NEWS: Libraries Protest E-Journal Prices

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Science  10 Apr 1998:
Vol. 280, Issue 5361, pp. 171
DOI: 10.1126/science.280.5361.171a

An international coalition of academic libraries has added its voice to a growing chorus urging publishers to hold down prices for electronic journals. Without fairer pricing agreements, the coalition says, costs will soon outpace the ability of libraries to buy electronic pubs.

“We're not out to put publishers out of business. What we really want to do is engage them in a dialogue,” says Arnold Hirshon, vice provost for information resources at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, who helped draft a statement for the 1-year-old International Coalition of Library Consortia (ICOLC), 42 groups representing more than 5000 libraries (see www.library.yale.edu/consortia/statement.html).

ICOLC's statement notes that libraries are struggling to add electronic journals to print collections on flat budgets while publishers routinely tack on surcharges hiked each year for inflation. “You can draw an exponential line on this … and you just can't keep doing that,” says Hirshon. The statement calls for publishers to commit to lower prices for electronic journals than for print and to permit electronic-only subscriptions. It also criticizes publishers for passing on full R&D costs when many products are still bug-ridden. The coalition says its statement was inspired in part by similar principles adopted last fall by Dutch and German libraries (Science, 28 November 1997, p. 1558).

The coalition hopes to open a dialogue with at least a dozen major academic publishers, from associations such as the American Chemical Society to publishing giants like Elsevier Science and Springer-Verlag, Hirshon says. Elsevier's John Tagler says that publishers and libraries see eye-to-eye on many issues, but that others—including pricing—remain unresolved. “In the transition period,” he says, “print is the only barometer we have for pricing the electronic.”

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