Journals spending soars to £100m, squeezing book budgets

October 6, 2006

Academics and universities spend nearly £100 million a year subscribing to journals, according to the latest figures reported by the Research Information Network.

The report on scholarly journals says that the number of serial subscriptions has more than doubled over the past ten years to a mean value of 6,900 titles per institution, costing UK universities and academics £94.5 million in subscriptions in 2003-04.

Much of this growth is thought to be down to publishers offering "bundled" or packaged deals.

Toby Bainton, secretary of the Society of College, National and University Libraries, said: "It's a lot of money and it's a monopoly product. If you want the journal Rain Research , you can't think 'that's too expensive, I'll buy another' because only that one will do."

Over the past ten years, library expenditure as a proportion of total university spending has gone down from just over 3 per cent to just under 3 per cent, he said. But, over the past five years, the amount universities spend on books and journals has risen 13.6 per cent. The price of serial subscriptions has gone up by 50 per cent.

"There's something unsustainable in the system and it will have to be addressed, or things will go badly wrong," Mr Bainton said.

"The amount spent on books has fallen from 35 per cent to per cent of the acquisitions budget. Periodicals are squeezing out books. If the periodical price trends continue we will either buy no books at all or will have to cancel more periodicals because we can't afford them all."

When it came to cancelling subscriptions, humanities journals tended to lose out in favour of science publications, he said.

The report does not disaggregate the amount spent by universities from individual subscriptions. But it said that half of all researchers struggle to access research journals.

The problem is especially bad for those in interdisciplinary research, which also face the most difficulty in getting published.

Estimates of the costs of publishing vary from $250 (£133) to $2,000 per published article.

Publishers made $5 billion from English-language journals in scientific, medical and technical disciplines in 2004. The report says that this figure excludes the rest of the total peer-reviewed journal market.

Spending on printed serial journals overall is falling. It now accounts for about 37 per cent of the money spent on subscriptions. A meeting will be held on November 14 to discuss the findings.


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