Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from the Council of Australian University Librarians

  The Council of Australian University Librarians (CAUL) submits the following evidence to this inquiry. In making this submission, CAUL supports the evidence submitted by The Society of College, National & University Libraries (SCONUL) and the UK Consortium of University Research Libraries (CURL)

  University libraries collaborate at national and international levels. The global nature of scientific publishing has compelled university libraries to develop global strategies and responses to the challenges they face in serving their teaching and research communities. For this reason, CAUL wishes to provide this evidence to emphasise the global nature of these issues.

1.   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

  1.1  There is ample evidence for the large increases in the subscription prices of scientific journals over the last two decades. The Association for Research Libraries in the United States has tracked price increases and shown that they are far ahead of standard measures of price movements.

  1.2  Libraries have employed several strategies to deal with this pricing challenge. Libraries have formed consortia to improve their bargaining position and negotiating power. When necessary, libraries have cancelled subscriptions. Some of Australia's larger research libraries have cancelled significant numbers of journals in recent years (eg, University of New South Wales in 2002). In other cases, libraries have reduced expenditure on other types of information, notably scholarly monographs, to maintain funds for serials. Currency fluctuations also affect this situation: Australia has just ended a long period of depreciated value of its currency. Commercial publishers like on occasion to present themselves as partners in the academic enterprise but are not at all sympathetic to the difficulties this caused for library budgets. Publishers have not recognized the difficulties this caused, and many libraries are forced into cancelling substantial numbers of subscriptions.

  1.3  Cancellation of subscriptions affects provision to the teaching and research communities served by university libraries. This is compensated to some extent through resource sharing and use of commercial document suppliers, such as the British Library Document Supply Centre. Libraries generally bear the costs of using such services. However, interlibrary loan and document supply services are generally restricted to segments of teaching and research communities. Undergraduates do not usually have such privileges. Also, there are financial and logistical limits to the amount of resource sharing any library can undertake.

  1.4  The "big deal" schemes have enabled university libraries to extend the number of journals to its community. There are some benefits in this: more information is available; ready access to information supporting new areas of research is possible. The negative aspects of these deals include: increasing proportions of budgets assigned to large publishers; paying for content which is not wanted or used; and, punitive approaches to cancellation. Once a library is in a large deal, it is difficult to cancel titles without penalties. Several Australian university libraries experienced this issue in negotiating new contracts with Elsevier in 2002.

  The monopoly position enjoyed by the large publishers puts libraries in an unequal negotiating position. "Big deals" and price differentiation are profit maximizing strategies for large publishers, but they threaten the existence of smaller publishers. Big deals lock libraries into multi-year contracts and annual price rises. To maintain their participation when budgets are tight they are often forced to cancel subscriptions from smaller publishers, even though their titles may be of more value than some included in big deals. A Morgan Stanley report on the STM market in 2002 < stanley.pdf> concluded that the publishers with the biggest online portfolios will drive many smaller competitors out of business.

  1.5  Licence provisions in the big deals vary. Libraries have had some success in negotiating resource sharing provisions to enable wider access to information. However, these provisions often have restrictions. For example, one large publisher allows document delivery within the jurisdiction only. Australia is surrounded by many developing countries who could not afford access to a "big deal".

  1.6  Journal prices from learned society publishers seem reasonable by comparison with commercial publishers' prices, and this has relieved pressure on societies to contain costs through increased efficiencies. It has also allowed them to increase profit margins while still staying well below the prices set by the commercials. Societies defend their profits as justified because they subsidise other worthy activities. CAUL believes that learned societies play an immensely valuable role, but the Committee may wish to ask whether subsidising them through library budgets is the most rational or transparent way to assist them.

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

  2.1  Mergers and acquisitions require close examination in order to restrict the growth of monopolies. CAUL welcomes the intervention of the UK Office of Fair Trading in this matter. The relative production costs per title between commercial and non-commercial publishers suggests that commercial publishers may be exploiting the monopoly of prestigious titles. Cost-benefit studies consistently demonstrate large differences between commercial and non-commercial journals (in favour of the latter) and suggest that commercial pricing bears little relation to production costs and is relatively immune to competitive pressures. See for example: Bergstrom, T C. Free Labour for Costly Journals? Journal of Economic Perspectives 15(4): 183-98. <>; La Manna, Manfredi. The Economics of Publishing and the Publishing of Economics. Library Review 52(1), 2003, 18-28. <doi:10.1108/00242530310456988>; Tenopir, Carol and Donald W King. Towards Electronic Journals. Washington (D.C.), Special Libraries Association, 2000. ISBN 0-87111-507-7; Morgan Stanley Equity Research. Scientific Publishing: Knowledge is Power. 2002.


  2.2  Academic institutions are educating their communities about the price distortions in the scientific journal market and the significant outlays of human resources that universities make freely available to publishers for peer review and editorial responsibilities. However, academic staff are generally not responsible for expenditures: finding funds to pay for journal subscriptions is the "library's problem". There is some evidence that academic staff cancel personal subscriptions as prices increase and rely on library provision. Ref: Changing Research Practices in the Digital Information and Communication Environment [by] John W Houghton. With Colin Steele & Margaret Henty August 2003 (c) Commonwealth of Australia 2003 ISBN 0 642 77387 4 ISBN 0 642 77388 2

  2.3  To encourage the development of alternatives to commercial journals that are increasingly unaffordable, academic librarians have endeavoured to encourage author-researchers to retain control over the copyright of their articles, and to publish in less expensive journals. The work of SPARC ( is notable here. CAUL is a member of SPARC, a coalition of academic and research libraries and organizations working to correct market dysfunctions in the scholarly publishing system.

  However the behaviour of author-researchers has proved difficult to change. A researcher looking to publish faces the prisoner's dilemma. They may acknowledge the public good that would be served by preferring to publish in an open access journal rather than an established but expensive commercial one, but unless all their colleagues do the same they themselves will be disadvantaged.

  CAUL has come to the view that changes to incentives and rewards are necessary. Research funding bodies should make it a condition that articles resulting from their funds should be publicly available, and every effort should be made to remove implicit or explicit bias in favour of print publication in research assessment schemes and career advancement systems. Several universities are encouraging academic staff to publish in cheaper alternatives. This can be a disincentive to staff who wish to publish in the `best' journal, but some institutions are recognizing publication in alternative journals in promotion and qualification processes.

  2.4  Encouraging academic staff to review their copyright assignment practices is another way of reducing monopoly power of large publishers. Extending a non-exclusive licence is one alternative; another is to negotiate publication in databases hosted by a university or the academic staff member. Enabling academic staff to publish in open access modes could enable publishers to compete on the added-value aspects of the publication process. Permitting or providing open access to content would highlight the publishers' debt to the research community that provides raw material to publishers free of charge and also clarify those areas of service on which publishers compete.

3.   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?

  3.1  CAUL recognises that this question is specific to the environment in the UK. However, governments and universities are increasingly recognizing that open access raises their research profile and contributes to national competitiveness. See for example the DARE project in the Netherlands A 1997 OECD report on National Innovation Systems found that prosperity in a knowledge economy depends as much on the knowledge distribution power of the system as it does on its knowledge production power.

4.   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

  4.1  In Australia, legislation enabling legal deposit of electronic publication has not been achieved. Collecting agencies such as the National Library of Australia are selectively collecting and preserving "born digital" material, through negotiated agreements with publishers. It is currently not within the power of Australian legal deposit libraries to be effective in this matter.

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

  5.1  CAUL supports the evidence in the SCONUL/CURL submission.

May 2004

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