13.10.14

THERE ARE LIMITS.

Harvard University might be a hedge-fund with a university attached, and yet, the academic side of the enterprise finds the pricing policies of journal publishers a bit much.
Many university libraries pay more than half of their journal budgets to the publishers Elsevier, Springer and Wiley.

Robert Darnton, director of Harvard Library told the Guardian: "I hope that other universities will take similar action. We all face the same paradox. We faculty do the research, write the papers, referee papers by other researchers, serve on editorial boards, all of it for free … and then we buy back the results of our labour at outrageous prices.

"The system is absurd, and it is inflicting terrible damage on libraries. One year's subscription to The Journal of Comparative Neurology costs the same as 300 monographs. We simply cannot go on paying the increase in subscription prices. In the long run, the answer will be open-access journal publishing, but we need concerted effort to reach that goal."
The story is two years old. The  Faculty Advisory Council memorandum describing the situation is instructive.
Even though scholarly output continues to grow and publishing can be expensive, profit margins of 35% and more suggest that the prices we must pay do not solely result from an increasing supply of new articles.

The Library has never received anything close to full reimbursement for these expenditures from overhead collected by the University on grant and research funds.

The Faculty Advisory Council to the Library, representing university faculty in all schools and in consultation with the Harvard Library leadership, reached this conclusion: major periodical subscriptions, especially to electronic journals published by historically key providers, cannot be sustained: continuing these subscriptions on their current footing is financially untenable. Doing so would seriously erode collection efforts in many other areas, already compromised.
That "never received anything close to full reimbursement" is the key.  At one time, there might have been enough grant money for researchers to buy those monographs out of their summer salary (and in those days, write it all off on their taxes) and enough indirect cost return to the libraries that nobody would balk at spending somebody else's money.  But when you run out of somebody else's money?

The generalization to Obama Care or Britain's National Health Service is left to the reader as an exercise.

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