I have been thinking about your editorial in the recent issue (209.1). I write as someone who has been mostly a journals publisher when I give my view that the newsletter has performed a real function drawing the attention of all parts of the information chain to journals pricing which by any commercial standards is a strange and arcane area. I do think it is still needed and not just to keep surcharges for electronic access under the spotlight. Print journals and the pricing of print journals is still central to libraries: it is where most of the money goes.
My memory is that the stimulus to the newsletter at the beginning was differential pricing (higher prices of European journals in the US) as well as increasing prices as such. It now seems to me that differential pricing is no longer a big issue. Where the price is higher, there are now usually genuine reasons to do either with currency fluctuations or, where postage is not charged separately, with postal rates. I know of at least one publisher based in Europe which in this area prices to market (for once) and which used to charge less for North American customers than European customers on the basis that they would pay less. Even in Japan, where differential pricing used to be encouraged by the locally based and dominant agents, mark-ups are a delicate matter now and presumably, bearing in mind the state of the economy, will be even more keenly scrutinised in the future.
However, annually increasing subscription rates are still serious matters of concern. I cannot understand why there is not more sustained examination of individual cases. Can it be that a certain notorious legal action has stifled serious, because detailed, criticism? The complexities of the electronic world and matters of surcharges should not take away from the fact that prices are going up over general inflation, however calculated.
I know a little about the practicalities of setting subscription rates as a publisher; what I am setting out here does not however necessarily reflect on the practices of any of the companies, profit and non-profit, for whom I have worked. I have forgotten a lot about past motivations. Fashions change and there is no exact science involved here.
Publishers are in fact usually working on a costs-plus basis, not pricing to market. Their journal pricing sessions are part of their overall budget process but now start earlier than the rest of that process. The agents have done good work in pressing publishers to get subscription rates out earlier than they used to do. Unfortunately, there is a downside here in that the information used in the pricing process is bound to be less reliable than it would be later, and any prudent publisher will tend to assume a worst-case scenario if confronted with a range of possibilities. But this is a relatively minor matter.
For pricing purposes publishers look at three items in particular. They work out costs, they look at attrition and they project other income.
Costs are mainly production costs. In spite of what some librarians seem to think, there are very good reasons relating to the health and success of the journal for increasing the number of pages, and thus the costs and thus the price. Publishers also have to think how they factor in not just the extra costs of producing e-files but also the costs of supporting the infrastructure, which is a relatively new development. Costs are not however my main concern here.
Nor is non-subscription income. It is not a really significant factor in academic journal publishing except in some medical areas.
The way that attrition is regarded is central to the way in which subscription rates are increased. Attrition for the publisher is the apparent decline in the number of subscribers this year from last year at the time (spring) when the process of thinking about next year begins to get going seriously.
Those responsible for the management of a journal come to meetings with spreadsheets. They tend to make the following sort of assumptions. They assume that attrition will continue at more or less the same rate and they project prices with a view to maintain profit levels if the level of profit is deemed to be satisfactory in the overall scheme of things. If the journal has not reached the appropriate gross margin, they price with a view to increasing profit so that the trend is towards an acceptable margin. There can be other factors involved. A publisher intending to sell a journal or higher management aware of the purchase of a whole company may put prices up higher to get a better margin and a better market value next year.
But that is not all. Publishers read (in this newsletter sometimes) that Faxon Research, or some other vendor or vendor related organisation, projects an average increase of such a percent. They may check with other publishers, some of whom tell them the truth and some of whom lie, in order to find out what sort of average price increase these others are projecting. If the publisher is part of a larger group, they often have a general philosophy behind their budgeting process. Their price increases, they are told, should be in the top quartile for the industry or the next quartile down, so as not to draw attention to the increases and become one of the companies picked out for censure. If the price increases projected on a bottom-up basis as a result of the budgeting process look too low on the basis of this sort of measurement, they may be put up. If the budget does not look good enough to the parent company, they may be put up.
Where does the market come in? Not much. Publishers know that librarians decide on cancellations before they have received any prices and seem to depend more on projections by agents than on actuals -- or so it seems to publishers. When agents propose price increases of such a percent back in February for the next year, it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Some publishers may worry that the year after next will demonstrate a reaction by librarians to the previous year's price hike if there was one. In fact careful analysis by one major learned society publisher of price increases compared with decline in subscriptions over an eleven year sequence shows no obvious relationship between price hikes and cancellations that year or the year after.
It could be argued that this is not a healthy situation. I am sure most readers of the Newsletter would regard the inherent lack of market response in this area as unhealthy.
What can be done? How can librarians, all things being equal, favour publishers who maintain prices or who put prices up "reasonably"? I don't know. All things are rarely equal which does not help. One journal cannot be substituted for another in the research environment. How can librarians determine what is "reasonable" when they do not have access to the cost data? Is enquiry of this sort part of the job of the librarian?
Obviously the picture I have given is a wild generalisation, only part of the picture and even a caricature. But I do think there are questions implicit in the caricature which should be part of the substance of the "Tuttle" newsletter and which are not part of the remit of liblicense.
211.2 INSTITUTE OF PHYSICS PUBLISHING - 1999 PRICES
Lucy Pearce, IOP Publishing, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Institute of Physics Publishing's (IOP) 1999 Pricing Bulletin is now available online together with news of online products and services to be launched next year. To see the full list of prices, point your browser at:
Among the new products will be STACKS(tm), a link management system available to institutional subscribers at no extra cost. Libraries will be able to use STACKS(tm) to integrate IOP tables of contents into their own online catalogues or databases.
IOP also becomes an official reseller of the Institution of Electrical Engineers' INSPEC database and archive with the launch of their new online research service, Axiom(tm). Designed for the Web, this new service will exploit HyperCite(tm) technology. For Electronic Journals subscribers, Axiom(tm) will also act as a gateway to the full text of IOP journals and from there to other physics resources.
Please don't hesitate to contact me if you need any further information.
211.3 GORDON AND BREACH ANNOUNCEMENT COMMENT
Dana Roth, Caltech, email@example.com
In response to G&B's recent announcement about definitive pricing and publishing, I can only say "IT IS TOO LATE." Librarians have been treated less than charitably by G&B for my 30+ years in the profession and their pathetic attempt at an apparent 'mea culpa,' at this late date, seems almost insulting. Fortunately, I no longer have any G&B titles to worry about and interestingly enough my users rarely ask about them.
Statements of fact and opinion appearing in the Newsletter on Serials Pricing Issues are made on the responsibility of the authors alone, and do not imply the endorsement of the editor, the editorial board, or the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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The Newsletter on Serials Pricing Issues (ISSN: 1046-3410) is published by the editor through Academic and Networking Technology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, as news is available. Editor: Marcia Tuttle, Internet: firstname.lastname@example.org; Paper mail: 215 Flemington Road, Chapel Hill NC 27514-5637; Telephone: 919 929-3513. Editorial Board: Deana Astle (Clemson University), Christian Boissonnas (Cornell University), Jerry Curtis (Springer Verlag New York), Isabel Czech (Institute for Scientific Information), Janet Fisher (MIT Press), Fred Friend (University College, London), Charles Hamaker (University of North Carolina at Charlotte), Daniel Jones (University of Texas Health Science Center), Michael Markwith (Swets North America), James Mouw (University of Chicago), and Heather Steele (Blackwell's Periodicals Division). The Newsletter is available on the Internet, Blackwell's CONNECT, and Readmore's ROSS. EBSCO customers may receive the Newsletter in paper format.
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