Friday, May 16, 2008

Why Libraries Pay More for Journals

Just why exactly do libraries have to pay institutional prices for journals, which are often many times the prices of individual subscriptions? Why can't we just have professors/patrons who are already getting individual subscriptions donate them to us when they are finished?

There's been an interesting discussing on COLLIB about these very questions, and I have to confess that while I knew that this is what we did - pay institutional prices - I never knew exactly why. One of the posters on the listserv pointed out this great article about the reasons behind the institutional fees. Apparently journal publishers are using differential pricing to make up their necessary costs. That is, they cannot make enough money to sustain their business off individual subscription fees, so they make up the difference by also including institutional fees. So why don't libraries just try to pay the individual price? It would be considered fraud.

As to the question about professors/patrons donating journals, the article states that this is an acceptable practice. However, it's far less reliable - a professor make not have time to read each issue during busy semesters and may hold on to them for a while, issues may get lost before they can be donated to the library leaving the library with no recourse to obtain the issue, and so on.

So, good to know, but I'm still not sure the 10-15% increase we commonly see in journal subscription prices each year is necessary. And the higher the prices go, the more libraries will have to cut back on their subscriptions.. which will cause the prices to continue to skyrocket in a never-ending cycle. I know my library will be looking very seriously at its journal holdings this summer and making some significant cuts.

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