Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from, the American Association of Law Libraries, the American Library Association, the Association of Academic Health Sciences Libraries, the Association of College & Research Libraries, the Association of Research Libraries, the Medical Library Association, Public Knowledge and SPARC

  1.  This memorandum presents the views of several leading US organisations concerned with the wide, affordable, and effective dissemination of scientific research results.

  2.  We commend the Committee's decision to examine issues related to scientific journal pricing and availability, which have an important bearing on the conduct of research and realisation of its benefits. Although our organisations are not located in the United Kingdom, we offer our views because the scientific publishing process and journals markets are highly international—involving authors, subscribers, readers, and research funding from many nations. Moreover, there are strong similarities between the market dysfunctions observed in North America and Europe, and there is substantial cooperation among stakeholders on both sides of the Atlantic in seeking solutions. The views expressed herein are closely aligned with those of SPARC Europe (, a coalition of European libraries based at Oxford University in the UK, which advocates changes in the scholarly publishing market to better serve the international research community.

  3.  Our organisations are deeply concerned that the high and fast-rising cost to libraries of journal subscriptions are a significant threat to scientific communication. Price increases—far outpacing the growth of library budgets—have resulted in libraries no longer being able to afford access to the broad range of scientific publications needed by researchers. As access to journals declines, productivity declines—efforts may be duplicated, unproductive lines of research may continue, and innovation is slowed. Furthermore, the health of the public is not well served when access to information about medical research is hindered.

  4.  Rising journal prices have forced libraries in North America to postpone the purchase of new journal titles, to cancel subscriptions altogether, and to reduce the purchase of books. While research library materials budgets grew almost 150% between 1986 and 2000, subscription prices rose 226%. During the same period, the US Consumer Price Index rose just 57%. As a result of the dramatic increase in journal prices, the typical research library was forced to cut the number of journals to which they subscribed by 7% and to cut book purchases by 17%.[134] Libraries in the UK and around the world have experienced similar pressures. Since libraries worldwide are the primary customers for journals and thus bear the major overall economic burden of supporting the cost of publication, the mounting financial pressure on library subscriptions suggests that the traditional economics of scientific communication are no longer supportable.

  5.  We are also concerned that scientific communication has insufficiently benefited from the opportunities that now exist for global sharing of knowledge. Although the potential of the Internet to reduce costs and expand dissemination was widely anticipated, experience demonstrates that vested publishing interests—immune from normal market forces because of their control of "must have" content—have blocked the realisation of these potential benefits. Indeed, journal licensing practices of the largest publishers, characterised by the bundling of online access to many or all of a publisher's journals, have contributed to rising costs for libraries and have inhibited libraries' ability to manage their budgets and serve user needs. The severity of the problem can be seen in the recent actions of such major American universities as Cornell, Harvard, and Duke, which have chosen to cancel electronic access to the bundled journal package from the industry giant, Elsevier Science. [135] According to the library consortium through which Duke University subscribed,

    Elsevier has insisted that each library commit to a policy of zero cancellations over the life of the license. This would not only lock the consortium into an inflexible collection policy, but would inordinately privilege the journals of a single publisher. In order to maintain Elsevier subscriptions, journals from other publishers and in other disciplines would have to be cancelled. The result would be a growing imbalance in library collections. We are additionally concerned about the detrimental effect such a commitment would have on the scholarly associations and society publishers whose journals would become especially vulnerable to cancellation. [136]

  6.  In addition to the harm caused to scientific societies and other small and medium-sized enterprises, recent mergers among commercial journal publishers have led to increased concentration of market power in the journal publishing industry. While mergers in competitive markets where there are substantial efficiencies result in reduced prices, this is generally not the case in the scientific journals markets. Here such mergers have resulted in higher prices[137], deterioration of customer service, and reduced attention to editorial quality. [138]

  7.  After years of active engagement in market-based experiments aimed at introducing competitive forces to achieve expanded dissemination of research (including improved document delivery models, cooperative collection development, site and consortial licensing of electronic information, and development of competitive alternatives to high-priced journals), our organisations have concluded that the traditional subscription-based model for supporting publication costs no longer maximizes access to research material or realisation of its economic and social benefits. As expressed in a recent letter to faculty from University of California administrators, "The economics of scholarly journal publishing are incontrovertibly unsustainable." [139]

  8.  Given these facts, we believe that open-access research dissemination is a highly promising means of addressing the fundamental needs of science in a digital age. It is our view that the dual strategies of open-access publishing and deposit of research in open-access digital archives offer complementary means to address the economic dysfunctions in the journals market and to capture the societal benefits of scientific advances. These strategies are articulated by the "Budapest Open Access Initiative" ( and reinforced by the "Bethesda Statement on Open Access Publishing" ( and the "Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities" ( Open access is being implemented today by hundreds of open access journals (see Directory of Open Access Journals at and scores of open digital archives (see

  9.  Taking these various problems and opportunities into account, there are several actions we recommend to the Science and Technology Committee:

  9.1  Current ambiguity surrounding the issue of who will pay for the cost of publication makes the move to open access a higher risk than is necessary for journal publishers. Resolution of this issue may be a precondition of a broader move to open access and the realisation of its benefits. While many US granting agencies allow their funds to be used for publication charges, we have urged that they go a step further by setting aside funds exclusively for open-access publication[140], following the example of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. [141] We encourage the Science and Technology Committee to recommend that UK grant-making bodies recognise research dissemination as an integral part of the research process by earmarking a portion of their grant funds to be used for open-access publication. The Wellcome Trust in the UK has already adopted this approach. [142]

  9.2  The Committee should recommend to publicly funded UK grant-making bodies that they require authors to deposit a copy of their final, peer-reviewed paper in a fully searchable, freely accessible Internet repository or archive. There are two key motivations for such a policy. First, it would give taxpayers full and direct access to the research for which they have paid. Currently taxpayers or their institutions must pay a second fee for access. This fee is normally so high that, practically speaking, the research is inaccessible to the public that funded it. Second, it increases the return on the government's investment in this research, since the research becomes more accessible, discoverable, sharable, and for these reasons, more useful, than toll-access research. The recent Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's (OECD) "Declaration on Access to Research Data From Public Funding"—endorsed by the governments of the UK, the US, and 32 other nations—expressed the view that "open access will maximise the value derived from public investments in data collection efforts." [143] This view pertains no less to the synthesis of research results published in journals than to the supporting data that was the focus of the OECD communiqué.

  9.3  Today it is common practice for publishers to require that authors transfer copyright in their work to the publisher as a condition of publication. Typically, such transfer agreements do not enable authors to deposit their works in open digital archives, as advocated above, or to use the works in their teaching or research. Consequently, the Committee should recommend to UK grant-making bodies that they make it a condition of grant funding that authors retain copyright in their papers so that they may be deposited in open archives and otherwise used for educational purposes.

  9.4  We also encourage the Committee to recommend that a new standard of antitrust review be adopted by UK government enforcement agencies charged with examining merger transactions in the journal publishing industry. A UK Office of Fair Trading investigation in 2002 concluded that "there is evidence to suggest that the market for STM (scientific, technical, and medical) journals may not be working well," but declined to recommend any market intervention at that time because "it remains to be seen whether market forces, perhaps enhanced by the use of new technology, will remedy the problems that may exist." [144] Because circumstances have further deteriorated since 2002—higher prices, further concentration in the industry, and additional evidence of library market failure—we believe it is time to re-open the review, using a standard of evaluation that takes fuller account of the decision-making process used by libraries to make purchase selections. [145] Only then will these mergers be subjected to the degree of scrutiny they deserve and adequate access to government-funded research be preserved.


  American Association of Law Libraries

  American Library Association

  Association of Academic Health Sciences Libraries

  Association of College & Research Libraries

  Association of Research Libraries

  Medical Library Association

  SPARC (Scholarly Publishing & Academic Resources Coalition)

  Public Knowledge

February 2004

134   ARL Statistics 1999-2000, Washington, DC: Association of Research Libraries, p 9, 14, Graph 2 & 4. Back

135   Goldsmith, C. "Reed Elsevier Feels Resistance to Web Pricing," Wall Street Journal, 19 January 2004, p B1. Back

136   Lange, P, Oblinger, J, and Sheldon, R. Memorandum: "Changes in Elsevier Science Access," Triangle Research Libraries Network, 14 January 2004, p 2.  Back

137   Susman, T, et al. Publisher Mergers: A Consumer-Based Approach to Antitrust Analysis, Washington, DC: Information Access Alliance, June 2003,  Back

138   Munroe, M. E-mail to LibLicense-L mailing list, June 3, 2003,  Back

139   Office of Systemwide Planning for Libraries and Scholarly Communication, "UC Libraries' Negotiations With Elsevier", 22 December 2003, Berkeley, Calif: University of California Libraries,  Back

140   Johnson, R. Letter to Elias Zerhouni, 6 January 2004,  Back

141   BioMed Central. "Howard Hughes Medical Institute will cover article charges", Open Access Now, 6 October 2003, Back

142   Scientific publishing: A position statement by the Wellcome Trust in support of open access publishing. Back

143   Committee for Scientific and Technological Policy. "Science, Technology and Innovation for the 21st Century", Paris: OECD, Final Communique, Annex 1,,2340,en_2649_34487_25998799_1_1_1_1,00.html  Back

144   Office of Fair Trading. The market for scientific, technical and medical journals, London, 9 September 2002, p 1. Back

145   Such a standard is discussed in Publisher Mergers: A Consumer-Based Approach to Antitrust Analysis, note 4. Back

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Prepared 20 July 2004