Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from RESCOLINC (Research Council Libraries & Information Consortium)


  1.1  The Research Council Libraries & Information Consortium (RESCOLINC) is the focal point of the Library & Information Services (LIS) of the UK Research Councils. Its aim is to obtain optimum information service supply benefits in support of researchers across the entire research council sector.

  1.2  Evidence is given below on all of the questions posed by the Committee.

2.   What impact do publishers' current policies on pricing and provision of scientific journals, particularly "big deal schemes", have on libraries and the teaching and research communities they serve?

  2.1  The current pricing and access policies of publishers' have a significant impact on the provision of scientific journals by libraries for the communities that they serve. The marketplace is dominated by a relatively small number of large commercial publishers and there is a continuing trend of mergers and acquisitions amongst STM publishers. The Office of Fair Trading have recently indicated that the marketplace might not be working effectively[307].

  2.2  The periodical inflation index for STM publications remains at 7-8% per annum[308] with some publishers' annual price increases being significantly higher than this. Library acquisition budgets have not kept pace with these increases leading to a steady and significant erosion of the purchasing power of the libraries with a consequent impact on how we can support the research needs of the research communities we serve. "Big deal schemes" often have an annual periodical inflation rate inserted at the start of the deal for the life of the deal and while this is generally less than the standard periodical inflation index it is still considerably higher than general RPI inflation.

  2.3  The variety of pricing models that exist within the market makes it very time-consuming for library staff to investigate all of the options and to manage the access agreements arising out of any deals. In some cases the publishers' are removing the subscription agents from the supply chain imposing an additional burden on the library staff.

  2.4  As scientific research becomes more inter-disciplinary so the range of resources that the library must supply increases and from this perspective the "big deal schemes" offered by many of the large commercial publishers have been beneficial to libraries and the research communities that we serve. They have allowed researchers to access a range of non-core material much more easily. To take the example of ScienceDirect from Elsevier Science this has offered researchers at the John Innes Centre access to over 1,300 journals but the usage statistics indicate that only approximately 200 of these journals have been used. The current pricing model for big deals where all content is paid for regardless of use makes these deals unsustainable in the long-term for all libraries.

  2.5  Many of the "big deal schemes" have been offered on a multi-year basis with "no-cancellation" clauses inserted to ensure thus locking libraries into a certain level of expenditure with that particular publisher. Where no-cancellation clauses are in use and a library has to make spending cuts it's the smaller publishers including Scholarly Societies and University Presses who lose out to the greatest extent. The outcomes of this are: a reduction in the range of resources that are provided for the research community we serve; price rises from the smaller publishers thus leading to more cancellations; more market share for the large commercial publishers; and a further diminishment in the competition within the market.

  2.6  For the 2004 subscription year a number of scholarly societies have changed the pricing policies for access to the electronic versions of their publications. For example the European Molecular Biology Organisation (EMBO) have moved from providing access free-with-print for both EMBO Journal and EMBO Reports on an individual basis to bundling both titles together and moving to a site-licence access model. This has increased the costs for libraries by 100% or more and to make the situation even worse the option to have print-only subscriptions for 2004 has been removed.

  2.7  The current pricing policies of publishers' have led to increasing frustration within both the library and scientific communities with threats of cancellations of all titles by particular publishers or full boycotts of particular titles or publishers. Ultimately these strategies will harm the scientific process because of the poor substitutability of individual journal titles and may have little impact on the marketplace unless very large numbers of libraries undertake the action collaboratively.

3.   What action should Government, academic institutions and publishers be taking to promote a competitive market in scientific publications?

  3.1  In recent years a number of initiatives have been proposed that provide alternative publication methods with the intention of introducing competition into the market for scientific publications. These include pre-print servers such as serving the physical sciences community and open-access publication as exemplified by BioMed Central ( and Public Library of Science ( A number of organisations such as SPARC ( have helped smaller publishers, and individual editorial boards, to establish new journal titles to directly compete with existing titles offered by large commercial publishers. These strategies have all had a measure of success and have attracted widespread support from within the academic community worldwide.

  3.2  The Office of Fair Trading (1) conducted a review of the STM market in 2002 which concluded that there was evidence that the marketplace was not working well but that for now it would not be appropriate for the OFT to intervene in the market due to a number of factors that might lead to an improvement. There has been no discernible improvement in the market in the period since the review so we would urge the OFT to intervene to improve competition in the market for scientific publications.

  3.3  As previously recorded there is growing frustration within the library and scientific community and all opportunities for collective action that would lead to an improvement in the competition situation should be thoroughly investigated and if they will not have a detrimental effect on science in general and the individual Institutes they should be pursued vigorously.

4.   What are the consequences of increasing numbers of open-access journals, for example for the operation of the Research Assessment Exercise and other selection processes? Should the Government support such a trend and, if so, how?

  4.1  The increasing numbers of open-access journals will have a major impact on the operation of all scientific research assessment exercises. Assessments of individual scientists and academic or research institutes is heavily influenced by publication records. Publications in high impact factor journals, such as Nature and Cell, are particularly important in assessment exercises. Currently many open-access journals do not have any impact factors and this makes it harder to assess the quality of papers published in these journals. Individual scientists are concerned that by publishing in these journals they will be harming their prospects of career development and similarly their employers fear that if they encourage staff to publish in open-access journals they will also be disadvantaged during assessment exercises.

  4.2  Until such time as the open-access journals have impact factors we would urge the Government, through the Funding and Research Councils, to investigate alternative methods of assessment for open-access journals to ensure that the scientists who choose to publish in these journals have the confidence to do so.

  4.3  With journal prices and publishers pricing policies being what they are the results of a great deal of publicly funded scientific research is unavailable to large parts of the scientific community and also to the general public at large. Open-access journals make the results of this research much more widely available and thus help to facilitate public understanding of science and knowledge transfer which are important facets of the scientific process.

  4.4  We would urge the Government to consider stipulating that all research that it funds, either directly or through Non-Departmental Public Bodies, should be published in such a way that access is freely available to anyone with an interest in the material.

5.   How effectively are the Legal Deposit Libraries making available non-print scientific publications to the research community, and what steps should they be taking in this respect?

  5.1  Legal Deposit Libraries are becoming more effective at making available non-print scientific publications from within the library but licensing restrictions often make it difficult and very costly for them to make access available through document delivery services, which are potentially of most benefit to the research community.

  5.2  We strongly welcome the passage of the Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003 into law as this will allow for the secure archiving of non-print scientific publications for current and future generations of researchers.

  5.3  Legal Deposit Libraries should, wherever possible, negotiate licenses with publishers that allow non-print publications to be supplied in fulfilment of document delivery requests even if this means a slight increase in the prices.

6.   What impact will trends in academic journal publishing have on the risks of scientific fraud and malpractice?

  6.1  Within the life-sciences independent peer review of research articles prior to publication is an accepted part of the current publication model and in addition to providing a level of quality assurance it provides a partial safeguard against scientific fraud and malpractice. Many of the open-access publishers have retained the system of peer-review so the risks of scientific fraud and malpractice should not be significantly different if the open-access model becomes widely used.

February 2004

307    Office of Fair Trading. (2002) The market for scientific, technical and medical journals: A statement by the OFT. London, OFT. Back

308    (2) Swets Blackwell. (2003) Serials Price Increases 2004: third report. Swets Blackwell. Back

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