Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from the Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARL)


  The following evidence is provided primarily in support of the submission of the Society of College, National and University Libraries (SCONUL) and the Consortium of Research Libraries (CURL); and the United Kingdom scientific research community that they represent.

  CARL is the leadership organisation for the Canadian research library community. The Association's members are the 27 major academic research libraries across Canada plus the National Library of Canada, and the Canada Institute for Scientific and Technical Information (CISTI). CARL members are the backbone of Canada's intellectual holdings in all disciplines, with an annual expenditure of over half a billion dollars ($537,339,000), monograph holdings of over 75 million items and nearly half a million journals.

1.   Introduction

  1.1.  The Science, Technology and Medical (STM) journal publishing industry is international in scope and represented a market of over US$7 billion[237] in 2001. As such, the market conditions for scientific and technical publishing affect consumers of around the world.

  1.2.  Over the past two decades, there has been a significant increase of concentration in the academic publishing industry through purchases and mergers, in particular in the area of Science, Technology and Medicine (STM).

  1.3.  In 2003, at least four major commercial publishers of STM journals have been acquired by competitors, in addition to numerous mergers among smaller entities.

    —  Taylor & Francis purchased the business and publishing assets of the Dekker group of companies.

    —  Cinven and Candover acquired Kluwer Academic Publishers.

    —  In August 2003, Candover and Cinven (owners of Kluwer) received approval from the US Department of Justice and the European Commission for the acquisition of BertelsmannSpringer.

    —  In the spring of 2004, the merger of Springer Science+Business Media and Kluwer Academic Publishers, owned by Cinven and Candover, will commence. This will create the second largest STM publisher worldwide.

  1.4  Although the Reed Elsevier and Wolters Kluwer merger was abandoned after confronting antitrust scrutiny, most mergers have faced little scrutiny and market consolidation has continued at a rapid pace in recent years.

2.   Recommendations to the Committee

  2.1  The long-term consequences of the current pricing policies of Science, Technology, and Medicine journal publishers are increases in the prices of journal publications overall; a reduction in choice regarding which journal titles one may subscribe to; and ultimately a reduction in access to journal publications by the international research community. Since further concentration of the commercial scientific publishing sector will entrench the monopoly power of a few publishers, CARL recommends that future significant merger proposals be investigated by the UK Competition Commission, taking into account the unique features of the journals market.

  2.2  CARL supports the position of the UK Consortium of University Research Libraries (CURL) and the Society of College, National and University Libraries (SCONUL) that both self-archiving and open-access journals should be supported. Given the importance of the continued existence of the journal in establishing a hierarchy of publication and bringing together related articles, we expect that open-access journals will continue to grow and flourish: 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 margins, tend to be the most cautious. A declaration of intent from research funding bodies that author fees for open-access journals will be paid out of research grants would encourage existing journals to `convert' to open access. This would be a desirable outcome that would encourage adoption of this new model.

  2.3  CARL recommends that governments support the development of a new, more sustainable system for scholarly communication—a global system of scholarly research that will exist chiefly for faculty, their students, and their colleagues in the worldwide scholarly community, rather than for the benefit of commercial publishers and their shareholders. To this end we recommend, with respect that the UK invest in emerging methods for the dissemination of research results such as the current research projects being funded by JISC.

3.   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?

  3.1  The increased concentration in the publishing market has been accompanied by a significant escalation in the price of scientific journals. Research on the impact of mergers of STM publishers over the last 10 years has found a significant correlation between company size and journal pricing[238]. These increases were in addition to the general trend of rising subscription prices in the market.

  3.2  Libraries' buying power has been eroded because of publisher mergers. The prices of STM journals have been rising more rapidly than library budgets. This has resulted in an erosion of libraries' purchasing power. In Canada, as in many other countries, journal budgets have remained fairly static compared with dramatically rising journal prices. From 1986 to 2002, journals expenditures in Canadian libraries increased by 233% from $24 million in 1986 to $80 million in 2002. Journal unit costs rose 175% from $127.66 to 350.34. [239] Canadian research libraries were spending over three times as much on journals in 2002 as they were in 1986. [240]

  3.3  "Big deal" agreements with publishers have counteracted the steep price increases of journals to some degree. The big deal schemes involve the aggregation of online journals that are packaged as a `one-price one-size fits all' package. In the big deal, libraries agree to buy electronic access to a predefined group of journals for a price based on current payments to that publisher, plus some increment.

  3.4  Big deal agreements offer short-term benefits for libraries and users because they expand access to content for users allowing libraries to build collections that are more comprehensive.

  3.5  Big deal agreements also have significant drawbacks for libraries and researchers. These agreements "bundle" content so that individual journal subscriptions can no longer be cancelled in their electronic format. [241] Big deal agreements give the largest commercial publishers extraordinary power to control the terms and conditions of the academic journal market. Thus, libraries lose the opportunity to shape the content or quality of journal literature through the selection process.

  3.6  Bid deal packages may assist large publishers in creating an even more concentrated market. Small publishers with only a few journals cannot hope to compete on their own in the consortia market and will either bought up by larger publishers, or be unable to stay in business.

  3.7  Big deal schemes could also mean even greater price increases in journal literature in the end. The largest publishers will not only have greater market power to dictate prices, but they will also have more control over contractual terms and conditions. Publishers may prohibit libraries from cancelling (even duplicate) subscriptions as a prerequisite for remaining in the big deal; and they provide incentives for libraries to contract for the aggregation for three to five years.

  3.8  Because of such concerns, several academic libraries in the US and elsewhere have refused to renew their "big deal" agreements with publishers. Cornell University, Harvard University and the Triangle Research Libraries Network (Duke, North Carolina State and North Carolina at Chapel Hill) all opted against renewing their subscription for a bundled package with Reed Elsevier in 2004. Library administrators cite an unsustainable pricing model, prohibitive selection options, and the financial impact on the library's ability to purchase other journals as reasons for its decision. [242]

  3.9  In Canada, some university libraries are also expressing misgivings about entering into these types of "bundled" agreements.

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

  4.1  CARL encourages the UK Government to continue funding research into new modes of scholarly communication such as that currently being done by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) eg the Focus on Access to Institutional Resources Programme and the Digital Library Infrastructure Programme. In Canada, a research project funded jointly by the Canadian Association of Research Libraries and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) is currently identifying and prioritizing a research agenda for the dissemination of scholarly research in Canada. ( The results of this study will pave the way for similar research, international in scope, to be conducted in Canada.

  4.2  CARL recommends that governments, academic institutions and publishers support the development of a new, more sustainable system for scholarly communication—a global system of scholarly research that will exist chiefly for the public good, rather than for the benefit of commercial publishers and their shareholders. Two options for the disseminating of scholarly research offer promise:

  4.2.1  Open Access Journals, which use funding models that do not charge readers or their institutions for access. These journals mirror traditional journals in that they report the results of research or overviews of research results, and they employ quality control processes such as peer-review—but are freely accessible to anyone with an Internet connection. According to the "Directory of Open Access Journals" (, there are now more than 730 open access journals in a variety of scholarly disciplines. In Canada, journals such as the Canadian Medical Association Journal ( have opted to provide free access to their articles over the Internet as a strategy to ensure that Canadian research is accessible to all.

  4.2.2  Governments and academic institutions are encouraged to support open access by funding initial subscriptions to open access journals. In this context CARL supports JISC's subscription to BioMed Central on behalf of 180 UK research institutions. [243]

  4.2.3  Self-Archiving Initiatives involve the self-deposit of digital scholarship in a publicly accessible database. Self-archiving initiatives may take two forms: e-prints servers, that collect and share pre-prints in various disciplines; and institutional repositories, that collect and share a variety of scholarly material from a single or multiple universities. These initiatives provide great exposure to authors' research.

  4.2.4  Academic institutions are encouraged to set up either their own repositories and to actively encourage faculty to deposit articles. This process would be greatly facilitated if project funding from the Research Councils and similar bodies included a condition that publicly-funded research should be publicly available. In Canada, research universities have begun implementing institutional repositories as part of a CARL Institutional Repositories Project.

  4.3  Government and academic institutions should continue to support reasonably priced journals based on their merits, such as those that are published by learned societies and university presses, and open access journals. These journals, many of which are listed on the SPARC website (Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition) or in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), represent an important alternative to existing high-priced titles in the fields of science, technology and medicine.

  4.4  Academic Institutions should examine the implications of entering "big deal" aggregate licensing of electronic journals.

  4.5  More publishers should consider amending their copyright agreements with authors to allow authors to submit pre-prints and post-prints into open access archives, such as e-prints servers and institutional repositories. Current figures published by the Romeo project ( state that over 54% of academic publishers now support author self-archiving of their articles in e-prints servers or institutional repositories. [244]

5.   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?

  5.1  CARL is not familiar enough with the UK Research Assessment Exercise to offer an opinion or to make a valid comparison with the Canadian experience.

  5.2  The momentum for open access expressed in the form of self-archiving, and the creation of open access journals has grown significantly over the past years. CARL was one of the original signatories of the Budapest Open Access Initiative (February 2002). [245] Since then, the Berlin Declaration in support of Open Access[246] was signed in October 2003 by the Max Planck Society and other leading research funding organizations in Germany, France, and other European countries. In the UK, the Wellcome Trust issued a position statement in support of open access in September 2003 stating that it "will meet the cost of publication charges including those for online-only journals for Trust-funded research"[247]. The UK Government may wish to consider a similar declaration uniting the UK funding agencies behind the open access approach.

  5.3  The advantages of moving towards a system of more open access to scholarly publications are great:

  5.3.1  Open access journals enhance the transfer of research knowledge into society. The benefits of research are principally derived from access to, and the practical application research results. Current journal subscription models tend to limit access to the broad spectrum of scholarly research to those researchers whose institutions can afford to pay for such access. Open access bypasses this by making research available to all, or at least to those who can afford electronic access. For less wealthy institutions and for developing countries this is seen as a matter of social justice.

  5.3.2  It is argued that Open access journals may act as a brake to the increasing prices of competitor journals published by the major commercial publishers.

  5.3.3  Open access alternatives allow authors more control over the distribution of their work. Copyright agreements often require authors to transfer all of their copyrights exclusively to the publisher, thereby losing their control of subsequent public distribution of their work. Open Access publishers generally do not invoke copyright to restrict access to and use of the material they publish. Authors retain the copyright of their articles when they publish in open access journals. This allows an author to re-publish where and when he or she may think fit. Open access publications are created with the goal of timely publication through the deposit of preprints into e-print servers and local institutional repositories.

  5.3.5  Publishing in open access alternatives should result in greater impact of research. Studies have shown that even the slightest access barriers to academic literature have a negative impact on usage. [248]

6.   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?

  6.1  CARL has no direct comment to offer but supports CURL and SCONUL in welcoming the recent Legal Deposit Libraries Act[249] and urging 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"[250].

  6.2  CARL emphasises the urgent need for governments to address the issue of systematic long-term preservation of works in digital formats; and to support the work especially of national libraries in this regard.

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

  7.1  Scientific fraud and malpractice are as possible in the print world as in the realm of electronic publication of academic journals. The propagation of fraud or errors may be on a much larger scale, thanks to instantaneous and widespread dissemination through electronic publication. However, for the same reason, the greater diffusion should result in greater peer scrutiny and thus the unmasking of errors, whether wilful or not.

February 2004

237   Susman, Thomas M., David J. Carter and Ropes & Gray LLP. Publisher Mergers: A Consumer-Based Approach to Antitrust Analysis. Information Access Alliance, June 2003, Washington DC. Back

238   McCabe, Mark J. The Impact of Publisher Mergers on Journal Prices: An Update. July, 1999.¥mm284/Grain.PDF Back

239   Canadian Association of Research Libraries. Create Change. 2003. Ottawa, Ontario. Back

240   Ibid Back

241   Frazier, Kenneth. The Librarians' Dilemma: Contemplating the Costs of the "Big Deal". D-Lib Magazine. March 2001, Volume 7 Number 3. Back

242   Library Journal. TRLN to Forgo the Big Deal. January 14, 2004. Back

243   Joint Information Systems Committee. Guardian Hails JISC-BioMed Central Agreement. June 17, 2003. Back

244   Project Romeo. Publisher Copyright Policies and Self-Archiving. 2003.  Back

245   Budapest Open Access Initiative. February 2002 [] Back

246   Berlin declaration on open access to knowledge in the sciences and humanities. October 2003 [] Back

247   Scientific publishing: a position statement by the Wellcome Trust in support of open access publishing. September 2003 [] Back

248   Robertson, Kathleen. Mergers, Acquisitions, and Access: STM Publishing Today. Library and Information Services in Astronomy IV, July 2-5, 2002, Prague, Czech Republic. Back

249   Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003. 2003 Ch 28 [] Back

250   SCONUL and CURL Brief to the UK Science and Technical Committee. February, 2004. Back

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Prepared 20 July 2004