent or more on almost all ACS journals to which we subscribe. The ACS seems to have positioned itself squarely in the "part of the problem" category with respect to the well-documented difficulties which universities, large and small, are having with serials price escalation. Although my department is one of the largest in the Philadelephia area in terms of chemistry graduates, we are relatively small compared to other programs on campus. Nonetheless, our part of the University's serials budget exceeds ten percent. We cannot begin to accommodate cost increases which far outstrip the rate of inflation in this period of diminishing resources. The problem is not unique to us. It can hardly be news to the ACS that large price increases will be harmful to those institutions which perpetuate our profession.
I ask that you, in your capacity of ACS President, act to assure that journal pricing policies be set in a manner which is consistent with the primary mission of the ACS as a learned society, in contrast to its incidental role as a publishing house.
Roger Barth, Ph.D.
cc Editor, Chemical and Engineering News
55.3 FROM THE MAILBOX
The mailbox is firstname.lastname@example.org.
>From Donna Lively, University of Texas at Arlington (email@example.com. edu):
The report from the Society for Scholarly Publishing Seminar was very interesting. However, I am disturbed by the attitude implied in the remarks reported from Mary Curtis and Susan Knapp that the marketplace is somehow exempt from the responsibilities of democracy. If democracy is dependent on a well-informed populace then the publishing and information industry has a responsibility to see that marketplace considerations do not impede this goal. And that includes making sure that costs are not prohibitive. As for the "major strength" that Ms. Curtis mentioned, i.e.: "...no group has complete control...", I am afraid that due to the fact that currently only about 29 corporations own very nearly all media outlets in the world, we have already come closer to that undesirable condition than government control would bring it; there being many more than just 29 governments.
>From James Thompson, University of California Riverside (thompson@ucrac1. ucr.edu):
I was interested to read Elsevier's letter to journal editors about journal prices. Dr. Jongejan mentions inflation, increased pagination, etc., and then states that Elsevier is working "with the purpose to contribute to some of the aforementioned problems." Frankly, I think Elsevier has contributed more than enough to those problems, and I wish they would stop.
>From Mignon Adams, Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science (adams@ shrsys.hslc.org):
I thought I would share with you how we are coping with the unexpectedly high cost of European journals for next year. The Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science has a very focused collection, with an emphasis on pharmacology, chemistry, and biochemistry. The library's 1992-93 budget received a healthy increase for periodicals, and we would have had ample funds to handle rate increases plus perhaps, for the first time in a long time, to add some journals. However, we had not expected the 30% increase of our most expensive journals. I circulated two lists to department chairs: one of journals with costs of over $500 a year from European commercial publishers, and a similar one from other publishers. The reaction from our faculty was also a first: finally, they agreed that even a very highly respected journal was not worth $6000 a year. Based on their recommendations, we plan to cancel enough journals from European commercial publishers to cover the cost of their increases for their other journals. Several years ago I heard an Elsevier V-P state that they were in danger of producing a product no one can afford. They may be very close to that now.
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The NEWSLETTER ON SERIALS PRICING ISSUES (ISSN: 1046-3410) is published by the editor through the Office of Information Technology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, as news is available. Editor: Marcia Tuttle, Internet: firstname.lastname@example.org; Paper mail: Serials Department, CB #3938 Davis Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill NC 27599-3938; Telephone: 919 962-1067; FAX: 919 962-0484. Editorial Board: Deana Astle (Clemson University), Jerry Curtis (Springer Verlag New York), Janet Fisher (MIT Press), Charles Hamaker (Louisiana State University), James Mouw (University of Chicago), and Heather Steele (Blackwell's Periodicals Division). The Newsletter is available on the Internet and Blackwell's CONNECT. EBSCO and Readmore Academic customers may receive the Newsletter in paper format from these companies. Back issues of the Newsletter are available electronically from LISTSERV@GIBBS.OIT.UNC.EDU. To subscribe to the newsletter, send a message to LISTSERV@GIBBS.OIT.UNC.EDU saying SUBSCRIBE PRICES [YOUR NAME]. Be sure to send that message to the listserver and not to Prices. You must include your name. To unsubscribe (no name required in message), you must send the message from the e-mail address by which you are subscribed. If you have problems, please contact the editor.