This is a very interesting study, sure to generate controversy…
Have Journal Prices Really Increased Much in the Digital Age?
The same thing might be happening with print journal prices and digital journal licenses.
A recent report from Paula Gantz sheds some interesting light on what’s often used to measure prices vs. what is actually driving increases in expenditures. Commissioned by the Association of American Publishers (AAP) and its Professional and Scholarly Publishing (PSP) divison, the study may be reflexively dismissed by some based solely on its source. This would be a mistake, of course. It’s a well-documented study that raises some subtle and important questions:
- What if prices of the predominant journal form have actually been falling?
- What if we’ve been measuring the wrong things, or measuring insufficiently?
- And what if the growth in expenses are not the result of price increases but a result of the growth in science?”
“. . . using list prices of print subscriptions to calculate the real increase in serials expenditures is a misleading and inaccurate method for tracking how libraries are spending their serials budgets and fails to recognize the increased value they are receiving from the print-to-digital transition.”
“. . . libraries’ spending on periodicals has increased three-fold while their collections have tripled in size through new acquisitions and through expanded content in existing holdings.”
“Spending three times as much to get three times as much tells a very different story from the “price increases” story. . . .
- Published article output has grown 3.5% to 4% per year since 1990
- Growth in research spending has been increasing by 3-4% per year
- In the US, spending on scientific research has more than doubled since 1990 (from $150.2 billion to $400.5 billion in 2010, in current dollars)
This all points to a massive three-fold increase in scientific outputs.”
“In the midst of all this growth, prices have risen modestly. Gantz notes that while the economy in the US from 1990 to 2010 grew at a compounded rate of 66.8% due to inflation, the effective price of an average journal is only 9% higher over the same time period. In the UK, prices have actually gone down by 11% since 2004.”
“Price increases have been caused by more science, more papers, and more journals, not by price increases in licenses. In fact, per-journal prices seem to have peaked around 2000, and steadily declined from there, as shown by the black line in the chart below.
Usage is outstripping articles produced, as well, making prices per article within licenses fall on a per-usage basis. This increased usage has led to exactly the kind of behaviors everyone believes is good for science — researchers are reading more, citing more, and citing from more sources. On a cost basis, the price per download in the UK fell from £1.19 in 2004 to £0.70 in 2008.”
“Therefore, Gantz believes, if we were to actually measure the true cost of licensing information at libraries, focusing on three things — overall expenditures (not just print prici”ng), the amount of information licenses provide, and usage — prices have actually increased only slightly, and in some cases have decreased.
Ga”ntz’s analysis raises interesting questions. What if we’ve been misled by following the wrong price trends? What if the strain around expenditures is more about institutions not supporting the growth in science than about publishers seeking to exploit some advantage? What if publishers have been more responsive to the growth in science — by creating new and larger venues for scientists — than institutional information budgets have been?”
“Gantz’s numbers raise another very important possibility — that publishers are putting themselves in an unsustainable position.”
“An encouraging note to all this is that there seems to be an obvious path forward — namely, fewer print titles and better support for valuable and well-used digital licenses.”