Universities 'Get Poor Value' From Academic Journal-Publishing Firms

Ian Sample | The Guardian | June 16, 2014

Research finds secrecy over contracts has stopped some institutions realising they are paying too much for journals

Top universities are paying too much for scores of academic journals provided by major publishing companies, an investigation has found.  Even with the hefty discounts universities earn when they subscribe to bundles of journals, commercial publishers offer worse value for money than journals published by the major non-profit professional societies, the study found. The analysis by a team of economists found that for leading universities, journals published by non-profit organisations were two to 10 times better value than those published by commercial companies, such as Elsevier, Springer, Sage, and Taylor & Francis.

"The value for money that universities are getting from commercial publishers is generally considerably less than the value for money they are getting from non-profit publishers," said Paul Courant, an author on the study and professor of economics and information at the University of Michigan. "The non-profits provide on average much better value for money, especially to the big universities, that much is clear," he added.

Many journal publishers require universities to sign secrecy agreements that forbid them from saying how much they paid for journal subscriptions. Elsevier argues that confidentiality agreements allow them to tailor their prices to suit individual subscribers, though David Tempest, a deputy director at the publisher, told a meeting in Oxford last year that they stopped customers from driving down prices...