Heads I Win, Tails You Lose: The Intransigenc of STM Publishers

Posted by Subbiah Arunachalam at Jan 01, 2015 03:00 PM |
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A few commercial publishers dominate provision of access to scientific and technical information sought after by researchers around the world. Increasing subscription prices of journals at rates higher than general inflation caused librarians to think of forming consortia, but publishers started selling online journals as bundles, and libraries ended up with many journals their researchers have very little use for. Scientists and librarians adopted open access, but publishers came up with hybrid journals and article processing charges to beat any adverse effect on their profits caused by the fast-spreading open access movement. We compare the steps taken by scientists and librarians in the West to reclaim ease of access to research findings with what is happening in India. We end with a few suggestions.

The article by Subbiah Arunachalam, Perumal Ramamoorthi and Subbiah Gunasekaran was published in the Indian National Science Academy Journals, Proc Indian Natn SciAcad 80 No. 5 December 2014 pp. 919-929.


Introduction

Scientists in India, as elsewhere, will be happy if their libraries provide them access to thousands of journals. Librarians, even in the most affluent institutions, have only limited budgets and they have to balance between journals on the one hand and books, monographs and reference material on the other, and can subscribe to only a limited number of journals. In the past decade and a half, thanks to generous funding by several government agencies (e.g., UGC, CSIR), librarians formed consortia so they could access online journals at more attractive prices and in large numbers. Also, during the same period, many open access (OA) journals became available and some subscription journals came forward to make articles OA if the authors paid a fee. There also came up a large number of repositories, both institutional (such as the ones at Indian Institute of Science and Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute) and subject-based central repositories (such as PubMed Central). As a result, scientists now have much easier access to a much larger volume of current literature. But, it appears that publishers seem to profit far more than scientists. They keep increasing the subscription prices at a rate higher than general inflation. Even affluent institutions like Harvard University are forced to cut down the number of journals they subscribe. The Association of Research Libraries (ARL), a group of about 125 research libraries in North America, is concerned about this crisis in scholarly communication (or ‘serials crisis’ as they call it) and is working to promote open access as one way to counter it. The publishers continue to make their unusually large profits unmindful of the hardship researchers are put to. In business circles, publishing scientific, technical and medical (STM) journals is considered to be one of the most profitable businesses. Efforts made by groups of researchers to make scholarly communication more cost effective have not met with expected success levels. For example, entire editorial boards of a few commercial journals resigned and started new journals in the same field. But this happened only in a handful of cases and not all of them succeeded. In this paper, we look at what is happening currently in India in the context of the unusually large influence wielded by journal publishers.

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