Leader: Well-padded journals

October 15, 2004

There are few industries in which a company that has implemented price rises of per cent in the past four years can seem a model of restraint. But a new survey this week shows that this is the lowest price increase seen in academic journal publishing. One less modest publisher has marked up its prices by 94 per cent over the same period.

Such rises have been implemented while inflation was running at a few per cent a year. As library budgets are growing far more slowly in real terms, the result is trauma for researchers and librarians alike.

In the wider world, the warnings this week are of higher inflation because of price rises in oil and other commodities. Publishers might regard this as a pretext to hike their prices even higher. But it could also perhaps encourage academics and librarians to rethink what they get for the millions they spend on journals in print. For many researchers, the right to look at papers online is more valuable than a printed journal in a library they have no time to visit. In any case, anyone in a specific research area knows that only a few journals in any field are worth being published in. Everyone might breathe a sigh of relief if libraries voted with their chequebooks to kill off some of the less prestigious publications. Even better, some might be reborn in cyberspace to help kick-start the promised era of free online publishing.

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