Some librarians may have seen a newsletter sent out earlier this year by the Allen Press entitled "Journal Promotion Series" (Jan/Feb 1996), containing an article by publishing consultant Albert Henderson called "Forecast: More Cancellations." The reply card accompanying the newsletter states that "it is intended for journal managers, managing editors, executive directors and publication executives."
Mr. Henderson is one who would shift the blame for a shrinking market for research journals from the publishers, whose pricing practices and niche-title proliferation are the main problem, to university administrators, who are accused of failing to provide libraries with adequate funding to buy materials at a level similar to that of past decades when money was more plentiful. This is a transparent argument, which he attempts to support with a few inaccurate claims. Part of his solution is to argue for more funding for libraries, supposedly to come from research overhead. It's as if the dairy industry, disturbed at the declining sales of milk, were lobbying Congress for personal income tax cuts so that citizens would have more disposable income, which they would then presumably spend on more milk. This is a nonsensical approach to the problem.
If university libraries were suddenly to receive an infusion of funding from their administrations, would they sink all this money into new subscriptions to niche titles and restoring cancelled titles? Doubtful. They would instead direct it into extending access, networking resources to desktops of users, making existing information more accessible to more users. Buying loads of new, low-impact, low-circulation journals that might be used by a tiny handful of researchers is just not in the cards, funding or no funding. Publishers and editors need to be made aware of this fact.
ARL figures could easily refute some of the statements in this article. Henderson states for instance that "over the last 20 years, university managers have cut library budgets while increasing administrative expenditures at an unparalleled rate." Most ARL library budgets have not been cut -- they just haven't risen at nearly the rate of inflation for published materials. But ARL libraries have tried to keep up: serials expenditures were up 106% across the ARL from 1986 to 1995, and the number of serials purchased declined only 8% during that period. All while the serials unit price rose 138%! It's no wonder libraries are falling steadily behind, but it's monographs that are suffering the most, not journals. Keeping up with journals has been at the expense of book purchases, which dropped 23% in the ARL libraries during those years. (Source: 1994-95 ARL Statistics.) It's not that universities are blatantly neglecting their libraries; it's just that modest gains are obliterated by price inflation three times higher than the Consumer Price Index, which has risen only 47.8% since 1985.
To take an optimistic view, our declining purchasing power may be a blessing in disguise: it has forced libraries actually to *manage* collections, rather than merely build them bigger with no regard to quality or cohesiveness. It has forced them to explore document delivery options and other access strategies that would have been less necessary if they could still own "everything."
Hard collection choices, while painful to researchers and librarians, have proven initially that a lot of what was considered essential in the past may not be so essential after all. The vast majority of articles libraries pay millions for every year may never be looked at by anyone on our campuses, ever. These are the same articles touted as the "cream" of current research by their publishers. Could it be that the emperor has no clothes? Henderson himself states in his article that "a critical examination of the published research in nearly any field will probably eliminate 25-75% as trivial or wrong!" Is this any kind of argument for increased serials spending?
Contrary to his claims of damage to the research enterprise, libraries' reduced purchasing power may instead benefit the researchers/consumers who allegedly need all this information. If the literatures of most sci-tech fields are now so massive that no individual can hope to keep up (a fact that Henderson notes), what's the use of having even more in our libraries? Leaner collections are easier to use, more easily maintained, more focused, more responsive to changing needs, and less clogged with superfluous titles that hide the useful ones. This notion ought to be applied to individual journals that have grown so huge that even their prime audience no longer finds them useful for current-awareness reading.
Market forces would normally ensure that only the best journals will survive and flourish, but scholarly publishing is hardly a typical economic scenario. What everyone needs is a leaner, higher-quality literature more attuned to the actual needs of its consumers and providers. It is the publishers who stand to lose in this picture, so it's no wonder they're nervous. The juggernaut they've built up over the last 50 years is under attack on several fronts. Some researchers (e.g., Ginsparg and Odlyzko) are vocally calling for the dismantling of the current commercial scientific publishing system, since it benefits no one but the publishers and their stockholders. A glance at some commercial publishers' profit margins shows that we're a long way away from accomplishing this goal, but perhaps we've started on the road.
Mr. Henderson is correct in pointing out that research overhead is largely a sham as far as library funding is concerned. (A simple historical comparison of an institution's research funding with its library budget would clearly demonstrate that the wealth is not being shared.) But his quixotic lobbying effort to legislate a redirection of research overhead to libraries, while unlikely to succeed, is based on a misguided assumption that libraries really want all those journals back. Sure, we'll take the money, but journal publishers will certainly be disappointed when they realize it's not so readily flowing back into their coffers.
165.2 THE PUBLISHER'S LOT
Janet Fisher, MIT Press, email@example.com.
I'm writing to give readers of NSPI a glance at the complexity of serials pricing from a non-profit publisher's point of view, starting with a rundown of the type of phone calls and messages I get from journal editors all during the year:
* We need to receive double the amount of editorial support we currently get -- this year, preferably. My research institute can no longer pay to support the editorial office.
* The sponsor of the journal has decided to drop it because it's not "mainstream" enough -- meaning the research does not provide short-term solutions to today's problems. We need to set up a whole new arrangement that allows the journal to be self-financing by next year.
* We have a two-year backlog of accepted manuscripts and need to increase pages by 50% beginning with the next issue. If we don't do this now, someone's going to start another journal to turn things out faster.
* We need to increase frequency next year because our backlog has gotten too big and if we don't, someone's going to start another journal to turn things out faster.
* No, I can't get the fourth issue of the volume in to you in time to be published by the end of your fiscal year. Sorry if that means you only have three issues of income to cover an entire year's worth of staff, equipment, and marketing costs.
* Now that the journal's reached the black, we want to get a royalty. Yes, I know you haven't earned back all the losses of the last eight years, but we still want to start getting a royalty. It'll just delay your return a few more years.
* We want to have 40 halftones in every issue of the journal. So what if you only budgeted for 20? If we don't do this, we won't be able to attract the authors we want. And by the way, the quality of photographs in the last issue was horrendous. I hope you'll find a better printer next time and ensure that they are done in duotones. In fact, we should produce free offprints for the authors in this issue so they can have something good to send out to their friends. And about the next issue, did we tell you we've planned a fold-out and have a 4-color cover in the works?
* Oh, but we HAVE to make these changes at the blues stage of production! We're sorry we missed them at the page proof stage, but the authors will be SO embarrassed if they aren't fixed now. You can't possibly want to put out an inferior product! It can't possibly cost very much...
* Here's a copy of a promotional flyer we just got for a new journal of Customized Widgets. We MUST send out another mailing right now -- even though we've already spent our marketing budget for the year -- so that they don't scoop our authors and subscribers.
These kinds of calls over and over make journal publishers reluctant to pick up the phone when they know an editor is calling. But it's important that everybody in the scholarly communication chain realize that things like these come up throughout the year and must be covered by prices set 6 to 18 months earlier in addition to all the routine things you would expect journal prices to have to cover. Any publisher that doesn't set prices carefully enough to allow room for these emergencies will be out of business quickly.
MIT Press currently has 40 journals. Eighteen of those have joined the program in the last five years (10 brand new titles, 8 existing journals). The other 22 journals on our list have experienced their own high rate of change:
* 8 journals (36%) have changed production processes due to technology.
* 11 (50%) had increases in the editorial support paid to the sponsor or editor's institution.
* 4 (18%) changed sponsors completely.
* 9 (41%) experienced substantial page increases due to heavy backlogs of accepted material.
* 3 (14%) changed frequency permanently.
When prices are set in May for the next calendar or volume year, information is still very incomplete on subscription levels for the current year. Journal editors cannot predict with complete accuracy what special needs they will have in the next year for extra pages, extra art or color, new equipment and software, editorial support payments to their universities, etc. The publisher must take this uncertainty into account and also try to anticipate internal staff and salary changes and equipment upgrades that will be coming in the next year.
165.3 FOREIGN JOURNAL PRICES FOR 1997: ONE LIBRARY'S
Danny Jones, University of Texas Health Center, firstname.lastname@example.org.
We are beginning to get invoices for 1997 subscriptions from our foreign journal vendor. I asked for a report sorted by publisher of all our titles handled by this vendor. (We have one domestic and one foreign vendor.) I have summarized the data for our library below and thought others might find it interesting, as we've been advised by vendors that, in general, journal prices would rise about 10% for 1997. We have about 250 other foreign subscriptions, but our vendor did not have the 1997 prices posted when this report was run last week. I've always heard the cost of living in Amsterdam is higher, and these data seem to confirm that (again). Caution: This represents the subscription for only one medium sized academic health science library.
Publisher # titles 1997 total 1997 avg 1996 total 1996 avg % incr Churchill Livingstone 11 $6,315.07 $574.10 $6,145.07 $558.60 2.70 Elsevier group Editions Scientifique et Medicales Elsevier Paris 3 $1,697.00 $565.60 $1,551.00 $517.00 9.40 Elsevier Science B.V. Amsterdam 32 $109,072.00 3,408.50 $91,559.00 $2,861.20 19.10 Elsevier Science Inc. New York 24 $40,680.00 $1,695.00 $35,332.00 $1,472.10 15.10 Elsevier Science Ireland Ltd. Limerick 25 $42,302.00 $1,692.00 $35,585.00 $1,423.00 18.80 Elsevier Science Ltd. Oxford 13 $22,100.00 $1,700.00 $19,517.00 $1,501.30 13.20 PERGAMON Elsevier Science Ltd. 35 $52,597.00 $1,502.70 $46,491.00 $1,328.30 13.10 Georg Thieme 4 $1,652.00 $413.00 $1,594.00 $398.50 3.60 S Karger AG Basel 32 $26,792.40 $837.20 $23,782.80 $720.60 16.10 Kluwer Academic Publishers Group 15 $10,775.00 $718.30 $10,115.00 $722.50 -0.50 MacMillan Magazines Ltd 9 $6,510.72 $732.40 $5,577.77 $619.70 16.70 Munksgaard (Kobenhaven) 29 $12,502.48 $431.10 $12,284.40 $423.60 1.70 Oxford University Press (UK) 21 $10,343.00 $492.50 $9,430.00 $449.00 9.60 Springer - GmbH Dr Dietrich Steinkopff 1 $830.00 $830.00 $688.00 $688.00 20.60 Springer (Wien) 1 $5,084.00 $1,271.10 $4,945.51 $1,236.30 2.80 Springer (Berlin) 31 $56,208.73 $1,813.10 $52,638.00 $1,698.00 6.70 Taylor & Francis Ltd. 11 $5,842.00 $531.00 $5,361.00 $487.30 8.90 Company of Biologists Ltd (Cambridge, UK) 4 $4,325.00 $1,081.20 $3,935.00 $983.70 9.90 Total 301 $415,628.40 $366,531.55+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
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