Serials wars or OA?

From: Steve Hitchcock <>
Date: Wed, 18 Apr 2007 11:51:34 +0100

How will the library journal pricing 'crisis' end? When put like this
it seems that this longstanding problem has no end because there is
no problem-solution objective. At least, I haven't seen it articulated.

I'm not a librarian, but I do have an interest. In a new article
described by Peter Suber as "an excellent picture of where OA stands
today", Van Orsdel and Born (Serial Wars, Library Journal, April 15,
2007 criticise
publisher responses to open access while linking the library-journal
pricing problem to access:

"Libraries want relief from journal prices that are patently
outrageous and defy cost-benefit justification. Authors want impact,
and OA articles get cited much more often. Scientists want faster and
easier access to others' research, but a recent paper, "UK Scholarly
Journals: 2006 Baseline Report," found that half of all researchers
in Britain have problems securing access to needed articles."

Further on they are more specific, linking the possible solution to
open access:
"Librarians aren't waiting to see what kind of price relief the OA
movement might bring. They are beginning to ask hard questions about
the relationship between the value of a journal and its price. In
January, University of California (UC) Libraries disseminated a pilot
study on value-based journal pricing.

"UC will push for more than a conversation. The stated goal of the
study is actively to influence the journal pricing market.

"The UC study underscores the message to heavy-hitting publishers
that intransigent pricing policies are driving customers to seek
pricing relief one way or another. Either the current system flexes
to address concerns over price and access, or a new system will take
its place."

What system and threat is being implied here? I hope they are not
using OA simply as a bargaining chip over this issue. OA is a higher
principle than this.

OA advocates and researchers have always been careful and reluctant
to link OA with the library pricing problem. OA has a very clear
objective, while this pricing problem does not. Modified prices might
improve access, but this is not open access.

There are obvious connections and shared interests between OA and the
library community. Most IRs are managed by libraries (Brown, S. and
Swan, A. I have also
argued in the ongoing debate over green vs gold OA that the issue is
not whether there will be full OA but over the form of the transition

I believe there is great advantage in OA, especially IR-based
self-archiving, and I don't accept the apocalyptic claims of some in
the journals industry. In the latter respect the transition, if the
academic community is wise, will bring moderation.

I also recognise that if it is to be most beneficial this shared
interest between libraries and OA needs to be better defined, That
might depend on the library community resolving a clearer strategy to
deal with the pricing issue. My suggestion would be that it clearly
prioritises OA over other issues. OA is not there to be sold out to
the lowest bidder.

Steve Hitchcock
IAM Group, School of Electronics and Computer Science
University of Southampton, SO17 1BJ, UK
Tel: +44 (0)23 8059 7698 Fax: +44 (0)23 8059 2865
Received on Wed Apr 18 2007 - 15:00:18 BST

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