Friday, April 9, 2010

Journal prices and libraries

In the article titled, P.T. Barnum's list, the author says,
I am sure that  telemarketers and tv evangelists are willing to pay big  money for  lists  of  gullible people.  I am going to give you a similar  list  for  free, a list of libraries that apparently are either almost entirely  inattentive to cost or  have so much money that they don't know what to do with it. 
In India, most of the big scientific libraries in India form the list. In the article titled,Libraries, Journals and Publishers, Prof. Balaram discusses in detail the problems plaguing our libraries.

In the USA and other developed countries, the increasing subscription rates resulted in many libraries conducting usage studies and eliminating journals that may not have been eliminated in the past. However, the libraries in India have rarely conducted such studies and by embracing the big deal, the Indian libraries have got into a mess that is difficult to get out, especially when the librarians of the most influential libraries are unwilling (and uninterested) to do so. To illustrate this issue, look at the article published in nature.

To understand the academic publishing market, it is useful to examine the competitive characteristics of the two markets in which publishers compete: for readers and for authors. Within the class of Reader Pays publishing, journals fall into roughly two institutional types: those owned and controlled by 'non-profit' professional societies, including some university presses, and those owned and controlled by profit-motivated commercial publishers. As the table indicates, libraries typically must pay 4 to 6 times as much per page for journals owned by commercial publishers as for journals owned by non-profit societies. These differences in price do not reflect differences in the quality of the journals. In fact the commercial journals are on average less cited than the non-profits and the average cost per citation of commercial journals ranges from 5 to 15 times as high as that of their non-profit counterparts. How can such dramatic differences persist? If one automobile manufacturer charged 6 times as much as its competitors for a car of lower quality, almost nobody would buy its product. Those who want only one car would buy the better, cheaper car. Those who want two cars would buy two of the cheaper ones rather than one cheap one and one expensive, inferior one. Journal articles differ in that they are not substitutes for each other in the same way as cars are. Rather, they are complements. Scientists are not satisfied with seeing only the top articles in their field. They want access to articles of the second and third rank as well. Thus for a library, a second copy of a top academic journal is not a good substitute for a journal of the second rank. Because of this lack of substitutability, commercial publishers of established second-rank journals have substantial monopoly power and are able to sell their product at prices that are much higher than their average costs and several times higher than the price of higher quality, non-profit journals.

How does one overcome the problem? If you are a scientist, try reading through the links provided in this website and understand the risks of supporting an inflated library budget. Currently, the library budgets of India to commercial publishers runs into nearly 30 million dollars. To put this in further perspective, the journal budget of IISc in 2009 was 11.5 crores, of which 10 crores was paid to commercial publishers. However, of the 1400 papers published by faculty of IISc and 30,000 references cited by the authors of these papers, only 39% of these were to journals published by commercial publishers.

PS: Thanks to Madhan muthu, the librarian at NIT Rourkela and one of the few people who understands the issues, for the links.

1 comment:

rajdeep said...

Nice article and wonderful links.

However, the reason that many librarians are uninterested are because they are in the network of commercial publishers.