Researchers find some universities are getting poor value from bundled academic journal publishers

Jun 17, 2014 by Bob Yirka report

(Phys.org) —A small team made up of four economists from four universities in the U.S. has found that some university libraries are getting a raw deal from companies that sell them bundled academic journals. In their paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Theodore Bergstrom, Paul Courant, Preston McAfee and Michael Williams contend that by requiring university librarians to sign confidentially agreements, academic journal publishers are artificially inflating the prices of bundled journal packages and are charging universities widely different prices for the same content without any reason, other than that it brings them greater profit.

Academic journals are periodicals where researchers publish articles describing their work. They are published by companies such as Springer, Taylor & Francis, Sage, and Elsevier. Such periodicals can be sold on an individual subscription basis, to a university, or other group, or, they can be bundled together, like channels on cable TV and sold as a package deal. When they are bundled and sold to a university library, both sides engage in bartering—publishers want the highest price they can get, while libraries want to pay the lowest. An interesting part of the bartering process is that the final price that is agreed to by both sides, is kept secret, due to a confidentially agreement the publishers insist the librarians sign. That means that librarians don't know how much other institutions are paying for their bundles. In this new effort, the researchers used the Freedom of Information Act, to force several public universities to reveal their contracts, so that they could compare them.

In looking at the contracts, the researchers found widely different charges to universities for the same bundles. They found for example, that the University of Michigan paid $2.16 million in 2009 for a bundle from Elsevier, while the University of Wisconsin, paid just $1.22 million the same year for the same bundle from the same company. They note that the two universities are similar in the size of their staffs and the number of PhD students, yet one school paid considerably more than the other.

The researchers attempted to use other metrics to see if a pattern might emerge that could explain publishers charging some institutions more than others—they report that they were not able to find any, which to them suggests, that pricing was based on the knowledge and negotiating skills of the individual librarian, which meant that schools that did not have librarians with such knowledge or skills, tended to get very low value for the bundles they purchased compared to other schools.

Explore further: Reference resources find their place among open access and Google, study finds

More information: Evaluating big deal journal bundles, Theodore C. Bergstrom, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1403006111

Abstract
Large commercial publishers sell bundled online subscriptions to their entire list of academic journals at prices significantly lower than the sum of their á la carte prices. Bundle prices differ drastically between institutions, but they are not publicly posted. The data that we have collected enable us to compare the bundle prices charged by commercial publishers with those of nonprofit societies and to examine the types of price discrimination practiced by commercial and nonprofit journal publishers. This information is of interest to economists who study monopolist pricing, librarians interested in making efficient use of library budgets, and scholars who are interested in the availability of the work that they publish.

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Shootist
1 / 5 (1) Jun 17, 2014
Researchers find some universities are getting poor value from bundled academic journal publishers


Researchers also find that most university students get poor value from their (lack of) education.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (2) Jun 17, 2014
Researchers also find that most university students get poor value from their (lack of) education.

Well, if students think that university is there to give them an education (like some students think that in school teachers are responsible "to learn them") ...then these students are missing the point of going to university. Totally.

University is an opportunity to grab as much education as you can. From any source. Bei it professors, extracurriculars, the library, or study groups with your peers.
You'll never get that chance again to hae that kind of access and be handed so much for free. Later in life you will be expected to be self motivated in any case. If you don't learn it there then you might as well not bother.
Jantoo
3 / 5 (2) Jun 17, 2014
When the scientific research is payed from public taxes, it's not acceptable to allow the private company paywalling the free access to its results. The scientific publications should be always accessible in electronic form at the Internet. When someone needs to have its work printed, he should pay for it, not the other readers.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (3) Jun 17, 2014
When the scientific research is payed from public taxes,

Since it mostly isn't these days that argument (if it ever was valid) is a thing of the past.
Journals have the copyright on your paper once it's published (i.e. your own paper doesn't belong to you anymore).

When someone needs to have its work printed, he should pay for it,

With what money? Ever looked at the salary of a researcher?

Journals were a means to distribute papers to other researchers (before the internet). They were never meant for the public at large. No one outside the maybe 200-300 other researchers in the exact same field the world over can even read/understand them fully. So 'public access' would be pointless in any case.

Journals' function of distribution is no longer relevant. However they do provide places where you can be sure that the paper was peer reviewed and subject specific papers are concentrated.
Jantoo
3 / 5 (2) Jun 17, 2014
Since it mostly isn't these days that argument (if it ever was valid) is a thing of the past. Journals have the copyright on your paper once it's published (i.e. your own paper doesn't belong to you anymore)
Which research from the last ten articles presented at PhysOrg is not financed from taxes? Anyway, your private opinion in this matter doesn't matter - it's the official stance of the USA government. But your stance reveals, it's just the proponents of mainstream science - not some abstract lobby of publishers, who actually adhere on their elitism and status quo until the tax payer are willing to pay for it. In the same way, like the ignorance of cold fusion isn't matter of some abstract fossil fuel lobby, but the researchers itself. The actual source of problems with contemporary science are the scientists itself.
Jantoo
1 / 5 (2) Jun 17, 2014
For example, the scientists don't like the Open Access journals, because they would be forced to pay for their publishing by their own departments. Whereas under the current situation the expenses for journals are financed from shared resources of common library. And common money hurt no one, until they're going. As an insider I do understand perfectly the caveats of their own business.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (2) Jun 18, 2014
Which research from the last ten articles presented at PhysOrg is not financed from taxes?

You will find that most all research today is done in joint cooperation with a company. This means that there are patent issues involved at some point.
The tax money that goes to research institutions is little more than a hidden subsidy for companies, because companies are "too poor" to do research themselves. Research isn't financed by a nation for the love of it (and certainly not for the amusement/education of people that like to read about it in their spare time).

You will often find companies engaging in research cooperations with universities at a point where their part of the development is long done (i.e. they get their investment retroactively financed by the state).

Aint corporate socialism grand? Socialise risks - privatize profits.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (2) Jun 18, 2014
For example, the scientists don't like the Open Access journals, because they would be forced to pay for their publishing by their own departments

Not at all. You won't find a single researcher who hates arxiv for example.
There are also open access journals that don't charge for publication. The major hurdle, currently, is lack of peer review. But I'm confident that that will be solved in the future.
(The partisan nature of open access is also a bit of an issue. Currently the list is chock full of crank journals)

You also have to remember that publishing a paper is a lot of work (conference papers a week minimum, journal papers can be more than a month. Book chapters several months and books can take a year or more). This is work that isn't research. I.e. work that a researcher would do gladly without (most posts being limited to 3 years).
You publish for a reason. Reasons being:
- conference proceedings
- impact factor
- mandatory publishing due to project stipulations
alfie_null
5 / 5 (2) Jun 18, 2014
Researchers also find that most university students get poor value from their (lack of) education.

Care to cite something? Or are you merely relating a personal experience?
Sikla
Jun 18, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Sikla
Jun 18, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Sikla
Jun 18, 2014
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antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (2) Jun 18, 2014
it's paywalling brings no protection of IP and investments for companies involved anyway

The paywalling is an action taken by the publishers. Publishers want to make money. They don't care what they publish (be it scientific papers or stories about lolcats). If you expect free service from a private enterprise you probably live in the wrong country.

You as a proponent of science should be primarily motivated on good accessibility of your work for other scientists.

Usually not an issue since most institutions have access to the relevant journals. If not then there is always Email (not strictly legal, since the article doesn't belong to you after having been published...but there's no law against handing off preliminary versions or just collected info to someone in an email. ).
Those 200-300 people know each other pretty well. You keep running into each other at conferences. And conference proceedings are free (for participating authors)
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (2) Jun 18, 2014
If you have some problem with

I don't have a particular problem with the current system. When I want a paper and it's paywalled, I email the author directly. If you express genuine interest then more often than not they will point you to either a preprint, another paper that is free, or will even just send you their pdf. Sometimes a creative google search will turn up the paper.

The elitism and the tendency to secularize the community of scientists

It's not the job of scientists to educate you. They are supposed to do science. They can do better science when they are in communication (via email or papers) with other scientists. People who haven't spent the years and years getting where they are have nothing whatsoever to offer.
That's not elitism. It's just like a top athelete will not profit from hanging around an amateur (or 'couch potatoe' in your case). It is, and you are, a waste of time to people like that.
Sikla
Jun 18, 2014
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Sikla
Jun 18, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (2) Jun 18, 2014
it's essentially the same sharing, like production and sharing of illegal copies of music and films at the internet.

Yes. It's like a band playing their own songs, live, without paying the music industry for the 'privilege'.

the scientists have rooms full of printed mess and they have no time for regular work.

Where did I say they have no time for work? The 'printed mess' is a measure to ACCELERATE work (so that you don't have to hunt for the paper on your harddrive or in a library but have it at the tip of your fingers).
Digital is a lot SLOWER than having a printed paper in a pile on your desk. Especially with annotated scribblings and even coffee mug rings (which, oddly enough, help you remember stuff...because it adds the haptic, optical and olfactory dimension...purely digital papers can't beat that. they are too 'pristine')

On your computer you just (also) have the hundreds of less important papers.
Sikla
Jun 18, 2014
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antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (2) Jun 18, 2014
Nope, it's a band playing a songs for our public money.

You pay a lot of public money for stuff that you don't have access to (even for stuff that is actively hurting you - like surveillance technology). In the end research is a good bang for the buck. And it's not really impossible to get the papers for free. Just be nice and ask for them. Who cares if this is a 'copyright infringement'?

Just the search for single sentence or reference is much faster at Google than in any printed media.

I guess you have never done research. Sentences is not what you're after in such papers (you've read them a couple of times in any case). What you're after in these crucial papers are the formulas (seldom the graphs). Good luck trying to search for formulas/graphs in google.

didn't visit the bottom layers of their office for years just because it's completely inaccessible.

You'd be surprised at the turnaround these heaps get.