Scholarly Publishing in Crisis

What is Scholarly Publishing?

Scholarly publishing is a process which starts with research and creative activity and ends with information about that activity being produced and shared with colleagues through publication in journals and books, performances or other creative works. Through this process, knowledge is developed or transformed, shared with the World and preserved for use by future students and researchers.

What is the Scholarly Publishing Crisis?

As journal prices rise, libraries are faced with two choices: increasing their budgets or reducing the number of library materials (both books and journals) that are purchased. As a result, researchers lose access to scholarly information. Since 1986, the price of scholarly journals has increased 180%, while the Consumer Price Increase has only risen 93%. The price increase for scholarly journals has a number of causes:

Commercial publishers control a larger share of the market, often taking over the publication of titles from scholarly societies.
A geography journal that cost $85 from a society in 1991 now costs over $1000 from a commercial publisher, an inflation rate of 1080%.
Publishers charge libraries more for subscriptions than they do their subscribers.
An individual subscription to an education journal is $15, but libraries are charged $730 for the same title, a 4800% mark up.
Commercial publishers have merged.
In the last 20 years, Pergamon Press and Academic Press have been acquired by Elsevier, Taylor and Francis bought Marcel Dekker in 2003 and Wiley Publishing bought Blackwell in 2006. A geochemistry journal published by Pergamon that cost $500 in 1990 is now available from Elsevier for $3262, an inflation rate of about 550%.
Some publishers will only allow individuals to subscribe to journals if their institution has a subscription.
One major publisher does not provide any information on individual subscriptions on their subscription price list page.
Commercial publishers continue to post profits, even in tough economic times.
In 2008, Wiley's profits increased 36%, Elsevier's increased 15%, Taylor & Francis' profits increased 13%. Wolters-Kluwer was the only major commercial publisher with a revenue drop last year.

The graph below, based on data from the Association of Research Libraries, shows the increase in book and journal costs and the U.S. inflation rate from 1986 to 2006.

Click on the graph below for the full sized image

Trends in Book and Journal Spending in ARL Libraries, 1986 through 2006 graph.  The costs of Journals have gone up over 300% while the costs of books have increased in proportion to inflation.

What can be done about the Scholarly Publishing Crisis?

Several solutions have been proposed to the Scholarly Publishing Crisis. They include:

Publish in Open Access Resources
Journals have been developed that are only available online. Their content is free and available to all users. These journals are listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ). At least two open-access encyclopedias have been started: Encyclopedia of the Life Sciences and the Encyclopedia of Earth. Consider publishing in open access publications instead of commercial journals and reference works. For more information, see the SPARC Open Access brochure.
Support Open Access
Since commercial publishers do not pay editors for their work, volunteer to serve as an editor of an open access journal. See DOAJ for information on open access journals in your field. In addition, when reviewing a colleague for tenure and promotion, treat publications in open access journals and commercial publications equally.
Learn about your Author Rights
Many publishers ask authors to sign a copyright agreement that transfers the copyright of a publication to the publisher. This means that the publisher has the exclusive right to reproduce and distribute the work. Authors might even have to ask for permission to use their own work in another publication or on a web site for a class. Retain some rights so that you and others can use the information in your publication. For more information on author rights, see the SPARC Author Rights brochure. Use the SHERPA/RoMEO web site to learn about a publisher's copyright practices.
Deposit your publications in an Open Access Repository or on your personal web page
Repositories, collections of digital scholarly publications, have been developed at several universities. Some subject repositories have also been developed, such as ArXiv, a repository of physics, mathematics, and computer science publications. Publications in repositories can be searched using search systems such as Google Scholar or OAIster.

Information Resources

Create Change and its member organizations, the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) and the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) have developed several resources that provide information and guidance on the Scholarly Publishing Crisis. They include:

Economics of Open Access
The open access journal Economic Analysis and Policy published an issue devoted to the study of Open Access in March, 2009.
Open Access News
A blog on Open Access issues by Peter Suber at Earlham University.
Create Change
A brochure about the scholarly Publishing system that summarizes alternatives to the present system.
Open Access
A brochure about one solution to the scholarly publishing crisis, open access to scholarly research and tells how faculty can provide open access to their work.
Author Rights
This brochure introduces the SPARC Author Addendum, a legal form that enables authors of journal articles to modify publishers' copyright transfer agreements and allow authors to keep key rights to their articles.
Know your Copy Rights
A brochure explaining fair use, the advantages of linking to resources instead of copying them, and issues related to displaying or performing works in classes.

Other Resources

Association of American Universities, Association of Research Libraries, The Coalition for Networked Information and National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges, 2009. The University’s Role in the Dissemination of Research and Scholarship — A Call to Action.
A discussion of the present and future role of Universities in the scholarly publishing process.
Burton, Gideon, 2009. Scholarly Communication Must Transform.
This is the first in a series of commentaries on scholarly communication on the Academic Evolution blog. The series discusses changes that need to occur in scholarly communication.
Crews, Kenneth D., 2006. Copyright Quickguide.
A guide on copyright developed by a Law Professor at Indiana University - Perdue University, Indianapolis. Last Accessed: March 10, 2009.
Cummings, Anthony M., Witte, Marcia L., Bowen, William G., Lazarus, Laura O. and Ekman, Richard H., 1992. University Libraries and Scholarly Publishing.
A study on scholarly publishing and its impact on libraries. Published by the Association of Research Libraries for the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Last Accessed: March 9, 2009.
Guédon, Jean-Claude, 2001. In Oldenburg's Long Shadow: Librarians, Research Scientists, Publishers, and the Control of Scientific Publishing.
A paper on the origins of the scholarly publishing crisis written by a science historian.
Nature Publishing Group, 2004. Access to the Literature: The Debate Continues.
A web site by a commercial publisher on open access and scholarly publishing. Last Accessed: March 10, 2009.
Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), 2001. Declaring Independence: A guide to creating community-controlled science journals.
A resource on developing alternatives to journals published by commercial publishers.
Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), 2009. Resources for Authors.
Last Accessed: March 10, 2009.

For more information please contact Linda R Zellmer, Gov't Information & Data Services Librarian, at 309-298-2723 or