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Re: The elephant in the room

Fred is of course dead right, and this threat to scholarly 
communication is by no means new. On the one hand you have the 
greed and cunning of big publishing, forever thinking up new ways 
of grinding more money out of libraries, and on the other - and 
apologies for saying so on this list - the gullibility of 
librarians in falling for it! And thats before even mentioning 
complete rackets like site licensing and FTE payment models. Of 
course everyone discussing these matters, while having a 
legitimate interest in scholarly communication, has a partisan 
position. As a 'fringe' publisher, I have lost count of the 
number of times librarians have said that they would like to buy 
more of our journals but, given that 75% of their budget is 
pre-empted by certain large combines, sorry no can do. Which is a 
shame. Fringe publishers offerings are necessarily niche; one can 
interpret that to mean 'worthless'; I however would interpret it 
as adding richness and detail to the landscape of scholarly 
communications. While I agree with Fred that the wholesale 
collapse of scholarly communication is a possibility, I am not 
convinced that OA (yet) offers anything more than superficial 
attractions. Because fringe publishers necessarily have small 
sales, one way of supporting them, and so supporting diversity in 
publishing, could be through national licences, where a central 
body subscribes to a publishers output on behalf of all 
universities/like bodies in its country. Need not cost much, 
could be a simple answer to one part of the problem. Bill Hughes 
Multi-Science Publishing

----- Original Message -----
From: "FrederickFriend" <ucylfjf@ucl.ac.uk>
To: <liblicense-l@lists.yale.edu>
Sent: Friday, November 27, 2009 8:54 PM
Subject: The elephant in the room

> The phrase "the elephant in the room" was used by a librarian at
> a recent UK meeting to describe the big issues we were not
> allowed to discuss about how the current economic crisis is
> affecting scholarly communication. Representatives of all
> stakeholder groups present - including publishers - agreed that
> the economic crisis was hitting them badly, with cost-cutting
> happening across the board and hopes for growth put on hold. The
> curious feature of the conversation was that nobody present was
> able to discuss the one topic which could get us through the
> crisis and prevent the journals market collapsing, viz. the
> pricing structure for journal "big deals". Pricing can only be
> discussed in one-to-one meetings between suppliers and
> purchasers. It would be easy to blame legislators for anti-trust
> legislation and the dominance of contract law, but the legal web
> within which publishing is entwined is of our own making - and I
> include the academic community in that statement.
> The importance of this failure to discuss structural and pricing
> issues is that the dominance of library budgets by "big deal"
> expenditure has the potential to bring the journal publishing
> industry to its knees in the same way as sub-prime mortgages did
> for the banking industry. It will only take a few cancellations
> of "big deals" by major institutions to make investors nervous
> about the future of companies heavily dependent upon such deals,
> and a domino effect could follow. We may be sure that there will
> be no government bail-out of the journal publishing industry.
> This scenario would not be good for any of the current
> stakeholders. The big journal publishing companies have failed to
> respond positively to the ICOLC initiative on the economic
> crisis, and the inability to discuss structural and pricing
> issues in a collaborative way is preventing solutions which have
> been of benefit in other sectors of the economy. For example,
> heavily-discounted pricing (by which I do not mean 1%) could ease
> the burden upon library budgets for one or two years until the
> overall economic situation improved. No publisher will want to be
> the first to discuss such solutions, but equallly no publisher
> will want to be the first to feel the effects of cancellations of
> its "big deals".
> Fred Friend
> Honorary Director Scholarly Communication UCL