Memorandum from CURL (Consortium of University
Research Libraries) and SCONUL (Society of College, National and
1. CURL and SCONUL represent the libraries
and information services of all universities and most colleges
of higher education in the UK and Ireland, together with the national
2. The current system of scholarly communication,
which has served the research community robustly in the past,
now operates below its optimum level. The present situation is
financially unsustainable for universities and their libraries.
Subscription prices of scientific journals have increased much
more rapidly than prices of most other commodities. The average
price of an academic journal rose by 58% between 1998 and 2003,
while the UK Retail Price Index increased by 11% over the same
period. Although the proportion of university library expenditure
on serials has increased it has not maintained serials purchasing
power. The VAT differential on the cost of electronic publications
places an additional financial burden on libraries and is a disincentive
in the transfer towards electronic access.
3. Five publishers now produce around 37%
of the nearly 8,000 scientific journals (44% of articles) rated
as worthy of citation analysis by the Institute of Scientific
Information. There is strong evidence that mergers and takeovers
in scientific, technical and medical (STM) publishing lead to
faster rising prices. Future merger proposals should be strictly
monitored and investigated, to avoid further enhancement of monopoly
market power. Given the international nature of the journals market
this will involve liaison across national boundaries.
4. "Big deal" schemes, while offering
some advantages to the library and researcher, seriously inhibit
the library's ability to manage and develop its collections to
fit the changing academic interests of its users.
5. It is important, for the sake of the
health of UK research, to ensure that as high a proportion as
possible of scientific articles is available without unnecessary
barriers. "Open access' publishing and "self-archiving"
are complementary initiatives in re-engineering research publication
in a more equitable way for the benefit of research and society
generally. ("Open access" publications are free of charge
to users, their costs being met by the authors or funders of the
research published. "Self-archiving" means authors depositing
their own publications on a public website.) To assist this complementarity,
universities and similar research institutes should be encouraged
to set up their own electronic research repositories, that is
to say, internationally-searchable databases of the publications
of their own staff.
6. The Research Assessment Exercise should
not discriminate against, nor in favour of, open access journals.
The quality of the research should be the deciding factor. Research
funding bodies should encourage open access publishing by agreeing
that author fees are a legitimate call on research grants.
7. The British Library and the other national
libraries have a pivotal role in serving the requirements of scholars
and researchers. They need adequate funding to maintain their
current collections and services, and to ensure a speedy and comprehensive
implementation of the new law relating to deposit of electronic
8. The Research Councils, and other grant-making
bodies supported by public funds, should require the publications
resulting from their awards to be openly and freely available
to all, either via "self-archiving" or by publishing
in an open-access journal (paras 33, 37, 46).
9. The Research Councils, and other grant-making
bodies supported by public funds, should accept, following the
lead of the Wellcome Trust, author fees/publication charges as
a legitimate call upon research grant funding (para 43).
10. Since further concentration of the commercial
scientific publishing sector will entrench the monopoly power
of a few publishers, any significant merger proposals should be
investigated by the Competition Commission, taking into account
the unique features of the journals market (para 29).
11. Discrepancies in VAT between print and
electronic publications should be investigated, with a view to
removing the additional VAT burden from educational institutions
12. The British Library, and the other national
libraries, should be funded to allow speedy and comprehensive
implementation of the electronic deposit provisions of the Legal
Deposit Libraries Act: to facilitate significant expansion of
work to preserve digital materials; to enable the comprehensive
acquisition of research material; and to provide expanding electronic
document delivery services (paras 34, 37).
13. Established in 1983 to bring together
the larger research-based university libraries in the United Kingdom
and Ireland, CURL has grown from a fairly informal grouping of
seven university libraries into a strong, nationally and internationally
recognised partnership of 25 major research libraries participating
as full members, including 22 major university libraries and the
UK's three national libraries. It also has one associate member,
the Wellcome Trust. CURL's mission is to increase the ability
of research libraries to share resources for the benefit of the
local, national and international research community. More information
is available at www.curl.ac.uk.
14. SCONUL, founded in 1950, is an association
representing the heads of library and information services in
all universities, and most colleges of higher education, in the
UK, together with the directors of national libraries. (SCONUL
also represents their counterparts in Ireland, and its membership
includes the CURL libraries). By sharing good practice, and facilitating
collaborative schemes for the benefit of library users, SCONUL
(www.sconul.ac.uk) promotes excellence in its constituent library
15. We are pleased that the Science and
Technology Committee is conducting an inquiry into scientific
publications. We believe that the present system of scholarly
communication, while it has served the research community robustly
in the past, now operates well below its optimum level. We also
believe that Government, and bodies responsible to Government,
can encourage steps already taking place to widen access to research
findings, to the ultimate benefit of all UK citizens in such areas
as medical treatment, environmental improvements and economic
16. Evidence is provided below on each of
the specific points raised by the Committee.
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?
17. It is well documented that the subscription
prices of scientific journals have increased over the last 10
years or more much faster than the price of most other commodities.
For example, the average price of an academic journal has risen
from £252 in 1998 to £397 in 2003, or by 58%,
while the UK Retail Price Index has increased by 11% over the
18. The reasons for this inflation have
been a matter of some dispute, but may include a rise in the average
number of pages or articles in a journal volume (given the pressure
to publish an ever-increasing volume of research), and the costs
of providing the electronic format, now almost universal for scientific
journals (in most cases, such costs have not yet been offset by
the abandonment of the print version of the journal).
19. But we believe that the major underlying
cause is the monopoly position of the publisher. Journals, and
journal articles, are not interchangeable. If a particular article
is required by a researcher, a substitute will not do. A self-reinforcing
hierarchy of journals has grown up in any given field, well-known
to its researchers. The "best" articles will be submitted
for publication in the "best" journal, which will thus
retain its position. Publishers are therefore able to charge increasing
prices, safe in the knowledge that competition is very limited.
It is almost impossible to set up an immediately prestigious journal
from scratch, and for a large number of journals at least, demand
is extremely inelastic.
20. Evidence of this monopoly position is
provided by the profit levels of commercial publishers of STM
journals. Reed Elsevier, for example, reported an adjusted operating
profit margin for 2002 of 33% for its Science & Medical Division
(the most profitable of its four divisions) .
The position of the leading commercial publishers has been further
reinforced in recent years by a spate of merger and takeover activity,
including the mergers of Reed Elsevier and Harcourt, and of Kluwer
and Springer under the auspices of Candover Cinven (which is now
said to be seeking further publishing acquisitions), and takeovers
by Taylor & Francis of a number of smaller publishers. The
top five publishers now produce around 37% of the nearly 8,000
scientific journals (44% of articles) rated as worthy of citation
analysis by the Institute of Scientific Information (ISI). 
There is strong evidence that mergers/takeovers in STM publishing
lead to faster rising prices in the future. 
21. In the face of subscription increases,
UK university libraries have struggled to maintain strong journal
collections, the lifeblood of scientific research. These libraries
have seen their information resources (IR) expenditure increase
by 29% over the last five years for which figures are available,
but the average journal price has increased by 41%.
The proportion of IR expenditure on serials has increased from
47% to 52%,
but this has not maintained serials purchasing power. Furthermore,
there is now less money to spend on books, with adverse effects
on researchers in the humanities and social sciences, who depend
to a greater extent on scholarly monographs; and on students,
who also need a large and current book collection in addition
to the journal literature.
22. A further problem for university library
budgets resulting from the shift towards electronic publication
is the issue of VAT. Print publications are zero-rated, but online
information attracts VAT at the standard 17.5%. The VAT differential
is an unwelcome disincentive, and an extra cost, in the transfer
towards electronic access.
23. "Big deal schemes" have been
introduced by journal publishers in recent years. Made possible
by the advent of the electronic journal, they provide a library
with access to all the journals of a particular publisher, at
a price somewhat greater than the aggregate subscription already
being paid for the subset of the publisher's journals received
in print. Such deals are often negotiated nationally, through
the NESLi2 scheme for example.
They do offer some advantages to the library and researcher, and
are undoubtedly popular with staff and students. Such deals often
provide access over a standard platform to a substantially increased
number of journals, some of which turn out to be well-used and
valuable. Other titles, however, are not relevant to the research
and teaching undertaken at a particular university, and receive
very little, or no use.
24. Given the popular perception that, by
its very nature, electronic information is distributed free of
charge, it is worth emphasising that in some senses journals in
electronic form are less freely available than printed ones. A
printed journal becomes the purchaser's property and may be read
without limitation by however many people choose to pick it up.
Electronic journals, in contrast, are normally leased to libraries
on a time-limited basis, and with careful restrictions as to who
may consult them. The onus is on the customer to ensure that access
to them is controlled within a specified set of students and staff.
25. From the publisher's point of view,
the marginal cost of providing electronic access to all titles
is virtually zero, and revenue is secured usually for two or three
years. The library however, given the declining purchasing power
of its budget, as these deals become established, has to make
cancellations elsewhere to finance the maintenance of the "big
deal", and this can disproportionately affect titles from
smaller publishers. Some of these may be more academically valuable
than some of the additional titles accessed via the "big
deal". Thus libraries are committed to buying some journals
which they do not want, at the expense of other journals which
26. Large publishers, whose portfolios include
a significant proportion of the academic journals considered "core"
by most research universities, are able to exploit the "big
deal" approach by limiting their tariffs essentially to an
"all or nothing" offer which omits graduated options
for partial purchase. Libraries, despite being major customers,
are often not provided with more flexible purchasing options,
such as the ability to purchase a "big deal" subset,
except on prohibitive terms, and with limited or no control over
what constitutes a subset. In a non-monopolistic market environment,
the customer would be able to influence the vendor by threatening
to withdraw custom and shop elsewhere. However, in the case of
the market in academic journal articles, as we have described
above, no such recourse is available.
27. The widespread availability of scientific
electronic journals in recent years has been a great boon to researchers.
Desktop access has enabled a more seamless approach to research,
with enhanced search and display facilities, and often direct
access from references in online databases straight through to
the full text of the relevant article. However, this ease of access
has in itself brought dangers. Researchers more easily ignore,
or at least regard as lower priority, information, and in particular
journal articles, not immediately available online. Although the
British Library continues to provide an invaluable and essential
document delivery service, the use made of it by UK higher education
institutions has dropped significantly over the last five years,
reflecting growth in the availability of electronic journals,
but also perhaps the perceived inconvenience of non-immediate
access. Given this concentration on instantaneous availability,
it becomes all the more vital, for the sake of the health of UK
research, to ensure that as high a proportion as possible of scientific
articles is presented without unnecessary barriers.
What action should Government, academic institutions
and publishers be taking to promote a competitive market in scientific
28. We have suggested above that many of
the problems of the current system arise from the inherent monopoly
position, and "non-substitutability", of academic research.
The situation has been exacerbated by understandable efforts by
publishers to maximise their revenue. Benefit has accrued not
only to wholly commercial publishers but also to learned societies
that look to surpluses from their journal sales to finance other
29. Given this position, and given the recognition
by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) that "the market for
STM journals may not be working well" and that "many
commercial journal prices appear high, at the expense of education
and research institutions," 
intervention by the competition authorities may be necessary.
The Competition Commission scrutinised the 2001 merger between
Reed Elsevier and Harcourt
and ruled, by a majority decision, that it should be allowed to
go ahead, but suggested that the OFT might wish to investigate
the STM journals market. The quotations above come from the OFT's
report, The market for scientific, technical and medical journals,
published in September 2002. The report concluded that the authorities
should not intervene at that point, given possible changes in
the market, but that "the position will be kept under review".
At the very least, future merger proposals should be strictly
monitored, and investigated, to avoid the further enhancement
of monopoly market power. Because of the international nature
of the journals market, this will involve co-operation or at least
liaison with other competition authorities in Europe, the United
States, and elsewhere.
30. In reaching its decision not to intervene,
the OFT considered the possible development amongst academic communities
of an awareness of their potential power. The great majority of
research articles are submitted without charge to appropriate
journals, with academics also providing free of charge the essential
peer review service ensuring the integrity and value of the published
article. Researchers are happy to do this, because their career
advancement, research funding, etc, comes via the impact and originality
of their publications, as recognised by their peers.
31. Until recently, most academics have
also been happy to assign the copyright in their articles to the
publisher. This practice is now coming under much greater scrutiny.
It is now feasible to consider a network whereby all researchers
will be encouraged to "self-archive" their articles,
which will then be accessible to all without charge. Such a possibility
arises from the development of "institutional article web
repositories", together with software which makes it easy
to search a combination of all such repositories, whether subject-based
or institutional, that conform to the Open Archives Initiative
32. The prototype for such a repositorythe
US-based high energy physics archivehas now been in existence
for more than a decade, and is an essential source for all physics
JISC (the Joint Information Systems Committee of the UK funding
councils for higher and further education) has supported a number
of open access archive projects (eg SHERPA
in which university libraries are playing a leading role, encouraging
higher education institutions to initiate and develop appropriate
archives, which may be compared with similar initiatives abroad.
Experience to date suggests that associated technical problems
are relatively easily soluble, but encouraging researchers to
deposit their articles is more problematic. Their reluctance may
be due to a perception that copyright transfer prevents such an
action: this may indeed be a barrier in some cases, but 55% of
all publishers already allow articles to be deposited in this
and many others will do so if requested.
33. We believe that all universities and
similar research institutes should be encouraged to set up repositories,
either on their own or shared among groups of institutions. They
should also require, or at least strongly encourage, their staff
to deposit articles. Such a process would be greatly facilitated
if project funding from the Research Councils and similar bodies
included a condition that resulting research should be publicly
available in some form without charge. This in no way precludes
researchers from continuing to publish in the standard peer-reviewed
journals. However, it does open up access to research findings,
with consequent benefit for the whole research process. The investment
made by the higher and further education funding councils through
JISC in recent years has ensured that university libraries are
acquiring the technical skills to run research repositories on
behalf of their institutions. Senior university academic and research
managers can now promote their comprehensive use by academic departments,
in order to reap the benefits of open access.
34. We welcome continuing investment by
the British Library in improved online services, including the
recent introduction of an enhanced electronic document delivery
service. Such services provide an alternative to some extent for
libraries to subscribing to journals, either individually or via
"big deals", and should be encouraged. Efforts should
continue to resolve some outstanding issues, relating for example
to electronic signatures, which are inhibiting streamlined document
delivery, and are a further factor in the drop in traffic noted
in para 27 above.
35. Government could ease the pressure on
research library budgets by exempting educational institutions
from payment of VAT on electronic information resources, including
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?
36. Our comments in the previous section
have concentrated on the concept of researchers "self-archiving"
their journal articles. This is one way of opening up research
beyond the present restrictions, but a parallel development is
the growing number of open-access journals. The standard directory
of peer-reviewed open-access journals currently lists 736 titles.
Although this is still only around 3% of the 24,000 research journals
published worldwide in all subject areas,
the number is growing daily.
37. Open-access journals are freely available
to all on the web. In order to meet the real costs of implementing
peer review and of publishing, a number of open-access journals
make charges to the author (rather than by subscription to the
user). Waiver policies are often in place to cover submissions
from less-developed countries and similar cases. The expectation,
however, is that fees paid by authors will in general be met by
research grants etc. The great advantage of open-access journals
is of course that, even where overall costs are similar, their
content is available to all without financial barriers.
38. Open-access can be a commercially viable
proposition, and the biggest publisher in this area, BioMed Central
(BMC), is a commercial company, looking to make a profit.
BMC currently charges authors about $500 per accepted article
for most of its journals, although two will charge $1,000, and
one $1,500. In 2003, JISC brokered a deal waiving fees for all
researchers in UK higher and further education (the National Health
Service has a similar arrangement), in order to encourage researchers
to try this new form of publicationJISC is also inviting
bids to fund, on a pilot basis, further examples of open-access
publication. In terms of consultations measured as "hits"
on the website, BMC estimates that articles in its journals receive
many more than articles in non open-access journals, and consequently
enjoy greater impact. In the medium term, the survival and growth
of the BMC journals will depend, as with all journals, on the
quality of submissions attracted and the number of citations to
articles in their journals. This discipline should ensure that
peer review remains stringent: acceptance of articles based on
ability to pay will very quickly prove self-defeating.
39. Another example of a prestigious open-access
journal is Public Library of Science Biology.
This US-based journal, launched in 2003, will be joined by PLoS
Medicine this year. Together they are aiming to compete with top
journals such as Nature, and are charging authors $1,500 per published
article. Existing publishers are also experimenting with open
access, for example Oxford University Press plans to provide free
access, where an author fee has been paid, to articles in its
highly regarded journal Nucleic Acids Research.
40. Open access publishing and self-archiving
are complementary initiatives in re-engineering research publication
in a more equitable way for the benefit of research and society
generally. This complementarity could be assisted by the use of
institutional repositories as public archives of research material.
PLoS Biology, for example, specifies that all articles published
in it should also be freely available on a publicly accessible
website, which acts as the archive of its content. It uses PubMed
for this purpose. We would wish to encourage open-access journal
publishers to use the growing network of institutional repositories,
funded by universities, for the same archival purpose. Since searches
of these repositories can be federated, UK universities and research
institutes could thereby provide a distributed public archive,
which could be searched as though it were a single database. The
investment in this archive has already been significantly pump-primed
by JISC. The main challenge now is to ensure that it is used.
41. We recognise that both open access publishing
and self-archiving are relatively new models in the scholarly
communication process. Further investigation is needed to build
on the encouraging progress so far achieved. We believe there
is longer-term potential in these models to provide easy access
to scientific publications at a fair price.
42. The examples of open-access journals
given above indicate that open-access titles aim to operate at
all levels of the journal hierarchy. As such, there should be
no discrimination by the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) against
open-access journals per senor indeed discrimination
in their favour. The quality of the journal, or rather the quality
of the article, should be the deciding factor. This has always
been the stated RAE policy, but it would be helpful if this could
be repeated and emphasised (to subject panels as well as to the
community at large), given the growth in the number of open-access
journals, and the possible lingering fears among researchers that
these might not be regarded as of equal status.
43. Although the RAE should be "blind"
to a journal's modus operandi, it would be an extremely
important step forward if funding bodies agreed that authors'
publication fees were an appropriate charge on research funds.
44. In Germany, the Berlin Declaration in
support of Open Access
was signed in October 2003 by the Max Planck Gesellschaft and
other leading research funding organisations from Germany, France,
and other European countries. This followed other statements of
support from the USA,
and the Budapest Open Access Initiative of February 2002,
affirming backing for both self-archiving and for open-access
journals. The OECD Committee for Scientific and Technological
Policy, supported by governments including that of the UK, has
very recently issued a declaration recognising for example that
"open access to, and unrestricted use of, data promotes scientific
45. In the UK, a lead has been taken by
the Wellcome Trust, following its commissioned report on the economics
of scientific publishing.
The Trust issued a position statement in support of open access
in September 2003.
It affirms that it "will meet the cost of publication charges
including those for online-only journals for Trust-funded research".
A UK-wide declaration, similar to that made in Germany, uniting
Research Councils and other funding organisations behind the open
access approach, would be a useful step.
46. CURL and SCONUL believe that both self-archiving
and open-access journals should be supported, in ways laid out
in the previous paragraphs, and that it is essential for research
funding to support this concept. Publishers are conscious of the
commercial risks in moving to open access, and smaller publishers,
operating on very limited surpluses, tend to be the most cautious.
A declaration of intent from research funding bodies that author
fees for open-access journals would be paid out of research grants
would be likely to encourage existing journals to "convert"
to open access, and thus encourage widespread, and perhaps eventually
universal, adoption of this new model of scholarly communication.
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?
47. CURL and SCONUL welcome the recent Legal
Deposit Libraries Act,
and urge the Government to provide sufficient resources to ensure
a speedy and comprehensive implementation of the provisions relating
to deposit of electronic publications, including appropriate access
arrangements. We also stress the importance of the British Library
and the other national libraries maintaining and improving their
acquisition of all scholarly publications, to enable the continuation
of a comprehensive document supply service, serving the information
requirements of scholars and researchers.
48. Long-term preservation of the scholarly
record of digital publications is a vital concern, and the national
libraries are well placed to take a leading role in initiatives
in this area. Once again, this responsibility requires sufficient
funding from Government.
What impact will trends in academic journal publishing
have on the risk of scientific fraud and malpractice?
49. Current trends should not in themselves
increase or decrease the possibility of scientific fraud. Fraud
has on occasion come to light in the traditional world of print
journal publishing, and it is equally possible in open access
online publishing. Plagiarism is a problem for the web in general,
but the ease of copying is counterbalanced by more effective methods
of detection. Improved accessibility of published research would
itself reduce the chances of undetected fraud.
50. What is not in dispute is the importance
of the maintenance of a robust system of peer review. Peer review
has not been infallible in the past, and it is possible that additional
methods of quality control could be developed in an online environment.
It is essential that whatever model is adopted, quality assessment
remains in place. The scientific community is very conscious of
this requirement, and current developments outlined and supported
above take full account of this.
In addition to this written evidence, CURL and
SCONUL would be pleased to give oral evidence to the Committee
in due course if this is deemed useful. We shall send under separate
cover the latest five volumes of SCONUL's Annual Library Statistics.
Earlier volumes are available if the Committee should request
74 Library and Information Statistics Unit, Loughborough
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eg GNU Eprints archive software [http://software.eprints.org/]. Back
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SHERPA: Securing a Hybrid Environment for Research Preservation
and Access [http://www.sherpa.ac.uk/]. Back
DAEDALUS [http://www.lib.gla.ac.uk/daedalus/]. Back
eg Digital Academic REpositories (DARE) in the Netherlands [http://www.surf.nl/en/themas/index2.php?oid=7]. Back
Project RoMEO: Rights MEtadata for Open Archiving [http://www.lboro.ac.uk/departments/dis/disresearch/romeo/index.html],
"Copyright policies and self-archiving" page, last updated
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Directory of Open Access Journals, containing "fulltext,
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