Even Harvard Can't Afford Subscriptions To Academic Journals; Pushes For Open Access

from the says-it-all dept

Techdirt has published several posts recently about the growing anger among scholars over the way their work is exploited by academic publishers. But there's another angle to the story, that of the academic institutions who have to pay for the journals needed by their professors and students. Via a number of people, we learn that the scholars' revolt has spread there, too:
We write to communicate an untenable situation facing the Harvard Library. Many large journal publishers have made the scholarly communication environment fiscally unsustainable and academically restrictive. This situation is exacerbated by efforts of certain publishers (called "providers") to acquire, bundle, and increase the pricing on journals.

Harvard’s annual cost for journals from these providers now approaches $3.75M. In 2010, the comparable amount accounted for more than 20% of all periodical subscription costs and just under 10% of all collection costs for everything the Library acquires. Some journals cost as much as $40,000 per year, others in the tens of thousands. Prices for online content from two providers have increased by about 145% over the past six years, which far exceeds not only the consumer price index, but also the higher education and the library price indices.
As a result, Harvard's Faculty Advisory Council has come to the following conclusion:
major periodical subscriptions, especially to electronic journals published by historically key providers, cannot be sustained: continuing these subscriptions on their current footing is financially untenable. Doing so would seriously erode collection efforts in many other areas, already compromised.
So what's the solution? Open access, of course. Here are the Faculty Advisory Council's suggestions for how to promote it:
1. Make sure that all of your own papers are accessible by submitting them to DASH [Digital Access to Scholarship at Harvard] in accordance with the faculty-initiated open-access policies.

2. Consider submitting articles to open-access journals, or to ones that have reasonable, sustainable subscription costs; move prestige to open access.

3. If on the editorial board of a journal involved, determine if it can be published as open access material, or independently from publishers that practice pricing described above. If not, consider resigning.
If one of the world's top and presumably wealthiest universities says the current approach to academic publishing "cannot be sustained", you know that something is seriously wrong with that system. Coupled with the more than 10,000 academics who have now joined the Elsevier Boycott, this latest turn of events suggests that the tipping point for open access is close.

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Reader Comments (rss)

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    Josef Anvil (profile), Apr 30th, 2012 @ 5:35am

    wow

    It took the great minds at Harvard to figure out what us "average" consumers figured out a long time ago.

    Keep raising the legitimate price of content that is readily available for less or free illegally, and the consumer will simply stop buying and seek a legitimate alternative. Or worse, make a legitimate alternative.

     

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    Josef Anvil (profile), Apr 30th, 2012 @ 5:35am

    wow

    It took the great minds at Harvard to figure out what us "average" consumers figured out a long time ago.

    Keep raising the legitimate price of content that is readily available for less or free illegally, and the consumer will simply stop buying and seek a legitimate alternative. Or worse, make a legitimate alternative.

     

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    Gumnos (profile), Apr 30th, 2012 @ 5:45am

    Harvard's cost inflation can't keep pace with the journals'?

    Prices for online content from two providers have increased by about 145% over the past six years, which far exceeds not only the consumer price index, but also the higher education and the library price indices
    I mean, Havard's total student cost (PDF) has only gone up 27-28% in the last 6 years. How's a poor university to cope?

     

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      Gumnos (profile), Apr 30th, 2012 @ 6:06am

      Re: Harvard's cost inflation can't keep pace with the journals'?

      27-28% isn't nearly as much as the 6-year increase at 1987 which was +76% total (and a jump of almost +90% of base tuition). No wonder academic publishers figured ridiculous pricing hikes were the norm. For Harvard to complain that it "far exceeds not only the consumer price index, but also the higher education and the library price indices" sounds a bit rich to me. Literally.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Apr 30th, 2012 @ 6:52am

        Re: Re: Harvard's cost inflation can't keep pace with the journals'?

        Harvard crying poverty is totally hilarious. I cannot say that I am surprised to see someone from Techdirt fall for their stupidity.

         

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          Gumnos (profile), Apr 30th, 2012 @ 10:48am

          Re: Harvard's cost inflation can't keep pace with the journals'?

          It's not to say that the periodicals' prices aren't ludicrous TOO, it's just to say that an institution of higher learning are at a pretty lousy place to complain about compounding prices.

           

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          Richard (profile), Apr 30th, 2012 @ 10:58am

          Re: Re: Re: Harvard's cost inflation can't keep pace with the journals'?

          Harvard crying poverty is totally hilarious. I cannot say that I am surprised to see someone from Techdirt fall for their stupidity.

          You are clueless. Harvard maybe could afford these prices - but they recognise that few other institutions can - and so they are doing everyone else a favour by pushing their own academics to publish in cheaper venues.

          This is a welcome development. Less prestigious places can't afford to lead this charge but Harvard can.

          Next time, think before you comment.

           

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          btr1701 (profile), May 1st, 2012 @ 3:38pm

          Re: Re: Re: Harvard's cost inflation can't keep pace with the journals'?

          > Harvard crying poverty is totally hilarious.

          They're not crying poverty. They're saying that they're not getting anywhere near the value in return for the money they're spending.

          Even the wealthiest don't like throwing money down the shitter for nothing in return. How do you think they got to be wealthy, genius?

           

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        ChrisB (profile), Apr 30th, 2012 @ 6:58am

        Re: Re: Harvard's cost inflation can't keep pace with the journals'?

        Isn't it more likely that periodical prices contributed to the increase in tuition, rather than the other way around?

        The student debt bubble is coming, just like the housing bubble. Lending someone who has no income $200K to buy a house is the same as lending someone who will have no prospects $200K to get an Arts degree in Comparative Religions. US Student debt is at $1 trillion, and a significant portion of that won't be paid back (no matter what the bankruptcy laws say), because the economy has slowed and won't be back for a while.

         

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          Bengie, Apr 30th, 2012 @ 8:18am

          Re: Re: Re: Harvard's cost inflation can't keep pace with the journals'?

          "because the economy has slowed and won't be back for a while."

          Because these 20y/o students won't have any time in the next 30 years to earn it back?

          As inflation keeps going up, the relative amount students owe keeps going down.

           

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            varagix, Apr 30th, 2012 @ 9:03am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Harvard's cost inflation can't keep pace with the journals'?

            "As inflation keeps going up, the relative amount students owe keeps going down."

            As does the relative amount people earn. Unless you believe that all employers adjust their employees wages and salaries for inflation?

             

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      AaronNZ, Apr 30th, 2012 @ 4:11pm

      Re: Harvard's cost inflation can't keep pace with the journals'?

      27-28% sounds a lot, but over 6 years is only about 4% per year for each of the 6 years.

       

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        Gumnos (profile), Apr 30th, 2012 @ 5:11pm

        Re: Re: Harvard's cost inflation can't keep pace with the journals'?

        Fair enough. But the 145% is about 16% per year for each of the 6 years, which is what I seem to remember is decent for credit-card interest :-)

        But for Harvard to complain "it's gone up an average of 16% over the last 6 years" doesn't sound nearly as dramatic.

         

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      Trololol, May 2nd, 2012 @ 12:16am

      Re: Harvard's cost inflation can't keep pace with the journals'?

      Now we know why Harvard's tuition has inflated these last few years...to pay for the journals.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 30th, 2012 @ 5:48am

    the only things that will change are either less books etc will be bought or university fees will go up to 'compensate'. anyone that thinks less money will be charged is on a different planet. companies would rather lose money than reduce prices. and there is always the scourge of 'piracy' to lay blame on, isn't there?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 30th, 2012 @ 6:06am

    I wonder how long until Elsevier starts suing their contributors for making their *new* works open access.

    As usual, they will think that they take the right approach in suing them, and scaring them into submission, when in fact they'll just convince everyone that they need to stay as far away as possible from Elsevier.

     

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      fogbugzd (profile), Apr 30th, 2012 @ 6:20am

      Re:

      I wonder if Elsevier will use the classic "think of the corn farmers in Iowa" defense. It isn't very original, but Elsevier doesn't seem like a company that comes up with a lot of original ideas.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 30th, 2012 @ 6:29am

    Oh well, Harvard is just a bunch of poor greedy pirates who want everything for free anyway.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Jun 5th, 2012 @ 2:54am

      Re:

      true, stop paying that 3.75M out for pubs, but watch, they won't reduce the cost of the school to the students by 3.75M, they will pocket that money

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 30th, 2012 @ 7:07am

    Be Nice

    Let's all be nice to our academics. OK, they are way late in getting on to open access journals. Like about a decade late. Well, better late than never. Show them some love.

    Agreed, that is kind of hard to do without showing some signs of irritation at the slow progress. Encourage them to also make some progress on other outstanding educational problems, such as the unnecessarily high price of textbooks, the copyright licensing problem, the high tuition fees problem, the inadequately documented curriculum problem and the poor quality free lecture problem.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Apr 30th, 2012 @ 9:43am

      Re: Be Nice

      To be fair, published materials are also a source of income for the the academics.

      To people on the outside it seems like a late reaction, but my experience is that this is finaly a closing of the divide between professors and the university institutions or - even more so - the directions.

      It has been common practise for professors at certain universities to more or less ignore copyright and it has been going on for at least the last decade. If they have written a book themself most are willing to give it to the students in a PDF for free since their share of sales is so negligible. Also photo-copies of copyrighted material is seen as less of a problem. I believe mostly because the professors in different areas of expertice are communicating and I can only assume that they have agreed that education is more important than the change they earn from sales.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 30th, 2012 @ 9:40am

    Move prestige to open access.

    Music to my ears.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 30th, 2012 @ 10:39am

    All we need is the movie...

    So all we need is the movie where Bob and Doug save Elsevier by playing hockey, drinking beer, and saying, "Eh?" alot...

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 1st, 2012 @ 9:12am

    "Some journals cost as much as $40,000 per year, others in the tens of thousands."

    I'm guessing the Math department wasn't involved in writing this...

     

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    Anon Techie, May 2nd, 2012 @ 3:11am

    Harvard Can't Afford Subscriptions To Academic Journals

    Pot calling the kettle black ...

    Before commenting on the costs other journals, it would nice if they reduced the prices of journals published by Harvard University.

     

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    Jose_X, May 8th, 2012 @ 9:18pm

    Half of the MIT education is free

    opencourseware

     

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