Libraries ‘will cancel journal subscriptions’ unless prices drop

Universities say ‘big deals’ with publishers are only area where there is enough money to make significant savings during pandemic

August 13, 2020
Source: iStock

UK universities will cancel journal subscriptions unless publishers reduce their prices to reflect financial pressures amid the pandemic, three organisations representing librarians and higher education managers have warned.

Research Libraries UK, the Society of College, National and University Libraries, and Jisc said that universities were under heavy pressure to reduce all expenditure and divert financial resources to areas of immediate concern, such as online teaching and measures to limit the spread of Covid-19. As a result, immediate reductions on the price of journal subscriptions were necessary if institutions and their researchers were to retain access to content, they said.

Some publishers have provided temporary free access to their journals and announced a prize freeze for 2021, but library directors said that a freeze would not be enough to prevent subscription cancellations.

Stella Butler, a librarian and keeper of the Brotherton collection at the University of Leeds, said the pandemic has "put extraordinary pressure on university budgets" and "libraries will be forced to prioritise their spending".

"Publishers should be focusing on supporting research by reducing journal costs not on maintaining profit levels. If prices do not come down, cancellations are inevitable," she said. 

Liz Waller, director of library services and librarian at Durham University, added that librarians were having to take “extremely difficult and unwelcome decisions and reduce costs, [moves] that necessitate a comprehensive review of our subscriptions”.

“We have already identified titles that we will be pausing next year, and this will be extended to select ‘big deals’. Publishers must understand the need for price reductions and a full transition to open access to put libraries in a position to maintain subscriptions,” she said.

Last month, Universities UK and Jisc called on major academic publishers to reduce the price of agreements by 25 per cent because of the financial impact of the pandemic.

David Prosser, executive director at Research Libraries UK, said the only place where there was enough money for libraries to make significant savings was “big deals” with publishers.

“Unless there are significant price reductions, these big deals will inevitably be cut, to the detriment of scholarship and publishers alike,” he said.

Caren Milloy, Jisc’s director of licensing, added: “While the response from publishers to our call for price reductions has been constructive, offers to implement a zero per cent price increase will not meet the need to reduce expenditure to the levels of cuts institutions are facing. Our negotiations would have been seeking zero per cent price increases regardless.”

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