Thursday, April 30, 2009

A challenge to Goliath

Too big to fail Megapublishers obligate librarians to buy hundreds of journals they do not need in order to access the journals their constituents actually read. The time has come to challenge this business model, which is unsustainable for the libraries.
What can publishers do to help librarians in these financially difficult times? Smaller publishers who do not have multi-year subscription deals with librarians can help by keeping their subscription prices flat for 2010...
The largest financial burden on biomedical research librarians, however, comes from the megapublishers, who often bundle hundreds or even thousands of online journals into a multi-year contract. At The Rockefeller University library, the subscription packages from Elsevier, Springer, Wiley-Blackwell, and Nature Publishing Group take up 69% of the total serials budget in 2009. The megapublishers should address the global financial crisis by forgiving contracted price increases and by unbundling the journals in their deals, allowing librarians to choose only the titles they want and can afford...
Will the unbundling of journals mean the demise of some niche journals, that is, specialized journals with small audiences? Perhaps, but this is what market economies are all about, and why monopolies are not supposed to exist! In addition, niche publishing can be sustained by open access publishers, whose business model is based on the number of articles published rather than the number of readers. This role is already fulfilled by major open access publishers such as BioMed Central and Hindawi. Even in years of economic boom, librarians have noted that the current subscription system for online content is unsustainable. The pressure on that system is even greater now that we are in a global recession, but it can be substantially relieved if publishers allow librarians greater freedom of choice.