Libraries dismayed at journals inquiry findings

October 4, 2002

Academics and university libraries are disappointed by the outcome of a year-long inquiry by the Office of Fair Trading into the academic journals market, writes Caroline Davis.

The OFT said the journals market was not working well and that many commercial science, technology and medicine journals were overly profitable. But it said the matter did not warrant further investigation and would probably work itself out.

It said the advent of electronic publishing and academic free-access initiatives such as Sparc (the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition) and the Public Library of Science would bring the market under control. It said academics held the power since they supplied and refereed journal contents for free.

Toby Bainton, secretary of the Standing Conference of National and University Libraries, said: "It's disappointing. The big players are getting stronger and libraries are having difficulty dealing with it."

The OFT inquiry was launched after an investigation by the Competition Commission approved the merger of publishing giants Reed Elsevier and Harcourt. Together they have an 18 per cent share of the journals market, carrying a quarter of all articles published.

The OFT said it was concerned about the move towards bundling package deals that give electronic access to a large proportion of a publisher's journals. Bundles provide wider access than individual subscriptions. Libraries then have no funds to subscribe to journals from smaller publishers.

Fred Friend, honorary director of scholarly communication at University College London and senior consultant for Sparc, said: "(The OFT) fails to recognise the scale of the problem."

The Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers, which represents many small not-for-profit publishers, said it was satisfied with the investigation.

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