Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Commercial vs Society publishers

Journals in which scientific research is published have two kinds of publishers: commercial and society.  IISc subscribes to a large number of journals and pays around Rs. 1.5 crores to the society publishers and 12 crores to commercial publishers.

Traditionally, society publications are considered more prestigious journals within the academic community. For example, most of the physics community publishes in journals published by American institute of physics (AIP) and Institute of Physics (IOP). In chemistry, it has been traditionally journals published by American Chemical Society (ACS) and Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC). However, this situation is rapidly changing in sciences and engineering.

For example, in chemistry, many high impact journals like Angew Chemie, Chemistry - A European Journal; Chemistry - A Asian Journal etc are being published by a commercial publisher. In my area of chemical engineering, the top journals that publish in general area of chemical engineering are AIChE. J., Industrial and Engineering Chemistry Research, Chemical Engineering Science and Chemical Engineering Journal. Three of them are published by commercial publishers. In my sub area of research on catalysis, the top journals are Journal of Catalysis, Applied Catalysis B, Applied Catalysis A, Journal of molecular catalysis and all of them are owned by a single commercial publisher. Similarly, in fields like Material Science/engineering, the top journals in that field are owned by commercial publishers.

Thus, commercial publishers publish very good journals. The differences and problems arises because the quality of *all* journals published by the society and the commercial publisher. For example, how many journals published by American Chemical Society have an impact factor of less than 3? Just one. The same can not be said of commercial publishers, who publish journals of widely varying quality.

A librarian (especially in India) wants to buy the entire package sold by the publisher. This leads to tremendous cost incurred by the institute and the administration is stuck with a bill that increases every year as the commercial publishers continue to add journals without adding to the content. Researchers expect that the administration will subscribe to all journals that are possible; librarians like to give access to all journals for the researchers, while the publishers would like to maximize their profit. The efforts to contain bloating library budget ultimately seem to rest on the administrator of the university, who is unable to alter the dynamics because of resistance from every quarter. In deciding whether to continue subscription to a particular journal, at least four criteria should be used : impact factor of the journal, number of articles published by faculty in that journal, number of citations to the papers published in that journal and the number of downloads from that particular journal. Such statistics should be provided and the librarian/faculty should be willing to cut subscriptions. Unless this happens, it is unlikely that the budgets can be reduced rationally.


Anonymous said...

If you think many librarians buy subscriptions because they are interested in keeping a collection, you are wrong. Many librarians are treated to five star hotels, trips abroad etc by the private publishers, which is why they keep on buying even trash from them.

Anonymous said...

Dear Professor:
In fact, right from the beginning I have been opposing the bundle based subscriptions (or big-deal). Less aged librarians had (still have) very lesser say. In fact, there has been no platform, no discussions.

It is INDEST which started the game of licensing to access bundle-of-journals. Perhaps, INDEST had no other go. How can a few librarians (in the form of committee) decide the list/bundle of journals for all NITs or any other institutes? (not properly knowing the needs of individual institutes)

It is like a few state government officers who order books for all public libraries, whereas, public libraries have completely different local information needs.

Big-deal is bad. I am seriously trying to escape.

Anonymous said...

In India, a few vested interests control everything.